For most of its 52 years as an independent nation, the tiny island-state of Barbados distinguished itself from larger betterendowed countries by the high quality of its leadership and a singleminded focus on improving the lives of its people. During much of that time, economic growth and social development were built on discipline, effort, efficiency and a commitment to democratic principles like freedom and fair play.

Today, at the close of the second decade of the 21st century, Barbados is at a crossroads.

In a world where digital technologies, artificial intelligence, social media, and the Internet of Things are driving rapid economic, social, political, and cultural change, and where growth from traditional sectors of the economy has stagnated, Barbados faces tough choices as it grapples with how best to position itself for the future.

Yet, Albert Einstein once famously observed that in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

It is perhaps for this reason that a relatively new Government, swept to power in a decisive May 2018 general election, is introducing digital thinking and ‘smart’ solutions in order to right size and reinvent the public sector to make it fit for the next stage of national development. The objective is not only to return Barbados to efficiency but also to propel it beyond efficiency to innovation, where new solutions, products and services move from the realm of mere ideas to sustainable social and economic value, making a measurable difference in the lives of people.

The ultimate vision is for Barbados to be universally recognised as a ‘smart’ successful small-island state that sets a global standard for simple, secure, innovative digital services that are useful, fun and accessible to everyone all the time.

The new Barbados is designed to empower people by investing in continuous life-long learning. It is designed to attract and enable innovative thinkers who develop ‘smart’ technologies and solutions that address existing gaps in the delivery of human services, and that support transparency, collaboration, and value creation at all levels, and in secure ways.

The new Barbados is designed to leverage technologies, systems and structures that are climate-smart, environmentally conscious, and resilient in the face of increasingly unpredictable global weather patterns and events.

The major driver of this national transformation is the new Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Smart Technology (MIST). It is actively initiating and supporting a number of projects as it leads the internal revolution to push public sector performance through intelligent use of technology.

One such project is the Smart Bridgetown Wi-Fi corridor, which is being developed as an early-stage collaboration with global technology powerhouse Cisco and its local partner Productive Business Solutions (PBS). Cisco is the worldwide leader in networking for the Internet. It creates solutions that give individuals, companies, and countries easy access to information, anywhere, any time. According to its website, “Cisco is now ranked globally as the top technology leader in smart cities and community digital transformation.” Together, Cisco and PBS are nurturing partnerships with other innovators to improve Government efficiency and citizen satisfaction by using technology in public administration, public service delivery, and infrastructure services. In this regard, they are designing Stage 1 of the Bridgetown ‘smart’ Wi-Fi corridor to include City Wi-Fi, tourism experiences, e-participation, smart parking, and location-based mobile transportation solutions that provide realtime information on the status of public service vehicles (PSVs) as they travel on the road.

Another project being guided by MIST is the creation of a ‘digital dashboard’ to provide at-a-glance snapshots of the status of major public investment projects being managed by the Ministry of Finance, including activities, trends, bottlenecks, and overall execution. The dashboard is expected to increase transparency, potentially mitigating opportunities to engage in corrupt practices, all of which can facilitate seamless operations and decision making for Government.

MIST is also introducing Scotland’s CivTech model to Barbados. It is a public sector accelerator that issues challenges to the private sector, innovators, and entrepreneurs to develop and deliver digital solutions to Government. It is unique in that it actively seeks the input of citizens in shaping those solutions to meet real existing needs.

In addition, as part of Barbados’ internal transformation, Prime Minister the Hon. Mia Mottley, Q.C., M.P., announced in September that Barbados will develop a national digital payment network in collaboration with Barbados-based FinTech start-up Bitt, the Central Bank, and the Financial Services Commission (FSC). This mMoney pilot programme will enable electronic payments using digital money. It will adhere to the highest standards of financial regulation while ensuring such regulation is fit for purpose in an evolving global digital environment.

It will protect and facilitate fairness and transparency while also encouraging out of the box thinking in an area central to the continued development of Barbados’ international business and financial services sector.

In the final analysis, as English designer Sir Terence Conran once noted, “The designer's job is to imagine the world not how it is, but how it should be.”