by Toni Sirju-Ramnarine
Good morning, everyone.
WELCOME to the AMCHAM T&T-Republic Bank - Tech Hub Islands Summit (THIS) 2022.
It is a real honor to be with you today live and in-person to kickstart what promises to be three days of engaging and thought-provoking discussions.
Before I begin, I want to start by acknowledging the support of our sponsors. We are delighted to have Republic Bank return once more as our Title Sponsor and for sharing the vision we have of T&T becoming a major tech hub globally.
I must also acknowledge our other sponsors: Platinum Sponsors: PwC; IDB; Digicel; Eximbank; SI Digital; our Gold Sponsors: Guardian Group; NIO Digital; Proman; Silver Sponsor: Balroop Group; Session Sponsors: Visa and the TTIFC; Digital Media Partner: LoopTT and our Transportation Partner: Europcar. All that we are able to do here today is largely built on the support and partnership of these organisations.
Four years ago, when we started the first edition of this, we wanted to amplify the importance of digital transformation to our economy. We are of the firm belief that a tech sector in Trinidad and Tobago can be a critical component of a diversification strategy.
The vision we had for this was to build a national tech ecosystem and marketplace that will allow local businesses to export tech services to international markets.
We also wanted to develop a critical mass of local talent and to put the established businesses in touch with the young disruptors to start collaborating more on problem-solving facilitated by technology.
To accomplish this, we knew we had to first start investing in our people. Bringing together representatives from the private and public sectors and all other stakeholders and interest groups was central to our digital transformation vision. I want to offer my gratitude to AMCHAM T&T's Digital Transformation Committee for their hard work over these past four years which helped us to achieve this goal. And the result is THIS – a conference bringing together these very minds! So you see we’re living the theme of this year’s conference - change in action
Now the question is: what do we do next? The answer is to continue building on what we created. Therefore, "Change in Action" over the next three days will see us highlighting the success stories of the young disruptors and innovators who are at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Their inspiring stories will hopefully channel a new influx of creativity and innovation to show us how technology can underpin a more fulfilling, productive, and profitable way of life.
Today competitiveness is about being innovative. The experiences of the past two years have definitely taught us that. But what does that mean in an ever-changing world? How do we continuously reinvent our business operations, redefine our dreams, and reimagine a future that has us staying both competitive and successful?
THIS 2022 is set up to answer these questions. This year we will amplify the work that needs to be done around building the local Fintech Industry and Financial Inclusion. We will share information to develop a futureproof digital infrastructure and make T&T a real player in the global tech supply chain.
But THIS isn't just a platform for discussions. THIS is a space to foster meaningful partnerships between key stakeholders:
- the private and public sectors
- the key innovators and disruptors with larger and long established, experienced entities
- local talent and internationally operating tech giants
You are all in this room. Jointly, we are here to learn, we are here to collaborate, we are here to form partnerships, and we are here to deliver the technological dream and vision we have for our businesses and our nation.
Let's start by accepting that this is now a "tele-everything" world. Recent global events have deepened our relationships with technology. Today we rely on digital connections for work, education, health, daily commercial transactions, and essential social interactions. This has existed for some time now, became amplified as a result of the pandemic and continues as an extension of the pandemic. And there's no forecast showing that the human connection to technology will change any time soon.
Digital adoption has become the mainstay of our operations and human functioning in recent times. There is no escaping it. But while we evolve with it, we need to make sure that we are building a world that:
1) enhances the quality of life for many families and workers,
2) fueling safety and convenience through the increased use of digital tools, and
3) enhancing interconnectedness to engender empathy, trust, and the administration of truth.
A digital era cannot have us worrying about:
- worsening economic inequality because of the digital divide;
- "big tech" exploiting their market advantage to erode the privacy and autonomy of users;
- or the weaponisation of lies and hate speech to manipulate public perception, emotion, and action to sow hate and discord in society.
Currently, we see a lot of this happening already in our world. What would be new is how we come together to solve these problems even as we embrace technology in all parts of our business operations and lives.
If technology is being harnessed to provide solutions, we will overcome these problems. But we must have a clearly defined strategy with intended goals and leadership buy-in from the decision-makers. Your presence here today suggests you already recognise this. Now we just have to agree on a clear roadmap to build the tech ecosystem and start doing the work.
The work must start with ensuring that digital transformation in the private sector does not outpace the rate at which it happens in the public sector, or vice versa. A true return on investment from digital transformation requires a coordinated and simultaneous approach between both private and public entities.
