Week 16 // Azores

April 24, 2017

We are all looking forward to lunch. The conference is way behind on schedule and I am about to hit the stage as one of the final presenters. I decide to start my presentation with a small joke; “I know everybody is ready to get some food in to their body. Unfortunately I can’t offer you that right now. However, what I can offer you is food for your soul.” With that message I am asking everybody to close his or her eyes for just a second. Now that I have their full attention I am guiding them on a tour through Aruba and it’s vision: Imagine in your mind, Aruba small as it is, with endless white beaches, flowing palm tree’s and the most mesmerizing blue clear waters you have ever seen. While you are walking barefoot with the soft sand between your toes, the sun is warming your skin and the wind plays with your hair. When you turn your head to take a look towards the island, all you see in front of you are sustainable buildings with solar panels and small windmills delivering energy.

You’ll find green houses, producing locally homegrown products made possible with the newest technology. 5 star hotels and neighborhoods, 5 star schools and a 5 star hospital, 5 star retirement homes and everywhere you go, you can expect a 5 star treatment; Welcome to Aruba!
After that introduction, I share our vision with all participants and our current steps within our journey to creating a sustainable society- the Mobile Tech Lab (MTL). While telling them about the project, I also explain how important it is to have these kind of initiatives for the development of islands and how we have been receiving raving comments from the excited society ever since. After I finished up my presentation, four people walk up to me, sharing their interest in the MTL for their country. Let’s be honest, who would not want to play with 3D-printers, scanners, laser cutters, programming and other virtual reality gadgets?

I came to the Azores for the second International Innovation Conference hosted by OCTA (Overseas Countries and Territories).
The Azores? Yes, the Azores.. Trust me when I tell you, I myself got spooked when seeing the amount of traveling time for this trip. However, knowing the importance for Aruba to continue sharing the knowledge of innovation and sustainable development within the OCT’s while gathering knowledge and to further fine tune the MTL, I decided I couldn’t miss out. I did not regret my decision for a moment! You always find yourself becoming very inspirational when people from all over the world who share their newest ideas with examples surround you. Not to forget about the experts present as well, ready to share their expertise.

What really stood out to me, is the diversity within the development of different Islands / Countries. No surprise when you think of St. Helena for example, where getting to land will take you approximately 5 days by boat. I must add that it made me feel kind of shy, with all the attention Aruba was getting. Aruba turned out to be the leading example to many, regarding innovation and sustainable development. They all want to learn from us, such great compliment to say the least!

When the question of why Aruba is so far ahead of its time within those areas presented itself, the experts answered; “Because to start with, their leader – the Prime Minister, sees the importance of those area’s. The fact alone that Aruba has Bureau of Innovation (BI) reporting directly to the Prime Minister is something very unique. Another unique aspect is the way BI works together with private parties and knowledge centers in and outside of Aruba.
So far there is no other OCTA-Island or country within the Ministry of Public Affairs with a certified and dedicated innovation team.
Innovation is the catalyst for enabling sustainable development through a cross-sectorial approach, and Aruba tackles that very well.”

I am well aware of the fact we still have a long way to go, with a lot of challenges along the way in to becoming a sustainable society. But at times it is actually nice to reflect and to hear from the experts on how well Aruba is doing getting there.