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Caribbean countries harnessing the power of data science


ST JOHN’S, Antigua (CMC) — Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland has praised Caribbean and Commonwealth countries for their “strong support” to improve upon data-driven approaches to sustainable development.

“We are only weeks away from the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali. We approach this vital CHOGM in the knowledge that Commonwealth heads recognise the seminal role of ICT, Science and Innovation in securing good governance, promoting inclusion and building sustainable development,” she told a workshop on how to harness data for impactful innovation.

“We are confident that we will have the backing we need to scale up the Commonwealth Innovation Ecosystem Programme,” she added.

The workshop, which ends on Wednesday, is co-organised by the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat and the National Statistics Office of Antigua and Barbuda. It has brought together government officials, policymakers and industry leaders in the field of data science while addressing the significant data gaps that Caribbean countries face.

Minister of Works and Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Governance, Lennox Weston, said the Caribbean region needed to “weaponise data to close inequality gaps and achieve our development goals together”.

“I urge participants to use these three days to be the best and sharpest in mastering the techniques to produce the right kind of data, in the required format, that will give policymakers the basis to make good decisions.”

Assistant Director-General for the World Health Organisation for Data, Analytics and Delivery, Dr Samira Asma, said to get back on track and accelerate progress to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “we must have better data and use this to drive impact, through enhanced access and governance”.

“We cannot make progress without partnership and collaboration, leveraging the innovative technologies at our disposal, and making data openly available while also protecting people’s privacy.”

But the organisers have acknowledged that the ability to collect good data, conduct analysis and turn those insights into policies and legislation to help populations, is spread unevenly amongst Commonwealth regions and countries.

They note that many Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean face specific challenges related to their small size and lack of infrastructure, but are also exploring a range of opportunities to improve their capacity to become “innovation nations”.

“The workshop will therefore cover topics such as building a digital and data ecosystem for Small Islands Developing States, leveraging opportunities for machine learning and GIS tools, analysing data gaps in tracking progress around the SDGs in the Caribbean, strengthening open data ecosystems, and enhancing the role of national statistics offices in the region.”

As part of the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda, the Commonwealth Secretariat will also be assisting member states in the region to coordinate their agriculture and fisheries data infrastructure.

“Data is the key to driving sustainable development. It is critical for Commonwealth countries to adopt a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to data science — a strategic shift in mind set and work modes that the Commonwealth Secretariat is committed to supporting. I look forward to hearing the insights and strategies that delegates will generate at this workshop,” said the head of Innovation and Partnerships at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Abhik Sen.

During the three-day event, presentations will be made by the World Health Organization, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Population Fund.


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