If innovation and entrepreneurship are to thrive in the Caribbean it will require both a radical change in mind set and equally radical changes in education curricula that foster new thinking from the primary school level.

These were two of the main prescriptions recommended from the opening session of the last of two-days of Caribbean Exporters’ Colloquium 2014, organised by Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) and funded by the 10th European Development Fund (EDF).

But while there were several appeals for education reform at the levels of the University of the West Indies and at primary and secondary schools as well, the conference heard from a Guyanese software and animation entrepreneur that his company had adopted the approach of engagement with the University of Guyana in the area of research and development. Lance Hinds, Chief Executive Officer of BrainStreet Group, which has expanded over time from software development to animation products said his group had taken the approach to “throw” research and development at the University of Guyana.

Not included in the discussion but relevant to the issue raised of creating a culture of innovators is the work of the Caribbean Science Foundation (CSF) which is developing a new breed of innovative thinkers through the application of programmes based on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and is planning a project for primary school-age students next year in robotics.

Hinds supported the call for mind-set changes, noting a lack of appreciation for innovation and arguing  “We are risk averse. We have not come to grips with it,” a point noted by other discussants.

Julian Robinson, Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining in Jamaica, said governments needed to play active roles at an early stage of innovation development by creating an enabling environment, including identifying but not necessarily providing financing and addressing matters such as legislation. He said Jamaica has adopted this approach.

Professor Gillian Marcelle, an international scholar on innovation and technology, said the essential challenge was to “shift mind sets”. Preceding her keynote presentation with the playing of Bob Marley’s hit “Redemption Song”, which speaks to emancipation of the mind from mental slavery, Professor Marcelle noted the Caribbean had produced several cricketing icons including Sir Vivian Richards and Brian Lara and the late Reggae artiste Bob Marley who evoked excellence on the global stage. Citing cricket, the professor said there were people who knew how to “block your wicket” but the approach of innovators should be to “hit that ball for six”.

She challenged the audience to see the benefits of the youth with their energy, older people with their experience and marry the strengths of both generations of individuals and “tap into the things that the Caribbean does better than anyone else in the world”.

There was also a need for dialogue, knowledge flows and information sharing between the generations which should include the Caribbean diaspora.

Professor Marcelle enquired whether a clear innovation strategy existed and “where is the private sector in all of this”.

Dr. Maryse Robert, Director, Department of Economic and Social Development at the Organisation of American States, trumpeted reform at the education levels, including a re-engineering of the University of the West Indies, hatching innovation in universities and “moving university research into the private sector”.

Kris Singh, President of Service Research and Innovation Institute, noted that products and services had converged. He warned against adopting services to traditional sectors but rather urged that services should be seen in the context of the digital economy and businesses should “drive your services to the digital platform” by utilising the Internet. Information and Communication Technology, he noted, had become a service centre.

by Hallam Hope