When IDB Invest launched in 2016, we saw success as doing more business in the Caribbean. To achieve this big goal, we first needed to focus on the small victories.
“One, one coco full basket,” is the Jamaican proverb to describe that full success comes from many small victories. When IDB Invest launched in 2016 as the private sector institution of the Inter-American Development Bank Group (IDB Group), we saw success as doing more business in the Caribbean.
However, finding that sweet spot of projects that offer financial sustainability and social and environmental development is as much a priority as it is a challenge. To achieve this big goal, we first needed to focus on the small victories.
Victories include understanding the individual Caribbean economies and spending more time with our clients and their clients. This meant being more present. And it led me to relocate to Kingston for a month. Starting with Jamaica, I wanted to join our team of investment professionals and see the market through their eyes. Here’s what motivated me most during my stay.
First, Jamaica’s economic conditions are improving. Agricultural, construction and tourism sectors are performing well. Inflation targeting and debt reduction recently triggered credit rating improvements. This year, Fitch and S&P upgraded Jamaica’s long-term issuer rating from B to B+, and Moody’s outlook is positive. And as I meet with private and public sector counterparts, I see the country is ripe with opportunities.
Opportunities center on investment potential for sustainable infrastructure. Jamaica has the second highest infrastructure investment gap in the Caribbean. This is driven by possibilities in the electricity, transport and water and sanitation sectors. There is an estimated total investment gap in Jamaica of $774 million over the decade of 2015 to 2025, according to the Caribbean Development Bank.
A natural extension of infrastructure investments is Jamaica’s tourism industry, which requires basic public services to support growth. At IDB Invest, we recently developed a tool to assess the impact of hotel industry investments. Our results show that by investing approximately $600 million per year between 2018 and 2030, poverty in Jamaica could fall on average 2.3% per year.
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Tourism investments drive up employment and average wages. This could represent about 120,000 Jamaicans being lifted out of poverty.
When we financed the Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Kingston, we coupled our loan with technical assistance to train the labor force. Training in hotel construction, operation and hospitality provided technical skills and long-term career paths and ultimately influenced entire supply chains.
We are also excited about the opportunities to expand access to finance for micro, small and medium enterprises. The Jamaican government recently launched a financial inclusion strategy, and IDB Invest could explore the possibility of working with cooperatives once they are supervised by the Bank of Jamaica. Non-banking financial institutions such as leasing and factoring initiatives require financial and technical support to become streamlined alternatives, which we can support.
Lastly, we are running out of time to address climate change. Increased rainfall, longer droughts and eroding shorelines are all impacts posing disproportionate vulnerability to island nation economies. Caribbean countries like Jamaica unfairly bear the burden of having to do more about climate change than they contributed. Assets financed in Jamaica must consider climate risks, and adaption measures can be incorporated for the long-term. IDB Invest will do more to deploy the advisory services and concessional resources to support our clients to address both the downsides and upsides of climate change.
Our increasing efforts in climate resiliency and social inclusion are reflected in the nearly $200 million we currently have in our Jamaica portfolio – a number we hope to double with highly developmental transactions in the next decade.
While I only stayed in Kingston for a few weeks, our regional hub office remains, which leads IDB Invest’s work across the Caribbean. The IDB Group’s efforts include a single country representative to coordinate our dialogue across public and private sectors. Our team of local experts are in front of our clients identifying projects that bring the most financial, social and environmental value. The team achieves small victories every day, gathering the metaphorical “cocos” and filling our basket.
Back in Washington, DC, I brought with me a clearer business strategy to continue working with the Jamaican private sector for a more inclusive, resilient and competitive tomorrow.■
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