If there was a period that demonstrated the remarkable strength of character and resilience of the people and Government of Barbados, it was the year just ended.
While the world is expected to continue on a trajectory in which more economic and social shocks are quite probable, Barbadians are arguably much better prepared to confront these scenarios due to strategic decisions of the Government and its partners in the private sector and civil society.
A common feature of 2021 was disruption. There was upheaval in the provision of global travel and tourism services, as countries introduced mitigation measures intended to combat the spread of COVID-19. In so doing, one of the island’s main economic pillars - tourism, was destabilised in a way unseen in recent history.
The pandemic has led to unprecedented levels of unemployment, as many hotel and tourism-related service sector employees were displaced. But that does not tell the whole story of Barbados’ remarkable response to events that could have devastated the very foundation of the island nation’s economic and social base.
The Mia Amor Mottley-led Government developed the island-appropriate Barbados Economic Sustainability & Transformation (BEST) programme, which provided over $300 million in targeted assistance to the tourism sector. Among the key features of the BEST programme were calculated investments in tourism-based entities to re-engage all their employees on 80 per cent of their normal salaries for up to two years. This move afforded participating companies space to allow them to be repositioned for an optimistic COVID-free 2023 season. Importantly, workers in these establishments did not lose their existing severance pay rights if laid off again at any point within the next 12 months.
Another transformative feature of the programme was its requirement of participants to engage in more sustainable initiatives through water conservation and harvesting, as well as a requirement to digitize as many components of their operations as possible.
Effectively, many of the pre-pandemic vulnerabilities were addressed, shifting a negative to a positive for companies in this tourism-dependent economy.
Undaunted by the trials of the pandemic, Barbados pushed ahead with its innovative Welcome Stamp programme. The hassle-free visa programme proved highly effective in attracting long-term visitors and their families, to live and work as digital nomads for up to a year, unburdened by income tax and other immigration requirements. By September, there were 2,953 applications and 1,987 approvals which saw over 5,000 travellers from the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada, Nigeria, and Ireland relocate to Barbados.
Barbados’ geographical position has long provided it with some shelter from the worst of the annual hurricane season. However, in early June, a weather event forced the diversion of scarce resources from the COVID-19 fight, to respond to the first hurricane Barbados has experienced in 65 years, which caused significant damage to many homes.
And this occurred just weeks after the entire population literally dug itself out from heaps of ash that blanketed the country following eruptions from the La Soufriere volcano in nearby St Vincent and the Grenadines.
But Barbados, over the decades of the country’s post-independence history, has demonstrated that its size is not a hindrance to its citizens’ capacity to be transformative, innovative, and nimble in response to national tests. Its highly successful global business sector emerged as a reliable economic pillar when almost every sector in the economy was undermined by the pandemic. The island has challenged its placement on various adverse lists by organs of the European Union and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, while also responding to demands to demonstrate economic substance by its various registrants. The country is also responding to emerging legislative demands, as it seeks to ensure compliance with international operating standards for global businesses.
Faced with such a heavy plate of social and economic needs, our island nation carved a space on the global landscape and emerged as a leader at the Global Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland in November.
Prime Minister Mottley’s strong advocacy for the interests of small island developing states (SIDS) on the global stage, has earned Barbados the respect of climate protection activists. And so, we were not surprised that she was chosen by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) as one of its 2021 Champions of the Earth - the world body’s highest environmental honour. The announcement was made by UNEP for the transformative impact of the champions on the environment and their leadership in advancing bold and decisive action on behalf of people and the planet.
The island’s leadership on environmental issues is also resonating with young Barbadians who are exhibiting keen interest in preservation of the planet. Eleven-year-old environmentalist Maria Marshall shot to global fame with her award-winning film production, Little Thoughts on Big Matters. She also got the opportunity to engage UNICEF ambassador and Lord of the Rings actor, Orlando Bloom in a now viral video.
Such are the products of this tiny nation, which is famed for “punching above its weight.” The resilience of its people was again on show as Barbados capped a tumultuous year with a bold step out of the realm of the British monarchy to become the world’s newest republic on November 30th 2021.
The transition capped a year of trials and triumphs for a country that is cementing its place as a small but resilient leader among the global family of nations.