As we embark on a new year and a new decade, there is a nostalgic goal setting, mapping out, ambitious, vision-boarding, affirmations, and strategic planning auras in the atmosphere. The likes of this coming recently from Prime Minister Mottley, who spoke candidly about her plan and vision for Barbados over the next 7 years. Her vision includes but is not limited to an assessment of where we are, what we have achieved, where we have fallen short, and how we will be charting our path forward as a nation.
Topics that were addressed in detail included the infrastructure of Barbados and the structuring of entities on the island, particularly the restructuring of the government services delivered (buses, sanitation services, water stabilization, building safety, customers, etc.), how to make it easier for everyone to do business, the facilitation of small and large investments for Bajans and visitors alike, and investments in building our sense of community and society, to preserve the integrity of our social capital, to name a few.
In listening to the hour-long message to Bajans both home and over n’ away, I was waiting…and waiting…and waiting…and waiting some more, with the hope of hearing more about how we would be prioritizing and be intentional in mapping out clear pathways at the core of our nation’s life line and heart- our youth and their development. But, beyond the mention of the Common Entrance Exam, creating standards of excellence in diverse professions, and structuring of formal and informal education, the address left a bit to be desired around this important component of Barbados’ society and its prioritization or lack thereof in the coming year and years. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child However, first the village has to be invested in and care about the well-being of the child in order to raise it. The need to place our youth at the forefront of our development is unarguably the biggest and most sustainable investment any country can make- in its people.
News of someone getting shot, missing, or in some kind of violent altercation seems to be becoming the status quo in Bim- that is not what our nation is known for being. In thinking about and through the concept of the Brand Barbados, it is crucial that we zero in on who is at the heart of our nation’s efforts to re-branding: its youth.
Outside of references to increasing transportation licenses, digital payment services, systems efficiency, debt restructuring, and other technical themes that drive the mechanics and infrastructure/bare bones of running a country, it is time that we get to the meat of the matter- our current generations, who will soon be our future ones. This is what I hoped to hear more about regarding the strategic planning for the decade to come, but was left wanting for more.
So…you say all of this to say what, you make ask?…
If we want the Brand Barbados to work, to be one where it is not only our nation, but viewed as our family and a beacon, the seeds of the fruit that we want to see have to be embraced and attended to, with the seeds being our young people. To be a world class nation, we have to first create world class citizens. Doing so begins with looking critically at the needs of the people, particularly the 11-24 years old demographic, as they will drive the priorities of the nation both now and in the future.
If we want the Brand Barbados to be one that is working for all people (Bajans, Caribbean people, and visitors), where those living feel safe, educated, comfortable, confident, and happy, where opportunities abound for all regardless of parish, where regionally and internationally we are known for standing for all that is credible and respectable, where we are a friend of many and satellites of none, and where current and future generations can be sustained, as alluded to by Prime Minister Mottley, we have to all put our hands in the “pot” and prepare, by way of investment, our young people to become productive citizens. This then begs the most pressing questions given what is going on currently, and that are at the heart of the development of our young people now and for years to come (these questions are a start and are not exhaustive):
- The root cause- Why are so many of our young men and especially our young women bringing about alarm by being missing?
- The options– What kinds of non-traditional career and educational pathways can be created for our youth?
- The opportunities- How can we create employment opportunities for our youth, while in school, so they can figure out their career trajectories, and how can we create jobs opportunities that are viable and sustainable for them post-secondary school and post-college?
- The offerings/gap filling- What aren’t we offering academically and career options-wise that is in demand for our nation’s youth?
- Needs assessment- How can we cater to the needs of youth and young adults in a way that is developmentally appropriate?
It would be premature for me to assert that I have the answers to these questions because I am of the firm belief that if you want to solve any issues related to our nation’s youth you have to- ask our nation’s youth, give them agency, choice, and voice. To start, we can first begin by doing what productive and healthy families do in times of crises- convene for a needs assessment. We can begin by creating designated national community meetings in schools regionally (St. Lucy, St. John, St. Thomas, etc), where our youth are given the opportunity, age group by age group (example community meeting for 11-13 years old, one for 14-16 year old, etc.), to voice their concerns, identify what should be prioritized, and to brainstorm tangible ideas to solve the most pressing issues. This would be the first step in creating real solutions to the many real issues our future world class citizens face. Then, taking the ideas presented and actually using them to formulate initiatives that have the best interest of all of our youth at heart.
We can do all of the structuring, restructuring, designing, redesigning, building, and rebuilding that we want, but unless we take care of the needs of our core, our young people, who will either drive or stagnate the economy, the infrastructural initiatives will be in vein. Our young people and their academic, professional, and socio-emotional needs have to be prioritized for the Brand Barbados to work. Our youth are the heart of our nation. Our youth are the blood and the engine that keeps our nation running. To Brand Barbados we have to brand our youth. It starts and ends with them. What do you think? Like, share, re-post, convene, and comment below…