Saint Lucia
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Innovations from Laborie to Dubai

THE village of Laborie on the Caribbean Island of Saint Lucia is no different physiographically, to many small west coast villages in the Caribbean Archipelago. For part of the year, during the Summer Solstice, the rays of the rising sun transcend the central mountain ridge to the north-north-west and north-east before they sink into the village to the west of Mount Le Blanc. In Laborie village and district, the early mornings are quiet, with the over 7000 inhabitants going about their business. However, when the day is done and twilight approaches, the horizon comes alive with pinks, yellows and reds; a virtual dance of colours that soars the mind to the Creator.

Mr. & Mrs Karlis Noel in Dubai.
Mr. & Mrs Karlis Noel in Dubai.

The inhabitants of this district are energised by a belief in a kind of Laborian Exceptionalism, spurred on by their many accomplishments, and reflected in their reference to the district as the Republic of Laborie. Consider these achievements! Laborie was the birthplace of the first woman Governor General of Saint Lucia and the first and perhaps only Caribbean national who was Mr. Universe (3 times), Mr. World (3 times) and Mr. Europe (once). The village boast one of the largest and best managed credit unions in Saint Lucia and possibly the Caribbean, which has demonstrated the power of rural capital and its movement to the Capital to create more wealth for its members. Above all, there is a community spirit exemplified in the work of the Laborie Development Foundation, the Fishers Cooperative and Labowi Promotions. Laborie teaches us that structures without highly dedicated sons and daughters are empty vessels, but when the collective genius of people combine, their achievements can be nothing short of stellar.

It is in this village environment that Karlis Noel and Laura Jn. Pierre grew up. To most folks, Karlis did not appear to be exceptional, but somewhat different during his early years. In fact, his father thought he was a destroyer of radios, the television and equipment, and really did not know what was wrong with that young boy. Karlis appeared to be in a thought world of his own always asking WHY and HOW things work. Fellow villages even ridiculed him for his ideas, referring to him as a  Lying Scientist (Scientist mantè). However, what can one expect when the routine conversation between Karlis and his father, who worked at the electricity generating plant in Vieux Fort, was frequently about Nikola Tesla and Michael Faraday. The former is a Serbian American Scientist who is best known for his work in electrical and mechanical engineering, while the latter is best known for his work in electromagnetism and electrochemistry. It is to Tesla however that Karlis turns for his inspiration.  If the kitchen table talk was about the finer discoveries of Tesla and Faraday, then we can conclude that Karlis’ motivation and interest were ignited by his Father, where at the table, the seeds of aspiration, research and investigation were planted in a fertile and responsive intellect.

Karlis’ life took a  downturn when he abruptly left school in Form 3, for there was nothing there that interested him. While the teachers taught English and Mathematics, he had a magazine in his desk which took his mind to the stratosphere. Clearly it was a misfit! However, Karlis had to learn that not all inclinations meet with instant success. On leaving school he realised that he had to find work. First, he became a farmer then a sport fisher, trying to eke out a living from uncertain  markets. After many trials, he volunteered and was elected to the Board of Management of the Laborie Fishermen and Consumers Cooperative, and that association led him on a trajectory of change.

On 24th February 2014, at the Laborie Boy’s Primary School, Karlis represented the Laborie Fishers at a Vulnerability Reduction Exercise, organised by the Laborie Foundation and the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme, which is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (GEF SGP UNDP).  During that workshop, after developing a vulnerability profile for Laborie, the consensus was to work on the impacts of a water deficit in Laborie in a post disaster scenario,  brought on by the accelerating impacts from Climate Change and Climate Change Variability. In the search for solutions to the problems, the usual package of recommendations emerged, with persons recommending projects in rainwater harvesting; water conservation at all levels; building larger water storage dams; and even importing water when the situation becomes desperate. Then one very telling question was asked: what happens if there is a disaster compounded by a prolonged drought. Most persons concluded that this would trigger an existential crisis, with rivers already close to minimal flow in the best of times and now drying up. It was then that a gentleman, who was quiet for 90% of the meeting recommended desalination. When he was confronted with the difficulties of desalination, id est, the energy intensiveness of the process and the pollution from the brine, the young man’s response was to use solar for energy and undertake research to find ways and means to neutralise the brine.

Representing Saint Lucia in Dubai (Expo 2023)
Representing Saint Lucia in Dubai (Expo 2023)

These recommendations came from Karlis Noel, who retrospectively was lucky to have met a facilitator who was a former teacher, who looked deep into his eyes, felt and saw a font of promise and decided to take a risk. The end to this story is that Karlis designed the first mini mobile solar powered brine neutralising desalinator, which later was exported to the Kingdom of Nauru in the Pacific. The proof of the quality of the invention came from an independent verification by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in 2016, who after an analysis of the water, stated the following in a report: The results show that the desalination plant developed by the Laborie Fishers and Consumers Cooperative was very efficient at removing nuisance constituents from sea water, thus turning sea water into potable water. This self-sufficient system will provide water security for the village of Laborie.

