Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, the first woman to lead her country’s government, plans to invest more in early childhood education, basic shelter and job training to help improve the lives of the disadvantaged in her island nation.
Simpson-Miller, who has represented a poor urban constituency in parliament for more than 30 years, delivered a keynote speech during the Building Opportunity for the Majority conference held this week at the Inter-American Development Bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“The plight of the poor has led to notable political changes in many countries of the region. There is a growing discontent which is at the base of these actions and an increase in the demand for inclusiveness and a better life,” she said.
“For [the poor], their lives have remained untouched by many of our lofty policies and good intentions. They are now forcing us to deal with their concerns frontally,” Simpson-Miller added.
To address those challenges, the new prime minister intends to pursue sound macroeconomic management and to implement measures to ensure that the benefits of growth and development reach the people at the base of Jamaica’s social and economic pyramid.
Simpson-Miller, who took office in March, has already called for reprogramming budget allocations to boost public investments in key sectors: early childhood education, basic shelter, job training and microfinance. One of her specific goals is to foster youth employment.
“My view is that each young person is a potential asset to Jamaica,” she said. “Each has unique God-given talents. The responsibility of the State is to provide the environment and support for them to realize their full potential.”
Looking forward, the Jamaican prime minister wants to promote teacher training and community development as the basis to form “better citizens” and “a better overall society.”
Simpson-Miller said she was heartened by the discussions and proposals she heard during the IDB conference, which marked the launching of a new development initiative aimed at expanding opportunities for low-income people in Latin America and the Caribbean to accumulate assets and improve their living conditions.
Under the initiative, Building Opportunity for the Majority, the IDB will work with governments, the private sector and civil society organizations to support innovative solutions to problems that keep poor people from gaining access to housing, formal financial services, basic infrastructure, job training, entrepreneurship and modern technologies.