Title: Feature address delivered by Dr. Len Ishmael, Director General, Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, at graduation ceremony, University of the Virgin Islands, Saturday, 22nd May 2004
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/CA01300579/00001
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Title: Feature address delivered by Dr. Len Ishmael, Director General, Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, at graduation ceremony, University of the Virgin Islands, Saturday, 22nd May 2004
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Ishmael, Len
Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States ( Contributor )
Affiliation: Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States
Publication Date: 05/22/2004
Subject: Caribbean   ( lcsh )
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States Virgin Islands -- Caribbean
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Bibliographic ID: CA01300579
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States
Morne Fortune, P.O. Box 179, Castries, St. Lucia.
Telephone: (758) 452-2537 Fax: (758) 453-1628 E-mail: oesec@oecs.org








Saturday, 22"d May 2004


I :1 11

LOOKING South: North: Or Both?
The USVI: The dilemma of Choice

His Excellency the Governor of the USVI; Excellency the
President of the 28th Legislature of the USVI; Chairman and
other Members of the Board of Trustees; President of the
University of the Virgin Islands; Chancellor of the St Thomas
Campus and other members of the Presidents Cabinet;
Commissioner of Education; Acting Chairman, Board of Education;
Representatives of the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College;
University of St Martin and the College of the Bahamas; Student
Speaker; Graduates of the Class of 2004.

It is a distinctive honour to address you, the graduating class of
2004 on what must surely be a momentous occasion in the
evolution of your lives as you move from the world of students to
that of work, with all the excitement, challenges and the
opportunities implicit in this transition. It is with interest that I
note that an integral part of the mission of the University of the
Virgin Islands from which you will graduate here today is to
"engage in advancing knowledge through research and public
service particularly in areas which contribute to understanding
and resolving issues and problems unique to the Virgin Islands and
the Caribbean."

It is to this issue, that of your contribution to the social and
economic development of this part of the world, whether you
remain resident here, or make your contribution from distant
shores, that I wish to engage your minds over the next few
minutes, as we talk through those issues which in no small way will

shape your future and guide the contribution which you will make
to the world around you.

Your Unique Role

Those of us resident here, in this corner of the world, go about
our daily lives in a common geographic space called the Eastern
Caribbean, comprising French, Dutch and English speaking
populations. This space is relatively small by world standards,
yet the sheer wealth of beauty and diversity in culture which it
incorporates the romance of our collective history, the talent
which we have produced on the world stage, is nothing if not
dazzling. The sharing of this space in common provides the
vehicle within which we in this space can capitalize on this
diversity of spirit and character and the things which we bring to
the table individually, for our collective good.

As residents of small island developing states located in the
Caribbean, yet linked geopolitically to the world's only
superpower, you the graduates of the Class of 2004, have a
unique character, one which positions you to play a rather
strategic role in championing the cause of Caribbean development
while playing a powerful role in bridging the cultural and value
divide between north and south, between the interests of small
island developing states and that of far more powerful partners.

Allow me to contextualize these thoughts and explore some
thematic areas related to the concept of smallness, the principle
of shared space, the spirit of integration and the rewards of the
migration economy, all of which in some way or other, if you so
choose, can provide the rather broad construct within which you
will make choices with respect to the future which you shape.

The Question of Size & the Ties That Bind

With a population of 108,000 resident on three small islands, the
notion of smallness is a feature of life in St Thomas, St Croix and
St John. But, small is a concept which is relative. In this part of
the world there are those which are even smaller: tiny Josh Van
Dyke in the British Virgin Islands across the bay, with a
population perhaps of less than 300, puts the concept of small
size into real perspective. But small size has never been a
construct which has limited the capacity for intellectual thinking
in this region. St Lucian Nobel Laureates Sir Arthur Lewis and
Derek Walcott, born on an island of less than 140,000 people,
both leaned heavily on the "islandness" of their experiences, one
to inform the magic of his literary prose and the vivid tapestry of
his imagery, and the other to construct a theory of rural labour
surplus in the context of the challenges of underdevelopment and
the movement towards the modernization of productive
structures. Another Caribbean genius, Bob Marley's "One Love"
inspired by the consciousness of his own identity, has
transcended national and cultural boundaries and gone on to
become the global anthem for more than just a single generation
of people around the world.

