Herodotus marvelled how roads linking Asia with Persepolis allowed cities to grow along the alluvial plains of the Oxus and Laxartes rivers. By 1492 three caravels set sail in a quest to improve trade routes and treaties with China. The most recent shipwreck in that search is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Despite its marooning, and quite paradoxically, President Xi ‘s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative sets out to extend China’s Old Silk Roads deeper into Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa with a vast logistics and transport network, using roads, ports, rails, pipelines, airports, transnational electric grids and fibre optic cables.
The plan at one point included 65 countries, which together accounted for one-third of global GDP and 60 percent of the world’s population. In 2018, Chile’s president Michelle Bachelet and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, along with 33 members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) convoked in Santiago to deliberate a broad agreement on $250 billion for the New Silk Roads into Latin America. The myth in the mire is that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’. However, it has only lifted the large yachts, and many of the smaller dinghies have been left wrecked on the rocks, partly because the extraordinary growth in top economies has coincided with an economic slowdown elsewhere according to economist Joseph Stiglitz. In fact, globalisation has not reduced inequality in poor countries; as Simon Kuznets argued, increasing inequality is inevitable during industrialisation. But like Saudi Arabia’s ambitious new tech-city NEOM, the test for CELAC is where the bottom up creativity will come from to buttress competitiveness and growth given the low levels of innovation and entrepreneurship across its states, manacled by outmoded systems of schooling. Economics is about rivalry to increase profits, market share, and sales volume – not equality.
If the West Indies is to deeply benefit, the Regional Education and Human Resource Development 2030 Strategy drafted by CARICOM must propose to CELAC that the new aims of education must take into account a borderless world economy, cosmopolitanism, a capabilities approach to development and the rise of a creative class. If we don’t know with clarity where we are going then any belt or road will do.
Ti-marie (Neptunia Aquatica) or the Sensitive Plant is an amusement for every West Indian child walking home from school. But its fermentation to produce a beverage is an innovation that has the potential to become a global organic product. The chemist Alshakim recently used a 3D printer to print a lattice from hydrogel and a polymer infused with yeast. Flopped into a glucose solution, the permeable hydrogel allows the yeast to convert the glucose into ethanol. Alshakim’s bioreactors for fermentation are producing ethanol continuously without slowing down. This simple discovery has enormous potential if industrialised as it can replace batch-processing in breweries and support designers of craft beverages from the West Indies.
In Armenia the Luys Foundation brings Luys Scholars from around the world to collaborate with government, educational institutions, business and other Luys partner organisations to support startups in Yerevan. The graduates meet with local professionals, lawyers and venture capitalists to better understand the entrepreneurial and start-up ecosystem of Armenia. Scholars from Oxford, MIT, Cambridge and Berkley deliver workshops involving:(1) the viability of ideas: steps from idea to prototype, (2) building a sustainable start-up team and culture, (3) legal issues that surround an idea, capitalising on the idea and strategising to build a profitable, sustainable business and (4) the digital economy: antitrust, competition economics, and market dynamics.
Revitalising the education estate in the West Indies is paramount alongside opportunities for returning scholars to sketch in detail the entrepreneurial and start-up ecosystem of CARICOM in order to drive the development of cities along the Prussian-blue rim of the Caribbean basin as we set out to trade on the New Silk Roads.