Incentives and imperatives for private sector-led initiatives in Caribbean data ecosystems

October 27, 2022

Maurice McNaughton

Centre for IT-enabled Innovation
Mona School of Business & Management

Data revolution: Unmet private sector expectations 

The fanciful notions and pronouncements in the UN Secretary General’s call for a data revolution [1, 2] as part of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development have long since been tempered by the realities of the difficulties in building national data systems (NDSs) that can deliver the data sources and data capabilities required to meet the “unprecedented statistical challenge” of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator framework. Among the notions that have yet to be realized to any significant degree is the role that the private sector was expected to play through the provision of technical and financial resources, know-how, non-traditional sources of data, and strong collaboration with public institutions —especially national statistical offices (NSOs)— in supporting the evolution of NDSs.

The open data community in the Caribbean, led by the Caribbean Open Institute (COI), through events such as Developing the Caribbean (DevCa) 2015, has long advocated for the business side of open data and its potential economic value for countries in the Caribbean. Some studies have estimated the potential value of Open Data to the national economy to be upwards of 1-2% of GDP. Realizing this value requires greater involvement of the private sector and local business community as active participants in the open data ecosystem. 

To further evaluate the value opportunity, the COI collaborated with the Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE) and the Mona School of Business & Management to conduct an Open Data for Business (OD4B) assessment in 2016. The OD4B assessment methodology, developed by the World Bank’s Open Data team, sought to inform governments’ data strategies by better understanding the private sector demand for open data. Overall, the OD4B assessment in Jamaica identified a high demand for government data from established businesses and critical persistent barriers to the private sector’s use of open data.

Notwithstanding these various interventions and the long-standing recognition of their importance, the Caribbean in 2022, like many other developing regions, has yet to realize the promise of a robust private sector engagement, participation, and contribution to the national data ecosystem. We, therefore, welcome and are keenly participating in the global study “Exploring the private sector’s role in the data revolution for sustainable development,” funded by the International Development Research Center (IDRC) and led by Cepei and LIRNEasia. The study seeks to understand just how significant the private sector’s data-related contributions are to the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs and to identify case studies and best practices that could potentially influence the direction of future public-private partnerships that focus on data actions.

Preliminary mapping study: Insights

The initial phase of the project conducted a systematic scan and mapping of a large number of public-private data partnerships across five regions and explored partnerships between companies of all sizes and across most of the SDGs, focusing primarily on the thematic areas around quality education, gender equality, health, decent work and economic growth, industry and innovation, sustainable cities, climate action, and partnerships for the SDGs. The results of the mapping are represented here. For the Caribbean, we examined 17 initiatives across 7 countries involving a mixture of large local enterprises, multinationals, international development partners, and private sector representative groups (e.g., chambers of commerce). Even for this relatively small sample, it is clear that the private sector is not homogeneous and includes a variety of actors with quite different characteristics, interests, and motivations. The tendency to stereotype the term “private sector” can lead to an inappropriate mix of intervention and engagement strategies unsuitable for varying contexts.

Several key insights emerged from this preliminary mapping exercise:

  • Education and training in digital & data skills (SDG 4) have been the dominant motivating themes, usually in combination with one or more of the remaining SDGs, such as SDG 8 on decent work and economic growth, SDG 9 on industry, innovation, and infrastructure, and SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities. Typically the digital/data capacity-building initiatives target youth employment or community development. This is a recognition of the Caribbean’s deficit concerning digital/data skills and innovation capacity and the importance of building equitable digital ecosystems as an explicit prerequisite for realizing the SDGs.
  • Many of the more prominent initiatives originate externally through multilateral funding, with local private sector companies participating as primary local partners, providing matching funding, job facilitation, community development, or program management. 
  • Partnerships and collaborations (SDG 17) are seen as important catalysts for private-sector data actions and appear to be important in project initiation, securing technical support, mobilizing multiple private-sector entities around a common initiative, and overcoming some of the scale challenges that constrain small island developing states.

Learning from case studies

These insights will be explored further through the in-depth analysis of a case study involving a partnership that has been successful in attracting multiple private sector partners, including international multinationals, large local enterprises, and academia. This provides an opportunity to study the mechanisms, motivations, incentives, and processes for engaging various private sector actors in developmental initiatives. It is hoped that the challenges overcome, lessons learned, and best practices that emerge can provide a blueprint that will help to inform a more systematic approach to engaging the private sector as a critical actor in the ongoing development of NDSs that can be used in the public interest to advance development objectives. 

As the 2021 World Development Report (WDR) [3] emphasizes, “when government agencies, civil society, academia, and the private sector securely take part in a national data system, the potential uses of data expand, and so does the potential impact on development.”


[1] IEAG, UN. A world that counts. Mobilising the data revolution for sustainable development. Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development (2014)

[2] UN. A new global partnership: eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development. Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (2013).

[3] WBG. World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives. The World Bank (2021).

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