There is no denying however the fact that small islands such as
these are intensely vulnerable, socially, economically, ecologically
and, one might add, politically. However, these islands have also
understood that in collective groupings lie the seeds to reducing
their individual vulnerabilities on all fronts. At the current time,
Caribbean islands are engaged in a range of initiatives some
political, others economic or institutional with which to reduce
their vulnerabilities and develop resilience, as a group.

Literally next door, the BVI represent the farthest westward
extension of the boundaries of the Organization of Eastern
Caribbean States. With a population of slightly under 600,000,
and a GDP per capital which ranges from USD40,000 USD 3,600
- this grouping of 9 small islands, three of whom are non-
independent territories, have a long history of cooperation, and
have over the past several decades established the sub regional
institutional architecture needed for integration at a higher level,
that of an Economic Union.

At the current time, the OECS has a common currency, a Central
Bank, a common judiciary and a Directorate for Civil Aviation.
They have established ECTEL, an organization responsible for
telecoms deregulation, joint diplomatic missions around the world,
and an OECS Secretariat. Plans for OECS citizenship and
passport, and formation of the Economic Union were further
advanced at the 39th Meeting of the Authority which concluded in
St Vincent & the Grenadines yesterday. This common identity
provides for strength in numbers. It allows OECS Member
States to represent their collective best interests in regional and
international fora, as they collaborate strategically in protecting
and promoting these interests.

The concept of shared space has provided the basis for OECS
collaboration with closest neighbours. The OECS Council of
Ministers of Tourism will be expanded to allow for the creation
of an Eastern Caribbean Council of Ministers of Tourism to
include the French and Dutch islands. The concept of shared
space provided the basis two days ago in St Vincent and the
Grenadines, for the signing of a historic Memorandum of
Understanding between the OECS and the Government of Puerto
Rico to facilitate collaboration in a number of strategic areas
including air transportation, tourism, trade promotion, health,

education, agriculture and security, among others. Cooperation
agreements have also been developed in multiple areas with both
Guadeloupe and Martinique.

At an even wider level of concentric bands of influence, are other
groupings which allow for countries in this region to protect
strategic interests and negotiate effectively, as a group:
Caricom, Cariforum, Caribbean Development Corporation
Committee, and the Association of Caribbean States are among
the major such groupings. Even wider groupings exist, such as
the grouping of Small Island Developing States, known as AOSIS,
which provides a forum for small islands to work together and
negotiate with developed counties in an effort to implement the
principles of the Small Island Developing States Plan of Action
developed in 1994.

All this to say that there are a multiplicity of options which may
allow you, as residents of the USVI to take your rightful place
around the table of brothers and sisters from the Caribbean, in
celebration of the Caribbeaness of your identity, and use these
fora to further the development objectives of the region, and
the social and economic development of SIDs, as a whole.

The Caribbean Identity

The ability to seize opportunities available by virtue of the
Caribbeanness of character of the USVI is not difficult to
accomplish, after all, in 2002, over 30.6% of the population in this
country came from the other Caribbean islands. The small size
which is so characteristic of these three islands is echoed vividly
in the fact that some 72% of those who live here but were born
in other parts of the Caribbean, or over 22% of the entire
population, come from small islands themselves the OECS

countries, with St Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, and Dominica
with the highest levels of representation. Indeed at the current
time five of the Senators in the USVI are OECS nationals. There
are therefore many ties that already bind you in the USVI with
your neigbours further east and south.

While the USVI is neither part of the OECS or of Caricom, the
constant movement of persons between the BVI and the USVI
for example, between Anguilla and St Maarteen, between St Kitts
and Saba, speak to other types of relationships which are equally
strong and are based on personal and kinship ties and functional
cooperation at all levels.

