Conference focuses on Cayman’s future

 The Cayman Islands is looking toward a difficult future unless it moves away from “thinking of issues in silos” and embraces modern, interconnected data delivery systems, an IBM manager advised a Chamber of Commerce forum last week.

Gary Austin, brought in to head the combined Chamber-Cayman Islands government forum on the Islands’ future, calls it “the new normal”.

“For most of us in the room, we don’t want to have your grandfather’s Cayman anymore,” Mr. Austin said. “You’ve had a good ride, but the new normal is here to tell you that ride is going to change.”

First point, Mr. Austin said, stop thinking that the global financial crisis is going to go away.

“The current downturn is fundamentally different,” he told the audience of about 100 at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort on Thursday. “We may think the economy is rebounding, but the debt is not going away. We’re not going to avoid that.”

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“We are experiencing a restructuring of the economic order. It’s about globalisation. Often on small islands we don’t think about globalisation, but we need to.”

Second point: The world is becoming “smaller and flatter” through the use of interconnected technological systems and individual users who are becoming more intelligent by the day.

“Almost one-third of the world’s population will be on the internet by 2011,” he said, adding that people in general don’t have a good history with transformation, change. “We still have the old paper systems… we need to speed up.”

Third point: The need to redefine not only what schoolchildren are learning, but the methods by which they learn.

“Do people have to sit in classrooms to learn? Mr. Austin asked. “That’s the world we’re coming to.”

In a first-of-it-kind effort in Cayman, the private sector and government entities have come together for what outgoing Chamber of Commerce President Stuart Bostock hopes will be a yearly forum on the future of Cayman.

Forum members met in separate groups and behind closed doors on Thursday at the Marriott to address five key issues: developing local talent and the workforce, creating a business friendly climate, building a “smarter” infrastructure, enhancing quality of life and diversifying the local economy.

The idea is to eventually produce advisory positions on each of these issues to government.

Community Affairs Minister Mike Adam, speaking on behalf of Premier McKeeva Bush, said the government would gladly accept the forum’s recommendations and take them under advisement.

Mr. Bostock, in his address to the group, said he believes one key element to Cayman’s success is thinking further ahead than the country has done in the in past.
He compared Cayman’s methods to Singapore, which is now entering negotiations with neighbouring Malaysia over water supply agreements. The deal through which Malaysia currently supplies water to Singapore expires in 2061.

“They’re planning for something that’s 51 years away,” Mr. Bostock said. “How far ahead are we working for?”

Mr. Bostock said Cayman has been a leader in the Caribbean, even the world, in certain areas like international finance and tourism.

“We need more of that,” he said. “We need to emerge from our own crisis stronger, leaner and most of all, smarter. If we do that properly, together, we will no doubt have the advantage and place ourselves well ahead of those countries we compete against for business, tourism, and quality of life.”

Technology will play a big role in the future of Cayman, Mr. Bostock said; like it or not.

“Exploring smarter ways to live, conduct business and run a country can only be done with a good understanding of the compromise between technology and freedom,” he said.

IBM officials are collaborating on the effort with the Chamber of Commerce and government with an eye toward creating greater synergy between government and the private sector.

“To quote Albert Einstein, ‘everything has changed, except our way of thinking,’” said Mr. Austin.

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Attendees at the Future of Cayman forum included, from left, Wil Pineau, Stuart Bostock, Minister Rolston Anglin, Minister Mark Scotland, Minister Mike Adam and Shayne Howe. – Photo: Submitted
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