Nine ways for circular businesses to set up shop on the island of Curaçao

The island of Curaçao is about to embark on a great journey that will make its economy flourish for many years to come. Do you want to know what is happening and how they are designing their future? On March 24th of this year the Curaçao Doughnut Economy report was approved by the Council of Ministers. Juan Carlos Goilo lives and works on Curaçao. He is a PhD-candidate at the University of Amsterdam, and works as advisor for the CTO Innovation team of the City of Amsterdam. His article addresses the main challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Curaçao and provides you with specific ways in which you can act.

Shifting Curaçao’s Economic Paradigm

In the last few years the national government of Curaçao has been engaging with many concepts in order to diversify its view of the economy up to the SDG’s. They planted many seeds with the underlying goal to revive the economy, which was already in a recession prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial services, the oil refinery, tourism, trade, and logistics were the stable pillars of the island’s economy until the first decade of the millennium.  However, these pillars are in need of revision. The government focused on economic policy development for the blue economy to strengthen the business cases for sustainable fishery, tourism, and water sports. They also sparked events on the topic of the orange economy, in order to start facilitating its local creativity as an asset (the award-winning film Buladó is an example of this). I personally jump-started conversations on the circular economy due to my concerns about the island’s oil-driven mentality and the ever-piling landfill. The current linear economy model (take-make-waste) of the island is disastrous, as it combines a mono-economy with the consumption-driven American dream. And then came the pandemic.

Curaçao’s economy currently relies heavily on oil refineries and tourism among other greatly polluting industries.
Curaçao’s economy currently relies heavily on oil refineries and tourism among other greatly polluting industries.
Curaçao’s economy currently relies heavily on oil refineries and tourism among other greatly polluting industries.

Curaçao’s Green recovery… 

Curaçao went into lockdown in march 2020, brought tourism to a halt. Within a few weeks hotels closed and unemployment rose to 20% (youth unemployment reached 42%). But there was hope. Creative entrepreneur Joeri Oltheten made a call to action on various social media channels in March 2020 in response to the impact of COVID-19 on the Curaçao society. His call to action sparked a large number of residents in the Curaçao community to contribute to a new movement for the future of Curaçao. This movement is inspired by the first city doughnut in the world made by the British economist Kate Raworth for Amsterdam. Since I worked on the topic in the city of Amsterdam and I was born and raised in Curaçao, it felt like the perfect time to act! Call it serendipity if you will.

…embedded in doughnut economics

Doughnut economics connects environmental, financial, and social principles to ensure an economy thrives for all people within the means of the living world. The doughnut economy urges us to continue challenging ourselves to pay attention to the planetary system as a whole (principles 1 and 2). Raworth holds our attention with the “easy-to-digest” shape of the doughnut. The inner edge of the doughnut stands for the social foundation (formulated by the SDG’s), the outer edge of the doughnut stands for the ecological boundaries. Between these two edges is what she calls the “sweet spot”: the safe and just place that provides the basic needs of everyone, without damaging the earth beyond its ecological limits. The other 5 principles guarantee that a society remains inclusive, dynamic, co-creative, regenerative and distributive by design. As a follow-up to all these developments, the national government is developing a Green Recovery Plan.

Kate Raworth first described the Doughnut Economy model in 2012 in an article for Oxfam
Kate Raworth first described the Doughnut Economy model in 2012 in an article for Oxfam
Kate Raworth first described the Doughnut Economy model in 2012 in an article for Oxfam

Nine recommendations

Just like the Amsterdam snapshot, a first island snapshot in the world shows how societal and environmental issues are interlinked. Poverty, lack of knowledge, inequality, and unemployment on the island are reflected in the way people pollute and neglect the environment. At the same time, the Curaçao Doughnut Economy also identified many potentials, a total of 95 unique initiatives have been identified that are currently active on the island and are in line with one or more principles of the doughnut model. The report presents nine recommendations for Curaçao. These nine recommendations can be translated into 9 types of business models that can help the island come into action via both public and private initiatives.

1. Inter-ministerial cooperation

The complex transition to a circular economy requires the integration of different policies of the island. If you are a Design Thinker this might be a place to start acting.

2. Knowledge, knowledge-sharing, and advice

Innovation Ç is a partner of Curaçao Doughnut Economy that is disseminating similar principles. They engage and empower local businesses and entrepreneurs by mixing future opportunities with the unique island lifestyle of Curaçao. There are many more of these examples.

