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Conference on driving OCT innovation starts

DAWN BEACH--A three-day conference focused on brainstorming and finding solutions towards diversifying economies with innovation, part of an EU-funded project called "Territorial Strategies for Innovation," kicked off on Tuesday morning with a full audience of private and public stakeholders, as well as a host of international attendees from the European Union's (EU) Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs).

The solutions will be geared towards boosting sustainable development and regional/global competitiveness, spearheaded by OCT Association (OCTA) based in Brussels, Belgium. It is hoped that the regional workshop will contribute to networking, cooperation and better defining strategy implementation and joint regional pilot projects.

All in attendance were requested to give input actively and ask questions in line with discussing topics affecting OCTs across the board. Local coordinators at the Ministry of General Affairs, led by St. Maarten Innovation Manager Hasani Ellis, will use the input and proposals to streamline a strategy and submit projects to the EU in approximately two months for selection and approval.

Successful projects will receive funding, technical support and training. Ellis pointed out that stakeholder inclusion and sustainability were key requirements for the project. The project strategy also must be approved by the Council of Ministers locally.

Tuesday's schedule was packed with panel discussions led and moderated by innovation managers and industry experts from the various OCTs, focusing on specific opportunities and challenges in Sustainable Energy; Services; Tourism; Agriculture; Food Processing and Construction; and the Green Economy. Subtopics included investment climates, infrastructure, taxes and legislation.

The next two days will focus on the finalisation of strategies.

OCTA acknowledges that, as islands, the OCTs face particular challenges such as geographical isolation, high transport cost, heavy dependency on imports, the impact of climate change and difficulties with energy supply.

In an opening speech, Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Ernest Sams said the discussions were "of paramount importance" and innovation was needed to curtail undesirable economic effects, including a stagnating economy.

He cited the development of computer applications or "apps" as an example of effective technological innovation and urged participants to use the opportunity at hand to "propel an economic vision amongst the OCTs."

Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs was unable to attend, but sent his words of welcome.

OCTA Innovation Team Leader Milan Jezic von Gesseneck shared the practical relevance of innovation. Von Gesseneck specialises in international strategic projects and has evaluated hundreds of project proposals.

Micro-Small Enterprise (MSE) expert Alan Cooper spoke of opportunities, challenges and developments in MSEs, particularly in his native Trinidad, and how the green economy represents solutions.

OCTA Innovation Communications official Dusan Jakovljevic discussed the communication platform for innovation, focusing of audiences, tools and visibility.

The conference is taking place at The Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort and Spa.

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