UWI, IDB partnering to promote innovation and job creation in the Caribbean

Featured image: design composition by Lynn Saghir, Communications and Creative Director, Inter-American Development Bank – Composition made from Shutterstock photos

Disrupting the present to write and right the future of the Caribbean

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)’s video ‘Jump Caribbean’ presents a vision of what the Caribbean can look like in 2040.  A climate-smart zone with burgeoning economies driven by technological innovations, clean energy, and a highly skilled workforce.  An interconnected region where families live and work together in safe, healthy, happy, and prosperous communities.  The presentation beckons, “Change is coming to the Caribbean…. we must write the future now”.

Universities are often perceived as institutions steeped in tradition and slow to change.  Yet, academic and research institutions are pivotal to the thrust of the fourth industrial revolution.  Research, innovation and their application lead to the creation of new products, technological solutions, more efficient services and new ways of thinking and working, which all serve as catalysts for economic growth, entrepreneurship, and social transformation.  But in our quest for prosperity and progress as a region, we cannot ignore persistent challenges of inequality, exclusion, vulnerability and climate change.  It is our duty, therefore, not only to write the future but also to ‘right the future’.

In contributing to shaping the future development trajectory of the Caribbean, universities will be expected to play an even greater role in providing thought leadership, technological innovation and data-driven solutions to development issues.

The IDB and The University of the West Indies (UWI) have taken strides to deepen their partnership in support of innovation-driven growth in the Caribbean. A team of UWI researchers and research leaders from The UWI’s campuses, regional research centers, and executive management team recently completed a study visit to MIT Media Lab and The Engine in Boston (July 9-10, 2018).

With research, innovation, entrepreneurship and academic-industry alignment at the core of The UWI’s Triple-A Strategic Plan 2017-2022, the engagement of UWI and MIT researchers during this study visit presented a unique opportunity to discuss new research ideas in areas such as: blockcerts (blockchain academic credentials), open ocean research and exploration, space technologies to solve problems on earth and technology and civic media to foster more inclusive social analysis and better understand social change.

The presentations, together with live demonstrations of new technological innovations as well as insights into the operational model used by MIT’s The Engine to promote research commercialization, were directly relevant to UWI’s strategic imperative to establish technology parks that not only provide laboratory and business incubation space for spin-off companies but also serve to attract and match private capital to new products that can be brought to market.

“Eye-opening and stimulating”, “an impressive, exciting, well-resourced environment that stimulates innovation” and “a fascinating discovery that underscored the importance of research champions and the use of storytelling to better communicate research”, were reflections by some of the UWI participants on completion of the study visit.  Prof. Stephan Gift, Pro Vice-Chancellor Designate for Graduate Studies and Research who will be responsible for leading research, innovation and entrepreneurship across the regional UWI from August 1st, emphasized that: “the replication of the approach used by The Engine is a priority for UWI.  What we saw is proof that this is workable and we will now focus on driving this forward”. Prof. Ian Boxill, Deputy Principal Designate of the UWI Mona Campus found MIT’s approach to “use research to solve real problems in a way that enhances their own financial sustainability” particularly useful for The UWI.  Dr. Nickeisha Stephenson, an early-career researcher in Chemistry was impressed by the way in which “MIT research groups bring together science and art, encourage researchers to dream and take risks, and also provide ongoing researcher support throughout the process”.

As an activist university, The UWI’s visit to MIT Media Lab and The Engine was not only about seizing opportunities for new research collaborations, as important as this is. It was also about the university’s commitment to strengthening the wider research ecosystem in the Caribbean by working in partnership with the public and private sectors and multilateral agencies so that institutional frameworks in Caribbean SIDS can be reinforced to create an enabling environment for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship. This will no doubt entail building a stronger research and data culture, providing more state of the art research infrastructure, enhancing research and intellectual property policies, strengthening research management systems and investing in researcher capacity development, research communications and knowledge brokerage for greater development impact.

To harness the ingenuity and creativity of disruptive thinking and to convert this into revenue generating opportunities is the hard currency of knowledge societies. The UWI as a global university rooted in the Caribbean will continue to lead this effort.  By expanding networks and deepening partnerships with regional institutions such as the IDB, the UWI is pressing ahead with its research, innovation and entrepreneurship agenda to support greater participation of Caribbean economies in the global marketplace.

About the author

Stacy Richards-Kennedy is the Director of Development at The University of the West Indies (UWI).

The UWI Office of Development was established in 2016 and focuses on strengthening linkages with multilateral development partners and on deepening the University’s engagement with regional and national processes to advance the 2030 development agenda.

Mrs. Richards-Kennedy has over 20 years’ experience in development management and development financing.  Prior to joining the university, she was the Assistant Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten.  Her previous appointments include Chief Technical Advisor, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Washington DC, Consultant, The World Bank, Washington DC and Programme Specialist, UNESCO, Paris.

Mrs. Richards-Kennedy has led the design and execution of a range of development programmes in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa and has also managed multi-donor trust funds.  She has Master’s degrees in Business Administration and Development Management and is fluent in Spanish and French.

Her research interests span areas such as research and development impact, knowledge brokerage and development effectiveness.


*Featured image composition by Lynn Saghir, blog photos courtesy of Julian Belgrave and Stacy Richards-Kennedy

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