Earlier this year, I was asked to write an article that would anticipate Jamaica’s place in the global economy in 2030. What would the trade rules look like then, and what would Jamaica be trading? It was supposed to be a very futuristic approach.
As I wrote, however, I realized that the best thing that a developing country could do, in my opinion, to become global players in the world economy, was to put in place the prerequisites that would allow any talented and entrepreneurial individual anywhere in the country to become an active participant in the knowledge-based global economy that will surely predominate in 2030.
So, I imagined a scenario in which “Benjy” from a rural town grew into the head of a multinational corporation headquartered in Jamaica. This scenario could apply equally to “Asa” in Nigeria or “Jose” in Columbia.
“Benjy” graduates from of a high school where his innate talent for telecommunications technology was nurtured. He goes on to design a revolutionary new application for mobile phones. As just about everyone in Jamaica has at least one cell phone, this application holds the promise of revolutionizing the way in which everyone, in particular small farmers and entrepreneurs, do business.
Benjy has access to the information and resources that he needs to design and develop a prototype and to seek patent protection for it:
• He establishes and registers his own company using streamlined procedures that allow him to do this in one day for a very low fee;
• He obtains a low-interest loan that he is able to use to develop and test a prototype, as well as to ensure his design is protected in Jamaica, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom;
• He is accepted into a small business incubator program, operated out of the University of Technology, which provides work space, and support services including financial assistance and management training at a discounted rate.
• He is introduced to an angel investor who, in return for a share in the company, funds the development of the application through to the market.
The application is a huge success!
Benjy begins to market the application to the rest of the Caribbean, as well as to provide technical support services to existing customers. He also develops other applications. Not one to rest on his laurels, Benjy decides to explore the possibilities generated by the existing patent protection in other countries as well as the existing trade agreements which give Jamaican entrepreneurs preferential access to these markets. Benjy puts together the following business plan.
He establishes a sister company in the United States, headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica. Relying on the presence of a large Caribbean diaspora in the United States, Benjy expands into the US market. Then, as a company with a U.S. address, he receives assistance from the U.S. Department of Commerce to begin marketing his products and services in markets in Costa Rica, Panama, and Honduras, countries with significant Caribbean populations where he is able to gain a foothold in the market. Furthermore, his US-based company is able to take advantage of the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) to gain access to the restricted telecommunications markets in these countries.
By 2030, Benjy’s company has profitable operations throughout the Caribbean, in Central America, and in major US cities. The favourable business environment in Jamaica makes it convenient for him to keep his headquarters in the land of his birth, from where he continues to base the technical support services to all the countries in which the company operates. He is even able to hire Spanish-speaking graduates to service the Central American consumers. The operations generate jobs for several hundred Jamaicans and other nationals. Paying it forward, Benjy donates a state-of-the-art computer technology training center to his old high school.
The most unlikely aspect of the above story is the reality that, for the most part the services and facilities to which “Benjy” gains access do not currently exist. Yet, these are the services and facilities most likely to make the above scenario a realistic outcome for a talented but otherwise resource-poor Jamaican, Nigerian, Colombian, or person anywhere in the developing world.