AMCHAM T&T, through THIS and the work of our Digital Transformation Committee, has outlined several key policies in the past to help fulfill our digital agenda. I don't want to sound repetitive, but we would like to see the government take swift action on these policies to fully reap the benefits of digital transformation.
We remain hopeful that the unique national e-identification will be operationalised soon so that we can simultaneously track the state's interactions with citizens while ensuring equitable access to public benefits and services for every citizen. Recently at our AGM Minister in the Ministry of Finance Brian Manning indicated that the Government is working on this and another of our recommendations, a data interoperability framework for the Government. We are hopeful that these will be actioned this calendar year.
Also, we have seen how cashless payment systems and other advanced technologies like machine learning, blockchain, automation, bank lending, or consumer lending have digitally transformed many businesses elsewhere. With Trinidad & Tobago having the largest financial services industry in the English-Speaking Caribbean, we can leverage this to develop a thriving fintech ecosystem. This way we can boost innovation, advance financial inclusion, strengthen public financial management systems, and promote positive economic transformation. With the right mix of incentives, policies, and legislation to promote growth, innovation, and adoption, we can build this fintech ecosystem.
If we are going to invest in technology, then we must make sure that R&D is at the core of our growth strategy. This is how we will drive economic growth or spur innovation, invention, or progress.
In fact, one of the recommendations to the Government for inclusion in the upcoming budget is to support R&D in private companies through the allowance of a write-off of 75 % of the working capital used to support innovation against chargeable income tax, up to a limit of 2% of a company’s annual revenue in the prior year. We hope this recommendation will be taken into consideration.
Nearshoring is another sector that can provide a great return on investment considering recent global events such as the pandemic. Trinidad and Tobago’s immense resources and talent create the ideal environment to position itself as a world-class nearshore provider for foreign companies seeking to establish operations in new locations.
Currently, our close proximity to North America, English-speaking talent pool, favorable economic climate for investment, and relative ease of doing business are just some of the key factors that make T&T a prime destination for the emergence of a nearshoring sector. We believe this is what will keep us attractive to foreign investors seeking to fill their digital transformation gaps as they look to outsource their operations to other territories.
Indeed, we have held meetings with the Ministers of Trade and Digital Transformation on this proposal and are pleased to say that both Ministries have agreed to work in collaboration with us on the initiative. Further, last week, we convened the inaugural meeting of a Technical Working Group on this initiative and on Friday, we will have a wider meeting with stakeholders, as part of t.h.i.s., to brainstorm ideas to create a tech hub in T&T.
Finally, it's important to note that developing a tech ecosystem will not reap the intended benefits in the absence of the regulatory and legislative environment to facilitate its success. With many businesses now relying on technology and software to provide key services and collecting vast amounts of data from their customers, keeping the information secure has become a major priority. Therefore, our digital transformation dreams require a strong and robust governance framework to guide this tech ecosystem. We will need more efficient cybersecurity networks and the implementation of the Electronic Transactions Act, Data Protection Act and the Transfer of Funds Act coupled with policies to protect the free sharing of open data to ensure the vital success of our digital journey.
As I close, I want you to know that AMCHAM T&T's focus on technology doesn't stop at the end of this summit. We will continue to do the work that is necessary to improve our business functions, enhance the quality of life for citizens and drive economic growth and sustainability from everything that technology has to offer.
We recently hosted another BreakbeatCode hackathon – which teaches coding through music – for 50 young people in T&T. We expect to do another such hackathon this year to be followed by a longer 12-week course for more intense coding training.
Our digital skills gap study with the IDB is almost completed. The findings will help guide the development of training programmes to support the growth of local firms and investor firms as the tech sector expands in T&T. Such a study should provide policy-relevant information on how key actors in the digital economy can better interact towards improving the country’s attractiveness for foreign investment based on an internationally competitive supply of digital talent. It will also examine distinct elements of the digital economy, including gaps in digital inclusion, emerging opportunities for e-commerce, and state responses to facilitate gap closure.
Also, our Security Committee is finalising the cyber-security guidelines which we hope to make available to our members soon. So, the work continues for us as I hope it will for you following this summit.
I hope you feel as excited as we do that digital transformation can be the engine of our economic growth and sustainability. I don’t expect you to have all the answers today or even by the end of this summit, but my hope is that the connections we leave here with will help advance the partnerships and collaboration needed to build the roadmap to our digitally connected future with fewer detours. I hope the information we share with you over the next few days will be useful and rewarding to both your businesses’ survival and our country's future.
Thank you once more to all our sponsors, speakers, and to Ms. Rey-Anne Paynter, TECH Community and Projects Officer at AMCHAM T&T and to everyone at the Secretariat for all their hard work in putting together this event.
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