LOOKING GOOD, feeling good

Billie A. Miller describes how her country has concentrated its investment in its greatest resource, its people

Barbados, a small island of 430 square kilometres and 260,000 people in the south of the Caribbean, is many things – a former British colony, a prime tourism destination, home to a well-educated population which enjoys 99-per-cent literacy, and the home of one of the greatest cricketers who has ever lived, Sir Garfield Sobers. It also enjoys the position of number 29 in the United Nations Human Development Index of the world’s nations – amongst the highest of the developing countries.

The late 20th-century concept is that everybody has potential human resources to provide. However, long before human resource development had become the buzzword it now is, Barbados had determined that this was going to be the way forward. With little mineral wealth at their disposal, successive Governments made heavy investments in education and training as a means of developing the number one resource – our people.

This has since allowed us to be flexible and adaptable, so that where some of our traditional markets have begun to decline – and we know that will happen more in the early 21st century – we are prepared to be able to reposition ourselves quickly. Barbados is now moving in a new direction to cement a services-oriented economy with offshore financial services, having also determined very early that this was going to be the way of the future. The island is fortunate in having a small population which is eminently governable and manageable, as well as well-educated.

During the 1990s the United Nations hosted a number of giant international conferences – on the environment, social development, population issues, women. It held a Special Session in June to review the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, and in September is doing the same for the Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, which we were honoured to host in Barbados in 1994. It is time not just to chart the way forward in a new and dynamic global environment but to bring these issues together into a meaningful agenda for full, inclusive and participatory development. The international community must work in harmony to implement it in a timely and people-centred way.

Creative confrontation
In Barbados we are confronting our social challenges in creative ways. In the area of population and development, the Barbados Family Planning Association has turned to peer counselling – using young people as advocates to communicate critical messages. The Government is fully aware of, and actively engaged in, the process of interdependence which links poverty, economic development and the environment, and has embarked on a programme of social transformation intended to embrace the most disadvantaged in society. It has developed a new Ministry of Social Transformation to work for the eradication of poverty and to reform the social sector to meet the challenges of the new millennium. Greater emphasis is being placed on ensuring the right of every citizen to a decent quality of life. In the same vein, the Government has elevated the national Bureau of Women’s Affairs to a Bureau of Gender Affairs to promote gender equity and equality.
There is a lot to be learned from us even as we have to learn much from others

Attention is also being paid to environmental responsibility. For example, Barbados recognized many years ago the need to move to renewable energy as part of its overall development plan. In the 1970s, tax incentives were given to home-owners who purchased solar water heaters. Today, over 60 per cent of all households have them, and the majority of the hotel industry uses solar hot water heating systems. Our island is now experimenting with wind energy and there is an ongoing feasibility study.

Technological imperatives
The world is changing and our present top priority is to examine and/or negotiate our trading arrangements. The unprecedented forces of globalization, of institutions of international economic governance and the drastic imperatives of continuous technological change represent a new way of doing business – but must be faced with courage rather than foreboding.

In this new age it is essential to remember that all states – not just small island developing ones like Barbados – will be affected by difficulties in adjusting. Indeed it has even been argued in some quarters that small service-oriented economies can adapt more rapidly to radical change and that the current circumstances provide opportunities as well as challenges for Barbados, if it knows how to seize the advantage. We are rising to the challenge and the opportunities. In the post-cold-war era a wide range of new alliances are possible, even as traditional groupings such as the Group of 77 and the non-aligned movement are in a state of flux and seek to redefine their role.

Embracing responsibility
The Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur, Prime Minister of Barbados, has publicly stated his dream to see Barbados become the world’s first small island developed country. It already has many aspects that can be likened to a developed country.

We endeavour to capitalize on new industry and make a mark in social transformation with the eradication of poverty and other social negatives which impede full and true development. We need to truly realize that we are responsible for ourselves and that we can no longer expect other people to do certain basic things for us. We must create a state that not only looks good, but feels good – so that all Barbadians feel that Barbados has brought them forward and they are proud to acknowledge their island home.

Barbados is in the western hemisphere and it is here that we have to make our future. There is much we can do to uplift this part of the world. We may be very small – but in the sphere of human rights, good governance and democracy we have many lessons we can teach. There is a lot to be learned from us even as we have to learn much from others.

The Hon. Billie A. Miller is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados.

PHOTOGRAPHS: Guy Mansfield/Panos Pictures; Manning, Selvage & Lee

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Editorial M. T. El-Ashry | Let action... | The size of the problem | Looking good... | Vanishing islands | Whispers and waste | At a glance | Competition | Preserving paradise | Coral grief | ...biodiversity and beauty | Grassroots | GEF - helping small islands | Making a difference | UNEP - new books | Small is vulnerable | Measuring vulnerability | Exporting solutions | New friends in...

Complementary articles in other issues:
Nelson Andrade: Reefs and reforms (Tourism) 1999
Carlston Boucher: No island is an island (Tourism) 1999
Norris Prevost: Beyond bananas (Tourism) 1999
Elizabeth Khaka: Small islands Big problems (Freshwater) 1998