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Research for a Better Region – Professor Dale Webber

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esearch, Innovation, Development PVC Webber’s certainty is reassuring—and understandable. Specialising in Coastal Ecology and Environmental Management, he has been a member of academic staff at The UWI for more than 25 years and a member of the administration at the Mona Campus since 2003. Published in over 35 peer-reviewed journals and acting as supervisor for over 60 graduate students, Professor Webber was also the Director of the Centre for Marine Sciences at Mona and the GraceKennedy James Moss-Solomon Senior Chair in Environmental Management. The Professor has written numerous technical reports for Caribbean governments and held senior positions on several environmental and education-related bodies outside of the university. As PVC he will use his qualifications and experience to support the research community, encourage more research and the growth of the research culture, and most importantly, strengthen the connections between the university and the society to spur research-driven innovation and development for the region. In its Strategic Plan 2012-2017, The UWI has placed major emphasis on responding to the developmental challenges of the Caribbean, and one of its key areas in doing so is “the generation of impactful cutting-edge research and innovation.” And the Caribbean needs that support today perhaps more than it ever has since independence. Its commodities badly affected first by globalisation and then by the Global Financial Crisis of 20072008, much of the region has been dealing with low growth for years. With a deadly reliance on vulnerable industries like tourism, little economic diversification, low productivity and high unemployment, Caribbean economies need help. Even standouts like Barbados and more recently Trinidad and Tobago are facing low growth as international market forces chop away at demand for their services and commodities. Recent forecasts from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimate Caribbean growth in 2016 at 0.2 percent. And the challenges of the region are not limited to its economies. The Caribbean faces issues such as crime, corruption, inequality, illness, infrastructure 44 – THE PELICAN/ISSUE 14

and environmental concerns. Innovation can and should be used to address these as well and there is no single institution in the region in a better position to lead this action than The UWI. “In emerging countries, innovation is seen as key to addressing pressing societal problems such as pollution, health issues, poverty, and unemployment,” says the Global Innovation Index 2015 (GII), a report that focuses on the role of innovation, looks at the factors that contribute to an innovative society and ranks countries by their level of innovation. The report states, “the role and significance of innovation goes beyond the objective of economic success. Rather it should be seen through the lens of inclusive development because it can address poverty and health issues, and through the lens of environmental sustainable development because it can address problems of pollution and energy provision.” Although Barbados ranks relatively high in the GII (37 out of 141 countries), the Caribbean in general was not among the high performing regions (unlike several developing nations in other parts of the world). “No countries in the region are among innovation achievers this year; seven display below-par performances relative to their GDP per capita,” the report states. However, it also gives one of the key factors to improve performance: “The level and standard of education and research activity in a country are prime determinants of the innovation capacity of a nation…. Higher education is crucial for economies to move up the value chain beyond simple production processes and products.”

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Special Time In conversation, PVC Webber prefers to focus on the opportunities rather than the challenges. His approach to research is surprisingly nuanced, particularly as the times seem to demand more applied research—pursuits geared towards the very specific material needs of society. “The ebb and flow between applied and pure research is often driven by personalities and by the society,” he says. “I believe there is an acceptance now that pure and applied research must be given

UWI Pelican Issue 14  
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