3. Information and monitoring

The government is increasingly realizing the importance of information and monitoring systems. Together with Curaçao Data Driven and social enterprise Green Phenix, they are organizing a Designathon in October called Data Days. These data-driven initiatives could be great catalysts for the island to transition into a knowledge society. Think of an island circularity gap report, provided by Circle Economy on a global scale.

4. Open collaboration platforms and a progressive digital infrastructure

There is a great opportunity to build-up match-making and supply chain platforms for local businesses to allow for circular practices. Some companies are already looking into novel possibilities Currently active in this field is KOLEKTIVO, which invests in community activities from clean ups to start ups, with the local cryptocurrency called CuraDAI. However, a comprehensive digital transformation of government and their regulations towards information sharing and regulation is necessary.

5. Jobs and skills development

What Curaçao needs to develop are 21st-century skills, which are about becoming inclusive, regenerative, and distributive by design. The local Business Platform Sustainability is providing local businesses with instruments, like sustainability audits. Another example is how FutureProofStrategist helped recycling company Limpi develop a sound value proposition for the circular economy.

6. Investment fund

Developing funding instruments is crucial for this plan. However, to make this attractive to both local and foreign investors, some financial instruments need to be in place.

7. Circular area development & tenders

There are three types of aerial development on Curaçao that lend themselves for the transition to a circular economy. The first type is the re-development of the energy sector of the island. The University of Curaçao and the Dutch Innovation and Research Institute TNO are collaborating with various private parties in order to develop business models that will transform the old oil refinery into a living lab for the production of hydrogen, synthetic energy carriers, sustainable storage facilities, biofuels and much more. The second type is the circular neighborhood developments, in which inclusivity, regeneration, and distribution form part of the basic social structures. One area that is actively doing this is Ser’i Otrabanda, with the community-led Urban Street Food restaurant and their annual festival KAYA KAYA aimed at revamping the neighborhood. The third type is agriculture, syntropic farms are popping up everywhere on the island. Local company Samyama already planted multiple food forests in the city centre with and for local communities.

Syntropic Farms aim to drastically reduce water, nutrients, and pesticide use replacing them with natural and regenerative solutions
Syntropic Farms aim to drastically reduce water, nutrients, and pesticide use replacing them with natural and regenerative solutions
Syntropic Farms aim to drastically reduce water, nutrients, and pesticide use replacing them with natural and regenerative solutions

8. International partnerships

By starting simply with knowledge sharing back and forth with organizations all around the world, Curaçao has a great potential to reverse the intense brain drain it is currently in and provide an ecosystem of innovation that is globally accessible. 

9. Narrative building

It is extremely important to develop a strong local narrative of change that offers points of reference for sustainable initiatives and gives meaning to the major challenges that Curaçao is undergoing. Organizations like 4U Art, Teatro Kadaken are examples of organizations that are actively connecting people through stories and history throughout the pandemic. 

As you can see, there is a lot already happening on the island. There is also a lot more to come. Islands as small as Curaçao often fall short on the information high-ways of the wider web. That is their stories, local cultures, real lives with real challenges which often barely catch the attention of the mainstream media. They also deserve a role in humanity’s voyage to a more sustainable way of living.

Juan-Carlos is an anthropologist, writer, and storyteller always in search of new ways to connect Art, Society, and Technology. He is a PhD-candidate at the University of Amsterdam looking into the information flows concerning the transition to a circular economy. The central question of his research is: how can information lead towards sustainable futures, through the making process of monitors? He investigates this question while facilitating the making process of monitors for the city of Amsterdam and the island nation of Curaçao.

Juan-Carlos is an anthropologist, writer, and storyteller always in search of new ways to connect Art, Society, and Technology. He is a PhD-candidate at the University of Amsterdam looking into the information flows concerning the transition to a circular economy. The central question of his research is: how can information lead towards sustainable futures, through the making process of monitors? He investigates this question while facilitating the making process of monitors for the city of Amsterdam and the island nation of Curaçao.

Holland Circular Hotspot: Inspiring and inspired by circular entrepreneurs

Back in 2016, the Netherlands set the goal to be 50% circular by 2030 and fully circular by 2050, a serious commitment to the Paris Agreement and serious example worldwide. Therefore they launched Holland Circular Hotspot a platform supporting Dutch-based and international initiatives, with the goal of reshaping the linear into a circular economy within multiple industries. Circular Stories works closely together with HCH, shaping its storytelling and helping them getting their message across.
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