AN enterprising and ambitious initiative was launched recently by key personnel from the private sector to accelerate recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The initiative called ‘Recover saint Lucia’ is expected to be in operation for 12 months.
The venture, interestingly has received support and endorsement from the island’s main political leaders, namely Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and Opposition Leader Phillip Pierre, both of whom were in attendance at the recent launch.
Speaking to the gathering, Chairperson Recover Saint Lucia and President of the Saint Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Karen Peter stated that the pursuit of economic viability is the goal of the group. She said this underlines the group’s objective and strategy, which is necessary and desirable “and the only means by which we will preserve lives and livelihoods of our citizens, businesses and communities.”
Peter asserted: “This initiative therefore seeks to merge people, ideas, resources and expertise into practical and effective strategies prompted by concern, informed by consultation and shaped into effective collaboration.”
She noted that there were five main principles, which guide the initiative undertaken by the business community.
“The primary objectives of this initiative is to engage and encourage citizens, businesses and communities to be more responsive, resilient and committed to their own economic recovery , growth and prosperity,” added Peter. “To enhance national entities to co-exist, grow and prosper in the current health and economic environment.”
In addition, she explained, the initiative will also seek “to expand collaborative opportunities for employment, recovery and growth beyond current health and economic circumstances.”
Peter said these are the primary drivers against which all program initiatives will be evaluated and assessed “to enforce, focus and fit.”
She stressed that the desired outcomes they envisage would be to foster “greater national capacity to manage and overcome current health and economic conditions, greater community participation in economic recovery including enhanced opportunity or employment, entrepreneurship and industry.”
The group’s chairperson declared: “Now, more than at any other time in our history it is critical to face the challenges ahead as a united nation, where all segments of society contribute to getting our beloved country back on a stable footing.”
In support for the restoration of the country’s physical and economic health, the tourism sector has also thrown in its weight behind this venture.
“We recognize that the path to recovery is not one dimensional,” says Noorani Azeez, Chief Executive Officer of the Saint Lucia Hospitality and Tourism Association (SLHTA).
“The champions of this bold, new initiative all agree that a multi-faceted approach is necessary to protect the lives of citizens while also helping to secure the jobs that sustain livelihoods and families,” Azeez said.
The Recover Saint Lucia grouping has been further divided into five respective sub-committees, disclosed Dr. Adrian Augier, who performed the role of MC at the event. He explained that the main Steering Committee will be supported by a second –tier of sub committees, which will carry on the bulk of the work to be undertaken.
These committees are divided into two categories; functional and supportive. The functional committees will oversee health practices, economic opportunity and food security, while the support committee will deal with resource mobilization- human, financial and physical and communications and messaging.
Head of the Health Best Practice Committee, Dr. Stephen King, stated this committee is tasked with advocacy, knowledge development and essentially, brain storming amongst members.
He said the group acknowledges that there is great capacity on the island “and we believe that we can do. We believe in the message of hope and empowerment, we believe in the message of resilience and us coming together with the wisdom …that we have shown, expressed and we intend to.”
Dr. King declared: “This is the common enemy – SARS/COVID-2 (Covid-19). Make no mistake, there’s no other enemy right now. There’s no time for any division, no civil war here …personalities, people, politics, social class, economic class come together.”
He added: “This is the enemy …see this enemy. It’s unseen on our shores, but this is what it looks like. Our first priority area is our national behavior change campaign …and this will largely be implemented though our communications committee and other stake holders that are involved such as the Bureau of Health Education and other partners.”
However, noted Dr. King, the group primarily seeks for “a united national effort …we want all hands on deck. This is an all society, all government approach. Every St. Lucian is a soldier in this battle because this virus will fight us in our bodies, as well as in our communities and business places.”
Enhancing health security is of top priority, he said, as “we need to create a partnership that can essentially not only brain storm, but can provide action to the ideas.”
Consequently, Dr. King called on the government authorities to establish a ‘Joint Public Sector/ Private Sector Advisory Team’ to include clinical expertise, public health …laboratory, logistics, supply chain , and insurance expertise, behaviour psychology , culture , business and community as well as other necessary partners.
He stressed that more focus needs to be directed at mental health issues, since “mental health promotion in the country is crucial …and we need to support our people because you can see lots of depression, anxiety in the country in need of special focus on mental health.”
Dr. King added that there is also need for the promotion of vaccines “and let us look at the vaccines we can make available to our people and how we can prioritize.” He said that ‘contact tracing’ is another priority area since “not knowing can hurt …and if you don’t know that you’re infected that’s a problem. So we need to enhance …deepen and widen contact tracing, and in particular support people who are identified as contacts.”
Goretti Paul, of the Economic Opportunity Sub-Committee said the main focus is “to engage and encourage citizens to be more self –sufficient and trigger new opportunities for businesses to collaborate in the interest of economic development.”
She said the primary objective was to create immediate employment opportunities for unemployed individuals and “to develop the employability of our workforce, to provide support to micro and small businesses and to develop an effective framework for human capital development that can remain in effect beyond the existing circumstances.”
Paul disclosed that a major priority would include the establishment of a ‘National Apprentice Program’ and will liaise with companies “that can accommodate unemployed persons for internships or apprenticeships over the next two (2) weeks.”
The Project will also consist of a Business Mentorship Program, and A Virtual Market Place to create more opportunities to trigger economic activity.
Executive Director of the St Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA) and Chair of the Food Security Sub- Committee called for an increase in consumption of local nutritious foods.
Azeez said the intention is to target vulnerable groups with a view to getting young persons more actively involved in entrepreneurial activities. “We want to expose them to emerging opportunities and emerging technologies, and emerging prospects that will inspire and grow their productivity,” he noted.
He spoke on putting in motion the distribution of food vouchers to support not only vulnerable and marginalized groups, but to also “allow them the opportunity to access via these food vouchers dietary products that are unique to their specific family household needs.”
Chair of the Resource Mobilization Committee, SanovnikDestang said their main task is to provide funds, human and physical resource support and other relevant aspects to support the other committees.
Augier, sub-chair of the Communications Sub-Committee said that this initiative is geared “to benefit the health and economic viability of the entire country, but more specifically to benefit citizens, companies and communities by way of improved information, greater access…uninterrupted services as well as improved health and wellness practices.”
Citing the significance of this project and with a vested interest in seeking for betterment in the health and economic welfare of citizens, the organizers struck a chord by breaking the ‘political divide’ to have the nation’s leaders jointly sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) endorsing the RECOVER SAINT LUCIA initiative and its objectives.
While expressing optimism and support for the initiative, Prime Minister Chastanet said it was a significant undertaking “because it speaks to our shared sense of responsibility.”
He added that, “Hopefully Covid-19 is going to teach us a very important lesson …that we have no choice but to come together as a nation.”
He noted there are some critical issues, such as this crucial covid-19 pandemic which requires the nation to act with a “common voice,” and urged stakeholders and citizens to come together to work in dealing with national initiatives.
Opposition Leader Pierre expressed the St Lucia Labour Party’s (SLP) support for the initiative on the basis of equity. He said this venture was truly a nation building project and his party fully supports and endorse “any initiative that benefits the people of St. Lucia. It must have at its basis equity… everyone should get an equal opportunity to share in the benefit of that initiative.”
He said that “as we build that capacity, there is equity and there is fairness in the distribution of these benefits that we accrue.”