As residents of the USVI, it is these ties that bind and other
accidents or quirks of history, that provide you with a world view
which is dual in its sensibility: one which is northern, and the
other intimately influenced by the reality of geography, which
allows for the development of a particular spirit of character
which is 'sympatico' to the small islanders of whom you are so
much a part. It is this duality of character, with the attendant
opportunities to play a role in both worlds which positions you -
despite your size- to bridge the gap between the two, very much
in the manner in which Belize, despite its geographic location in
the heart of Central America provides an important bridge
between the people of the English speaking Caribbean with whom
it is historically a part, and the Central American countries with
whom it also shares a common history.

This does not mean that you have to remain here, to make your
contribution as a champion in the cause of smallness or as a
vehicle for bring together peoples of diverse cultures. The
effects of globalization and the technology which we have at our
disposal, allow us unfettered access in many ways: we can now

work together regardless of where we live. "Talent that flies
away" is simply no longer "lost".

The Migration Economy

The issue of migration is one which has sparked many scholarly
debates with respect to the costs versus the benefits of the
movement of skills and expertise away from home, in what has
traditionally been referred too, as the "brain drain".

Migration in these islands has long been a source of our history,
and a way of life. Islanders moved from home at the turn of the
twentieth century to become the "Silver Dollar Men" providing
the labour for the engineering feat of the time that of canal
building in Panama; later waves of migrants moved to the
Caribbean coast of Central America to teach English and to build
cross-country railways, others left to cut cane in Cuba and the
Dominican Republic and now their descendants have returned
home to the USVI, the BVI, Anguilla, St Kitts, Antigua &
Barbuda, to claim the rights of ancestry. Islanders moved to
North America and to England in the early 40's and 50's to take
jobs in the transit system, replaced in the 1970's by those from
the middle class of several Caribbean countries Jamaica and
Guyana being notable examples moving north due to economic
collapse back home. The 1990's witnessed a mass exodus of
trained teachers and nurses from Caribbean islands to fill slots in
the USA and UK markets leaving behind the specter of the so
called "barrel babies" back home.

In more recent time, this extra- regional movement of labour has
been complemented by dramatic growth in the wave of intra
regional movement of labour, resulting in dramatic increases in
the population of the BVI and other countries in the northern

Leewards. This movement is vividly reflected in tiny sound bites
of daily life in many of these islands. Witness Antigua, for
example. The parade of Carnival bands, now has a Spanish
section, church service on Sundays is officiated also in Spanish,
radio announcements are in Spanish, and lively baseball matches
are being played with passion, on cricket fields, on Sundays, in
many communities.

The Impact of the Migrant Economy

In the past the so called "brain drain", has been a source of grave
concern for many countries as their best and brightest have
moved away, yet all of these islands and most developing
countries have benefited tremendously from this phenomenon,
and technology now permits foreign-based migrant workers to
contribute in diverse ways to the continued socio-economic
development of their home countries.

The impact of the migrant economy has been phenomenal. In the
year 2003, over USD 100 billion was sent back home in the form
of remittances, by workers living overseas, a contribution which
was 15% higher than the level recorded the year before. The 20
million members of the Indian diaspora, for example, scattered
over 135 countries, poured USD15 billion into India in 2002,
exceeding the much touted value of the software industry to GDP
that year. The Latin America and Caribbean region was the area
of the world which reflected fastest rates of growth, with
remittances almost doubling from USD16 billion in 1999, to
USD25 billion in 2002.

India, Mexico and the Philippines were the highest ranked
recipients of remittances in 2002, while our neighbour here in the
Caribbean, the Dominican Republic ranked 10th on the list of

major recipients in 2002. Indeed, in countries such as Mexico,
remittances play a larger role than Foreign Direct Investment
(FDI), and are second only to oil revenues in terms of sheer
economic importance. Jordan and Malaysia are among those
countries also extremely dependent on this form of financial
inflow. Nearer home in 2002, remittances contributed close to
25% of GDP for Jamaica, and averaged approximately 6-7% of
GDP for many OECS countries.

Immigration is and of itself a major foreign policy and domestic
issue. Host countries need to balance the need for young workers,
(who usually bring with them higher rates of natural increase),
without overwhelming social infrastructure and upsetting cultural
norms, a matter of great sensitivity which we have seen in this
part of the world. In the year 2000, the United Nations reported
that the European Union would need 159 million foreign workers
by 2025 as a result of a shortfall in labour force requirements
due to aging population stock and declining birthrates.