Knowing his limitations, between 2017 and 2019, Karlis supplemented his experiential learning with courses from three different universities.  In 2017 he enrolled as an external student at Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan, where he obtained certificates in the Control of Mobile Robots on May 4th from the former and Introduction to Thermodynamics  – Transferring Things from Here to There on 15th May from the latter.   Karlis did not stop there, for in 2018, he enrolled at the University of California at Irvine,  where he successfully completed a course on the Introduction to the Internet of Things and Embedded Systems on 7th February 2019.  Whereas Karlis was obviously a self-learner and a self-motivator, when he ascertains his limitations, he goes in pursuit of knowledge.  The learning curve for many persons, and even Karlis in this instance, was also enhanced by receiving continuous encouragement and validation from the GEF SGP UNDP office and by a two person team from Microsoft Word from Washington State, USA. These Microsoft engineers,  who were contacted by the GEF SGP UNDP and introduced to Karlis and Laurah, validated Karlis’ theories and ideas. In addition, when it came to finding the appropriate manufacturer of the sensors for the system, they were able to point Karlis in the right direction. His willingness to learn and accept recommendations from others, is an enduring trait of Karlis, the Inventor.

Laurah Jn. Pierre in comparison is not a science major. She came from a well to do family in Laborie and went through the Primary School System to Secondary School and then the Saint Lucia ‘A’ Level College. From there, she went to Canada where she successfully completed her first degree in Administration and Marketing, at Algonquin College. On one of her visits to Saint Lucia, she was successful at finding a job and decided not to return to Canada.  She then worked for a while in the private sector moving from retail to mortgaging. Laurah also for over five years hosted a LIVE TV show on Daher Broadcasting System (DBS) titled What’s Happening Now with Laura? where she interviewed many persons on several topics of interest. It was during one of these shows that a caller mentioned the name Karlis as an inventor from Laborie, and  Laura decided to visit his workplace for an interview. During that interview, Cupid’s arrows penetrated the hearts of both individuals and in January 2023, the equation of friendship was balanced and blessed  at the Roman Catholic Church in Laborie.

The coming together of a deeply introverted Karlis with a more extroverted Laura, created an ideal situation for success. They together established INVICTUS, a partnership company, in which Karlis was able to devote most of his time to thinking and innovating, while Laura became the fund raiser and communicator for INVICTUS. Soon after its establishment, INVICTUS approached the GEF SGP UNDP for funding to develop a SCIENTIFIC FAD (Fish Aggregating Device), but was turned down because GEF SGP UNDP could not fund the private sector. They were informed however, that there was another option to access funding, which was to enter into a Benefit Sharing Agreement with a recognised Fishermen’s Cooperative and return to GEF SGP UNDP for discussions. This they did and after signing a Benefit Sharing Agreement with the Goodwill Fishers of Vieux Fort, GEF SGP UNDP was approached by the Goodwill Fishers and a contract was signed, first in July 2020 and a second in December 2022.  This was the beginning of a second journey of discovery and innovation, which was delayed because of the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The Scientific FAD is a multi-sensory solar powered marine platform, which has embedded in it several sensors that will in real time transmit via satellite link, data on water temperature; water salinity; wave height; species type and density; and will be protected by collision avoidance and geo-fencing technology. This means that unlike traditional fads, which when lost can continue to ghost fish, this Scientific FAD, named THE MAGELLAN, after Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer, who was the first to circumnavigate the world between 1519 and 1522, has multifunctionality and will be extremely useful to Fishers; Marine Biologists; Geographers; Metrologists; and Climatologists. But tarry a while! Let us consider a system of 4 to 6  or more Magellans around Saint Lucia, within the Territorial Waters and even the Exclusive Economic Zone. This can make Saint Lucia the SIDS with the best data on defined marine parameters within three to five years.  Then there is the  possibility of enhancing the Magellan for defence security and hydrographical mapping. What else?

The Dubai Expo Innovation is an international call for innovators and problem solvers from around the world ranging from “. . . individual entrepreneurs, SMEs, non-profit organisations, and government related entities, ”  to submit their ideas for consideration in a competitive but collegial environment.  These projects must create benefits, which includes the creation of “. . . a tangible impact that improves the lives of people around the world and the status of our planet, by supporting the development and application of new solutions”.  The Dubai Expo started with Expo Dubai in 2020 under the theme “Creating Minds, Creating the Future.”

The Dubai Expo Innovation is an international call for innovators and problem solvers from around the world ranging from “. . . individual entrepreneurs, SMEs, non-profit organisations, and government related entities, ”  to submit their ideas for consideration in a competitive but collegial environment.  These projects must create benefits, which includes the creation of “. . . a tangible impact that improves the lives of people around the world and the status of our planet, by supporting the development and application of new solutions”.  The Dubai Expo started with Expo Dubai in 2020 under the theme “Creating Minds, Creating the Future.”

To understand the accomplishment of INVICTUS at the 2023 Dubai Innovation Expo, let us take a look at their mathematical chances of making it to the last 40 applicants.  We do not have the official numbers of applicants for 2023, but we can still do some projections. In 2020, the Dubai 2020 Expo received over 12,000 applicants from 184 countries and within two weeks of launching Expo 2023, the number of applicants had reached 430 applicants. If we assume that the number of applicants did not exceed 430, then the probability of INVICTUS making it to the last 40 was 9.3%. However, if we assume that the number of participants reached 12,000, the probabilities declined precipitously to 0.33%. This by any measure in both scenarios, is phenomenal and INVICTUS must be congratulated for being one of the winners and promoting Saint Lucia (the Helen of the West Indies) on a global scale.  This level of achievement, when considered within the context and crucible where it emanated, is nothing short of stellar.  For their innovation, INVICTUS will receive US$50,000 to further develop the idea; an invitation to COP 28 scheduled for the United Arab Emirates with all expenses paid; and opportunities to meet with other innovators, entrepreneurs and investors.

Finally, there is one question that we must ask, which should be answered soon. How will the Government and People of Saint Lucia use this sterling achievement for the betterment of its people?  We pause, wait, and yearn for a response.