Originally published in Caribbean Business
Piloto 151 CEO Sofia Stolberg, Banco Popular Chairman Richard Carrión and former U.S. President Bill Clinton (Courtesy)
SAN JUAN – The closing plenary of the Clinton Global Initiative’s Post-Disaster Recovery meeting in San Juan discussed the future of the Caribbean economy, drawing on the insight of business leaders, entrepreneurs, job creators and heads of governments.
Following opening remarks by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, former President Bill Clinton moderated a panel discussion, titled “Fortifying the Future of the Caribbean Economy,” that included Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan, Banco Popular Chairman Richard Carrión and Sofia Stolberg, CEO of coworking network Piloto 151.
They focused on the importance of high-impact entrepreneurship, infrastructure resiliency and collaboration as the key to economic growth and resiliency in the region.
Mottley opened by honing in on the importance of diversified capital sources and renewable energy in the region.
“We are at the stage where potentially the growth can be there, but it’s not going to be inclusive unless we start unlocking capital from within the region and match it with foreign capital from outside,” the prime minister said. “The one thing that is part of our patrimony is renewable energy. We have a moral obligation to unlock renewable energy for the benefit of the Caribbean people and to unlock the investments that are possible, but we have to create the instruments that can then be married with foreign capital. We have set a target of 2030 for a fossil fuel free economy at best or a carbon-neutral economy at worst.”
For his part, Bryan highlighted opportunities that became apparent in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricanes that struck the islands, Irma and Maria.
“When you talk about resilience in the Caribbean, for decades we have always seen our commerce come off of a plane or off of a cruise ship and we have been ignoring for the most part that there is another way for commerce to come to the Caribbean and that’s the Internet. Technology has greatly improved our access to the world and because we are so small, tiny little drops of commerce off the internet are huge gallons of water for our economies,” he said.
On a similar note, Stolberg stressed the importance of entrepreneurship as an engine of economic growth for the region.
“The future growth of the Caribbean is tied to entrepreneurship development. We need entrepreneurs and, in particular, high-growth entrepreneurs to create the job opportunities and the type of economic growth that will be sustainable in the long run,” the entrepreneur assured. “How that happens is a function of how strong your entrepreneurship ecosystem is. In Puerto Rico, we are now seeing that companies and startups in our ecosystem are raising upwards of $1 million, which is something that never happened before. That’s a very good sign, and we have to keep it up by continuing to bet on entrepreneurship.”
The discussion ended with a call to action for more collaboration in the region, where Carrión said that “despite our physical proximity, there are more barriers between the islands than what unites us.”
Referencing “The Social Conquest of Earth” by biologist Edward O. Wilson, who is considered the leading expert on ant behavior and defines conquest as the ability of a species to hang on despite facing demise, Clinton bet on the ability of the region to triumph through collaboration.
“The most successful species that ever existed are ants, termites, bees and humans, and the only conceivable answer is that they are the greatest cooperators. Out of this group, we are the only ones with both consciousness and a conscience. Sometimes our consciousness gets ahead of our conscious and we run the risk of extermination for a short-term gain, but I believe that eventually our conscious catches up. When you leave here, figure out how you can do more things right for this wonderful region we have come to support.”