Why should Aruba embrace start-up culture? So we can all go back.
I’m totally illiterate when it comes to any programming language, and to me Java means a cup of coffee. So when I was asked to write a blog post for ATECH, the upcoming tech conference on Aruba, I was a bit intimidated and really felt I was out of my depth. But I did help set up the economics students-led foundation Rethinking Economics NL from scratch. And I work as a freelance journalist at start-up online platform Follow the Money. These experiences have given me some important insights about the power of start-ups.
Our generation is different. I know, every generation says that, and it’s a cliché, but that does not make it any less true. There’s a large group of Millennials that tends to be less attached to job security and material wealth. Instead, in their productive lives they highly value self-expression and freedom. If you just scoffed at those sentences, then I suggest you face reality: security is an illusion in a world where anything can happen. Nobody saw the financial crisis coming, many lost their jobs, and many are still looking for jobs at the bottom of the barrel. And what do those on their deathbed regret the most? Check out this depressing laundry list of a life lived without full self-expression.
The young Arubans still living abroad are often paralysed with fear when they start feeling the itch to go back. They have so much to offer their island, but what can their island offer them in return? How can Aruba accommodate the changing attitudes of the generation that will help shape its future?
One significant way is stimulating a dynamic start-up culture. I see three ways in which embracing start-up culture on Aruba can empower our generation:
Freedom of self-expression
What if Aruba becomes home to a dynamic start-up culture, full of companies that are innovating their own corner of the Aruban economy? Young Aruban creative professionals abroad will then be able come home to an island that is constantly adapting to the fast-paced world and the global perspective. Their future will be less determined by an outdated hierarchical system, run by a local old boys network managing the rat race. With a healthy start-up culture, young creative professionals can be free to experiment in a rich bottom-up driven entrepreneurial ecosystem and create that niche where their specific talents can thrive.
Radical impact on society
You know how the saying goes: ‘you don’t change the system, but the system changes you’. For the most part, this is correct. Too often do I meet people in their late twenties and early thirties with eyes glazed over from the stuffy 9 to 5 job that is slowly killing their soul. While after just finishing their studies they were filled with the promise of endless opportunities. Start-ups are defined by the way they go against the grain, by how they try to improve something from the outside in, free from internal bureaucratic rigidity. They challenge the status quo with relentless optimism and radically impact the shift towards a sustainable society. This is where opportunities are a daily reality, not just a fading memory. This is the starting point of innovation.
Flexibility in the workspace
These days I find myself perpetually mobile, glued to my phone and laptop to earn my living. My work is not fixed in one location, but my work is fixed to people and a good wifi connection. Flexible workspaces are also becoming more common. At the offices of Follow the Money, people are coming and going throughout the day and nobody sits in the same spot twice. Everyone is constantly exchanging views on daily news and brainstorming ideas for new pieces. The office is a place where I go to get external motivation about my work and bounce ideas around with colleagues. But I do my best writing at home, with a strong cup of tea and some peace and quiet. And at Follow the Money they know this, because they let me determine how I want to write my articles.
Don’t mistake this as a plea for a more ‘flexible labor market’, with its quintessential upsurge of zero-hour contracts and internships. No, this is a broader plea for the empowerment of a diverse generation of Arubans excited to contribute to their island’s future. Empowerment through government policies and financing conditions that invite young ambitious Arubans to take that chance on the new idea they’ve been playing around with. Empowerment through a system based on equal opportunities, where their future is determined by the sweat on their brow and their unique skills. And empowerment through collaboration, so runaway individuality can morph into solidarity and a unity of vision to do what’s in the best interest of the island.
The innovative power of start-ups is unparalleled. Aruba is at a crossroads, shackled by its fossil fuelled past and dangerously dependant on tourism. To tackle the challenges Aruba faces, our generation has to be ready to innovate like never before. A dynamic start-up culture in Aruba goes a long way towards this goal. Where falling down is not demonised as failure but praised as a lesson. Where new ideas can flourish in the light of limitless optimism. And where young people can be free to work together in the million different ways they see fit. This will create a new pillar for our economy and a true home for the next generation, launching Aruba into the 21st century as a beacon for small islands everywhere.
Once we start embracing all of this, maybe one day Aruba will also find itself on the list of Top 10 Cities Around the World to Launch your Startup. Next stop: the ATECH Conference.
Lorenzo Fränkel is Aruban by heart, and spent his teens on that sun-drenched island. He now lives in Amsterdam after finishing a masters in environmental economics at the VU University Amsterdam. He’s trying his best to understand why we are frying the planet into oblivion. Suffers a bit from futurephobia, induced by an unhealthy obsession with science fiction.