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Point and Counterpoint: Women in Belize’s innovation ecosystem

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Posted: Monday, May 3, 2021. 6:22 pm CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

By Dorian A. Barrow, Ph.D., Florida State University: According to The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, Innovation Ecosystems can be defined as “the large and diverse array of participants and resources that contribute to and are necessary for on going innovations in a modern economy.”  As Belize gets more women involved in its political, economic, socio-cultural and administrative affairs the country’s Innovation Ecosystem is advancing at an unprecedented rate helping to give Belize the type of competitive advantage it so badly needs to remain a viable nation state. At the same time, more women need to become more actively involved in further shaping our Innovation Ecosystem.  But what do we mean by a country’s Innovation Ecosystem and why is that an important sustainable development indicator for a country?

Many of us lay-people don’t bother to make the difference between creativity and innovation explicit.  But there is a big difference.  The main difference between creativity and innovation is the focus.  Creativity is about unleashing the potential of the mind to conceive new ideas.  Innovation is about introducing change into relatively stable systems.  For example, for as long as I can remember, the Belize National Teachers Union has had men as union President.  Then a decade or so ago they decided to change that and elect a woman person in the form of Senator Elena Smith to be President of the BNTU.  Today we see the impact on the country’s ecosystem that such an innovation is having.  But innovation is also connected with the work required to make an idea viable, since Innovation Ecosystems consists of economic agents and relations, as well as non-economic components such as technology, institutions, sociological interactions and culture, which facilitate idea-making, innovation and in the diffusion of such innovations.

Generally, what it seems to me that Belizean women have been able to do better than their male counterpart is in the creation of an innovation environment not only in the political, economic and administrative work places but also in the home, the family and the community.  Women seem better able to generate environments where creative ideas flourish, not just in Research and Development, but throughout our many and varied institutions, at every level.  They do much better in providing opportunities to others through personal autonomy, better at building cross-organizational networks, better at encouraging diversity of thought, and some say even better at focusing on goal-based thinking.  Women in Belize have become particularly good at taking an idea and transforming it into a practical reality.  For the businesses where they lead this has meant a product, process, or business concept or combination that have activated the market place and produce new profits and growth in the organization.  I still remember the late great Jane Usher and how she transformed The Holy Redeemer Credit Union into one of the largest financial institutions in the country.

But why is innovation so critical for the sustainable development of Belize’s ecosystem?  It is important because it can give a small country like Belize a competitive edge since it helps us to achieve the impossible by creating new business models, to turn weaknesses into strengths, to move ahead of the curve, and to adapt to rapidly changing markets.  But it also helps us to address the pain points in the society like this 10% reduction in salaries that teachers and public-service workers are about to receive.  And because women are better at developing unique and relevant strategies, because they are better at using innovation as a means to achieve strategic goals, are better at implementing innovations in an environment of trust, where failure is always an option, I am convinced that they are in a much better position to strengthen the country’s innovation ecosystem than their male counterparts.

Being innovative means doing things differently or doing things that have never been done before.  An innovator is someone who has embraced this idea and creates environments in which people are given the tools and resources to challenge the status quo, push boundaries and achieve growth.  Being innovative is a skill like any other.  The skills and techniques of innovative thinking are not just vital in work, but useful in everyday life as well, helping us to grow and develop in new situations like the COVID-19 Pandemic, and think about how to adapt to change more easily.  It is time that more of our women leaders in the political, economic and administrative spheres of the country to join hands with Senator Elena Smith and further strengthen the country’s Innovation Ecosystem.

Please feel free to challenge any or all of the issues raised in this piece and let’s get this dialogue on sustainable development in Belize going.

 Dr. Dorian Barrow is currently working at Galen University as the Dean of the Department of Education. He has a long history of involvement in education in Belize, having served as a Lecturer at the University of Belize, and as Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Education. Dr. Barrow is an eminent professional who is well respected both locally and abroad. He is serving as an editorial member and reviewer of several international reputed journals and has authored many research articles/books related to education. Apart from education, he is also a sports enthusiast.

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