Student - January 17, 2018

Sustainable projects attract young talent back to their roots

Tessa Louwerens

More than fifty Antillean and Aruban students and young professionals gathered in Impulse on Friday 12 January to discover how they can contribute to sustainable projects in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

There were a number of young people in the room who indicated that they would like to work as independent entrepreneurs in the Caribbean. @WeConnect

The weather outside is rough and rainy, but there is a tropical heat in the hall of Impulse. Perhaps because the heating has been turned high or due to the hall being filled with people. ‘We are happy with the large turnout’, says Tanja Fraai, manager of the WeConnect foundation. She organised the meeting Sustainable Caribbean in collaboration with WUR.

Each summer, around 600 students leave the islands to study abroad; the majority goes to the Netherlands, while some choose the United States. Few of them return, partly because they are not aware of the opportunities or because they lack a network. This leads to a shortage of highly-educated people on the islands, says Fraai. ‘We want to change the brain drain on the islands into a brain gain, and strengthen the local labour market with local young talent.’ The aim is to inspire the students and young professionals and help them get in touch with organisations that work on sustainable initiatives on the six Caribbean islands.

The idea for the sustainability meeting was borne from the microalgae project which WUR started on Bonaire. In that project, researcher investigate how microalgae can be used as raw materials for food, animal feed, fuels and chemicals. The climate of Bonaire is ideal to grow these microalgae. ‘Tourism is practically the only source of income on Bonaire’, says project leader René Wijffels, professor of Bioprocess Technology. Nearly all the food and energy are imported. ‘We want to collaborate with the people of Bonaire to carry out research into the development of new economic activities, to allow the island to become more independent.’ AlgaePARC Bonaire is just one of the project that are presented during the meeting. Other presentations are given as well, such as the one on ocean thermal energy, a delta plan for the corals, and how to begin a start-up around a sustainable theme.

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People react positively to the meeting. Master student Tatiana Becker, Marine Resource Management in the Aquaculture and Fisheries group. After graduation, she would like to return to her home country of Aruba to help set up a Marine Park. ‘Aruba is trailing behind on the other Caribbean islands regarding research, and there is a huge lack of knowledge. The current focus is on tourism, but not on what that tourism is based on – the coral and sea life.’

Milicent Sof was also inspired. She was born on Curaçao and studies Built Environment at the HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. ‘I was captivated by the Blue Rise presentation. They are working on a project in which buildings are cooled using sea water. I want to work on projects that engage in sustainable construction and a circular society. I would like to do an internship there, or perhaps my final thesis two years from now.’

Fraai looks back with satisfaction: ‘It was a very successful meeting that will definitely see a follow-up. Various organisations on the islands turned out to be interested and willing to use our platform in their search for “local brains” that study in the Netherlands.’