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ACP-EU Supports Digital Connectivity in the Caribbean in the Face of COVID-19

In consultation with the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), the European Union (EU) is funding the DIRECCT (DIgital REsponse Connecting CiTizens) programme to strengthen the resilience of the health, education and small business sectors in the Caribbean to cope with current and future crises. A press conference was held virtually today, bringing together the funding and implementing partners to launch the programme in the Caribbean region.

Coordinated by the Agence Française de Développement (French Development Agency or AFD) Atlantic Regional Directorate, the bi-lingual event acknowledged the challenges to global and regional human development presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted the critical role of digital services to allow people to stay connected with their public health partners, educational institutions and essential businesses. H.E. Mr. Georges Rebelo Pinto Chikoti, Secretary-General of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) opened the floor by stating that “through this timely collaboration, we will finance 10 projects which will benefit more than 50 states throughout the OACPS in the areas of health, education and small businesses.

By prioritizing the needs of NGOs and reducing gender inequality which are still very present in the digital world, we can transform this COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to develop our countries.” It is clear that the availability of digital services mitigated the impact of the pandemic for citizens, patients, students and businesses in the region. In future crises, the ability to stay connected with institutions and partners will be an essential and an effective response that has been severely tested in the last 2 years. “The EU has set a new ambition: to support and increase access to digital services and tools in developing countries”, affirmed Mr. Luís Maia, Head of Cooperation of the Delegation of the European Union to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean States, the OECS and CARICOM / CARIFORUM.

“Digital transformation and innovation are keys priorities area in the EU’s engagement with the Caribbean and the EU plans to step up its digital engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean through a Digital Alliance. The aim is to combine both regions’ interests, strengths and capacities, to jointly address the digital divide and achieve inclusive digital transformation.” The responsibility to implement this 15.4-million-euro program, which is funded by the European Union, is that of Agence Francaise de Developpement and Enabel, the Belgian development agency. “The ACP-DIRECCT program is fully in line with AFD’s digital strategy” reminded Mr Philippe La Cognata, Regional Director in the Atlantic Ocean of the French Development Agency, “the digital transition is one of the six priority transitions of AFD’s Strategic Orientation Plan.

Image of CARPHA Executive Director, Dr Joy St John
CARPHA Executive Director, Dr Joy St John

We will use digital technology as a lever to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. AFD is thus positioning itself as a digital donor in order to become a reference partner for developing countries to accelerate their digital transition for sustainable development.” “The Caribbean region will benefit from this programme through strengthened health information systems and increased capacity for early detection, response, monitoring, and reporting of public health threats and emerging diseases,” stated Dr. Joy St. John, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) as she presented a synopsis of the project Improving Digital Integrated Public Health Surveillance in the Caribbean.

The initiative aims to increase capacity for real time access of Caribbean Ministries of Health to public health surveillance data from a variety of sources using a digital integrated information platform (One Health approach). CARPHA’s 26 Member States, many of which depend on tourism, will use this digital system to inform early and appropriate interventions to track and mitigate disease spread, and act as an evidence base for policy-makers to address local environmental and social determinants of health. Ms. Seliatou Kayode-Anglade, Project Officer, Economy Private Sector and Trade division, Financial and Economic Governance Department of Expertise France presented the Digital transformation project for Micro Small and Medium Entreprises (MSMEs) in West Africa and the Caribbean. The objective of the project is to strengthen the resilience of off-line formal and informal MSMEs by improving their digital skills.

Activities are implemented by partners in West Africa and in the Caribbean. “Caribbean Export is one of our partners in the Digital transformation project for MSMEs and we are glad to collaborate with them on such an important topic for Caribbean private sector development and economic resilience” reaffirmed Ms. Kayode-Anglade. Mr. Deodat Maharaj, Executive Director, Caribbean Export Development Agency in his remarks welcomed the cooperation with Expertise France and praised the conception and design of the Virtual eCommerce Accelerator Programme (VEAP) that the Agency will be implementing. Maharaj affirmed the Agency’s commitment to working with relevant stakeholders to ultimately help Caribbean businesses and entrepreneurs take advantage of digital technologies to build their resilience and sustainability.

“Under the rubric of the Virtual Ecommerce Accelerator Programme, we will engage Caribbean firms, Business Supports Organisations (BSOs) and ecommerce related private sector firms (such as website developers and drop shipment partners), over of 6-months period, utilising a learning by doing approach aimed at enhancing their knowledge of ecommerce and implementation of ecommerce strategies.” The accelerator will include a maximum of 2 BSOs in each country with 5 firms assigned to each BSO for support across the 15 CARIFORUM countries.

These BSOs and firms will be supervised by a team of Master trainers and coaches in the areas of ecommerce website development, product development, marketing, analytics and general ecommerce operations. Mr. Frédéric Murat, International Operations Manager of Bibliothèques Sans Frontières (Libraries without borders or BSF) presented the Offline Internet initiative launched by BSF in Haïti. While half of the world’s population does not have access to a quality internet, the need for the dissemination of digital content for training, education, information or leisure has never been greater in order to create stronger and more resilient societies in the face of contemporary challenges (education, employment, global warming, migration, risk and epidemic prevention…).

In this project, BSF aims at promoting access to information and education in 15 Haïtian schools, libraries and local organisations for the most vulnerable through offline internet solutions. DIRECCT projects aim to improve access to digital infrastructure in more than 55 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries by increasing connectivity, support the development of sector-specific digital services (education, health and business) according to their particular needs and then train people to use them. In the health sector, the main objective is to enable public bodies to quickly collect reliable data on the status of the current pandemic and possible future health crises, which are essential tools for institutions to provide immediate and relevant responses. The €15.4 million programme is mainly implemented by the AFD in coordination with the Belgian development agency, Enabel.

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