Entrepreneurs and businesspeople from Caribbean and African nations encouraged each other to drive the technological change their countries need at Miami Caribbean Code’s first Regional Tech Summit on Thursday in the Design District.
“Technology is just a thing that should be there to help us solve social problems, solve market problems, solve market demand needs,” said Natalie Cofield, president and CEO of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce, during her keynote speech. She urged attendees to invest in their home countries and then “go home and do business.”
“If we don’t believe in our community enough to go back in and create a solution for them,” she said, “we’ll be upset that somebody else came and did.”
Billions of dollars travel from the U.S. to the Caribbean and Africa, Cofield said. “So why can’t it flow on distribution channels that are created by the very people who are putting billions into the system?”
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The conference was designed to bring focus on the need for technology advances in the Caribbean, said Eveline Pierre, co-founder of Miami Caribbean Code, dedicated to bridging the technological gap between the Caribbean and Miami. About 75 attended.
Technology can address a myriad of problems — including government accountability, access to education, energy security and public health access — facing both South Florida and the Caribbean, said Brian Fonseca, director of operations for the Applied Research Center at Florida International University.
“The Caribbean has suffered for a long time from constant brain drain. Intellectuals leave the Caribbean and move into markets that have better quality of life. And that’s just sad because we lose this intellectual power that we should be sustaining in our own communities,” Fonseca said.
Panelists throughout the day discussed technology’s influence on education, social impact, connectivity and economies. Addressing the problems in these areas begins with more access to technologies, panelists said.
“We have not spoken about new technology that does not exist in the world,” said Nehama Bikovsky, president of Maritime Consulting Enterprise. “However, when we go to the Caribbean, oftentimes we see that this not-amazing-anymore technology is still not there.”
As some technology reaches Cuba, Jason Ibarra, chapter director of Startup Grind Miami, cautioned attendees to “be a little cynical” about the rate of progress there. Despite growing internet access, costs are still relatively astronomical, he said.
“I spend personally about 1 percent of my income on broadband internet,” Ibarra said. “If [Cuban citizens] spent 1 percent on broadband internet, they would have 10 minutes a month.”