Just over a year ago, Puerto Rico was waking up to a new landscape. Like neighboring Caribbean territories, the devastation of Hurricanes Urma and Maria left the island unrecognizable to its inhabitants. Since then, it’s been a slow march to recovery for the region, all while a dark cloud of imminent disaster looms. But a silver lining is beginning to shine through. The conversation for change has begun and more and more entities are walking the talk. The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) brought some of these groups together last month in San Juan.
The CGI Action Network set an ambitious mandate: to find solutions to the most urgent issue facing the Caribbean: climate change and its economic and social effects. In its two-day Post-Disaster Recovery Meeting in January it focused on conversations to inspire solutions. The meeting brought a wide cross-section of stakeholders together and assigned their expertise through a series of sessions that each sharpened the lens on opportunities for development. There were plenaries on creating opportunities for young people and economic growth in the region as well as panel discussions on investing in the creative economy, housing solutions and the green economy among others. Each one examined post-disaster recovery from a different angle, showing how seemingly disparate sectors all have a role to play in building resilience.
A Seat at the Table
The most intimate feature of the Post-Disaster meeting was the Private Roundtable Discussion. For this CGI left the cameras outside and set clear objectives for 24 specially selected guests. These members of the regional and international business community were expected to put their heads together. Here, Roundtable participants would offer insights on how the international business community could help to transform the region, devise opportunities for increasing investment and create strategies to bolster Caribbean entrepreneurship. President Clinton hosted the discussion which was moderated by Digicel Chairman Denis O’Brien. The Vice Chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises and The Co-Founder of Bloomberg were among this small group which also included executives of energy corporations, investment companies and NGOs. I represented the only multilateral development agency present: The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
The interest in renewable energy sources in the Caribbean dominated the discussion. On this topic, guests lamented the number of regulatory hurdles to creating businesses that promote the use of sustainable energy. We also discussed the need for better insurance regulation after millions in uncompensated losses in 2017. There was the suggestion that the regional private sector should operate its own set of emergency command centers to supplement state resources. As the only representative of a multilateral development bank, I shared the IDB’s support for sustainable energy projects in the region as well as finance facilities that are already in use to drive social, economic and climate resilience. I also discussed the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator and its quest to create the world’s first climate-smart zone.
The Clinton Global Initiative Action Network is focused on inspiring people to take action, not just talk. One of the most effective ways it is doing this is by sharing the personal experiences of people whose actions have positively impacted the Caribbean region. In this regard, Chef José Andrés is exemplary. As the Founder of World Central Kitchen, Chef Andrés and his team in Puerto Rico provided up to 150,000 meals a day to families in need after the storms in 2017. Just last month, his initiative #chefsforfeds served 100,000 meals to furloughed workers in Washington D.C. About the recovery work in Puerto Rico Chef Andrés says “We didn’t plan, we didn’t meet. We only kept responding to the needs we saw.”
A New Development Model
In the final plenary, Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley made the call for a change in the Caribbean’s development model. The idea was further expounded by President Clinton who said “there is a potential to grow here and everything about it requires a common resilience strategy and a common clean energy strategy.” In the end there was a united call for a shared set of rules for financing a new era of sustainable development in the region. It is unfortunate that more representatives from the Caribbean, particularly the private sector were not able to participate in the meeting. However, the IDB through the Caribbean Country Department is committed to answering the call to support development reform and to spread the message of the silver lining in San Juan.
Read more about the CGI Network’s commitments to action.
Lead Photo: President Bill Clinton moderates final plenary with guests (L to R) Sofia Stolberg, Founder and CEO of Piloto 151; Richard Carrión, Executive Chairman of Popular, Inc.; Albert Bryan, Governor US Virgin Islands; Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados