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Caribbean Netherlands and other island nations see digital transformation

Caribbean Netherlands and other island nations see digital transformation

Digital transformation initiatives among Caribbean islands are seeing success. A program line for digital development in the Caribbean Netherlands has reached its one year mark. A different initiative is supporting digital inclusion for the visually impaired in St. Lucia and the indigenous population in Dominica.

Caribbean Netherlands marks first-year digital transformation progress

The Netherlands has made strides towards its program line in its work agenda to bring digital transformation to Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba – the islands of the Caribbean Netherlands – as well as constituent countries Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten.

When the program was first implemented one year ago, roughly 85 percent of citizens in the Caribbean Netherlands had home internet access. One in five were not digitally proficient. Internet access is especially expensive and unstable for Saba and St. Eustatius.

A lack of digital infrastructure creates many challenges to information access. For instance, island residents would need to notify government organizations individually of important PII changes such as  changes to address.

The Netherlands has sought to improve internet access by making digital public infrastructure upgrades to increase affordability, coverage, and device access, as well as supporting education to bolster digital literacy and improve privacy and cybersecurity measures.

Program manager Bert van der Wees says the changes that have been implemented are already transformational. “A year ago, we were at a standstill. There was no network, and the current situation was unclear,” he says. “Over the past year, we’ve established a network, identified digitalization needs, and developed a plan of action.”

The improvements had to align with the “comply or explain” principle, which states that all legislation and policies that apply to the European Netherlands should also apply to the Caribbean Netherlands unless otherwise justified. The program needed to overcome challenges like distance, different time zones, and the need to alter certain processes.

“The process has been set in motion, and we’ve now reached the implementation stage,” says van der Wees. “The public might not yet notice the changes, but there’s a lot happening behind the scenes.”

In Saba in November 2023, the State Secretary Alexandra van Huffelen and the Executive Council signed the ‘Saba Package,’ a plan to prioritize economic diversification, climate resilience, and governance, with an emphasis on using digitalization to streamline access to government services and facilitating economic growth.

The Netherlands also seeks to collaborate with its constituent countries – which are independent – to facilitate digital transformation in their regions as well.

Several Dutch Caribbean nations are also among signatories to a 2023 regional pact to collaborate on cross-border digital ID recognition.

Caribbean project to close digital divide

Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States are collaborating to improve access to digital services and skills through the  Caribbean Digital Transformation Project, especially for underserved groups in Dominica and Saint Lucia.

The project was funded by the World Bank to facilitate sustainable, inclusive development.

One group the initiative focuses on is the Kalinago people, an indigenous population in Dominica. The project initially targeted this group for a digital skills training program that took place in 2022 and 2023, which eventually reached more than seventy-five Kalinagos.

The project established a digital innovation hub in Kalinago Territory and gave students tablets for online learning access. Participants learned to manage files, conduct transactions safely, and format documents on Microsoft Word. The hope of such a program is to support business opportunities for residents and improve tourism while preserving traditions.

“For instance, they will now have the skills to set up online stores where tourists and others can pre-select and pay for craft items,” explains Jermaine Jewel Jean-Pierre, a project director. “They can sell online tours of the Kalinago Territory, cultural events, cultural icons, sites, etc.”

The project also collaborated with the Saint Lucia Blind Welfare Association to launch an initiative to provide certified digital literacy training for visually impaired youth.

“Often, our students… do not have the necessary facilities, devices, or assistive technology to use,” said program facilitator Jessica Jacobi, who is blind herself. “Teaching them digital skills will help them better navigate their education, and I hope they will be able to go further in the employment world out there after the end of secondary school.”

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