This need for foreign workers has led several countries to
regularize the status of illegal migrants who demonstrate that
they can contribute to a country's productivity. Countries are
themselves making provisions for the way in which the world of
work has changed. Those who are the major providers of labour
to other countries, are devising creative means of both packaging
that labour and channeling remittances into productive
enterprise. Both Malaysia and the Philippines have established
Ministries to market foreign labour to other countries, and are
actively training teachers and nurses for the overseas market. In
an effort to steer remittance towards productive investments,
the Philippines established a USD100m bond offering to overseas
workers, while Mexico has a local and federal government
matching programme for investments in infrastructure.

The Diaspora

Today the buzz is all about "deploying the diaspora option" as
countries seek to capture the energy of their network of
expertise outside their shores and as always, to attract them
back home. Nationals living abroad represent a steady stream of
ideas, innovation, experience and expertise. They force change
and modernization even from a distance, invest money and demand
higher standards back home.

South Africa, reputed to have one of the most active diaspora
networks in the world, created the South African Network of
Skills Abroad in 1998, with 2800 members in 60 countries. Non
resident Indians were the driving force behind the establishment
of the world class Indian School of business in Hyderabad, and
formed critical liaisons with compatriots back home in starting
the boom in software development, a move which has given India
first world credentials in the field. Indeed India is expected to
sell USD8.5 billion in services to the USA this year.

By the same token, China's economic boom has in large measure
also been fueled by its foreign based nationals who have raised
venture capital and provided expertise. It is estimated that the
Chinese diaspora has contributed almost 60% of that country's
Foreign Direct Investment in recent times, with the number of
returnees to China increasing by 13% annually since 2000. In
both of these examples, the diaspora and those who have
returned, are contributing heavily to the development efforts of
their countries currently the two hottest economies in the

The phenomenon of outsourcing and the jobless recovery in the
USA as productivity increases, apart from the war on terrorism,
are among the most important issues being debated during the
current presidential race, and many countries have developed
strategic responses in return. One such response is the planned
cybercity of New Songdo in South Korea, the most revolutionary
attempt at city planning ever undertaken on such a massive scale.
New Songdo is viewed as "the most audacious piece of real estate
in the world" and "the world's most technologically advanced city",
as it sets itself up as the gateway to China, and a haven for high
end high-tech industries, and workers from around the world.
Quality of life is not lost in the mix: New Songdo has
incorporated 6KM of canals along the lines of those in Venice,
street scenes from Paris, and the waterfront of Chicago in its

Cyberjaya, also in south east Asia is another city based on the
principles of high tech innovation and outsourcing.

What does this mean for you?

What does all of this have to do with you? Essentially what this
means is that both at home and abroad, the opportunities to
contribute to the world around you, are as diverse, as they are
boundless. Perhaps at no other time have the rewards for hard
work being more expansive or exciting. Where you live no longer
dictates where you work, and what you contribute. Small size
need no longer be a constraint. The world of technological
innovation, and the language and architecture of globalization
provide exhilarating opportunities around the world.

The larger economic space provided within the OECS Economic
Union and Caricom's single market and economy, both at your

doorstep, will provide you with the opportunity to ply your goods
and services nearer to home, explore and give expression to your
Caribbean identity and be as creative as you choose to be, as you
bridge the divide between different cultures and values in a way
that is unique and special. Here, in the USVI the principles of
outsourcing, the offshore financial services sector and others
which are technologically based offer immediate opportunities.

Alternatively, yours can be the contribution which is made from
distant shores. The point is that, for this generation of
graduates, the world is your oyster as never before. Yours is the
future which you will chart; the opportunities are there for the
taking. Those of you gathered here today have been far more
fortunate that the generations who have gone before, to you
therefore falls the special responsibility to do the very best that
you can, and be the very best that you can be, with what you have.
Yours is the privilege and the responsibility to consider learning
to be a lifelong process, one for which graduation today marks
not the ending, but just the beginning. The greatest laboratory
is, after all, the world of life itself.

So go out there and make your mark, secure in the grounding of
your identity. Write the script for the future which you want and
rise to the challenges which await.

May you soar.

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