Jamaica will host its Sixth Biennial Jamaican Diaspora Conference during the period June 13 to 18 2015 at the Montego Bay Convention Center.
The event is one of several reflections of the significant role that Jamaicans in the diaspora continue to play, not only in keeping track of social, economic and political developments in their country, but also in making direct and pertinent contributions to various facets of that country’s development. Statistics may not be easy to come by but it is widely believed that among Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries Jamaica may well boast amongst the highest numbers of investors in the country’s economy from amongst nationals living in the diaspora. Beyond that, Jamaicans residing in the diaspora make more significant contributions to their country’s economy through the repatriation of finances to families at home than most if not all other countries in the region.
But it is not just in the sphere of business and the economy that Jamaicans abroad play a significant role in identifying with their home country; in other respects too they continue to be outstanding Ambassadors. In North America and Europe, where the largest numbers of Caribbean people residing outside the region live, Jamaicans customarily play prominent roles in most of the social, cultural and political institutions created in those countries and through which Caribbean people communicate with each other.
Two decidedly outstanding features of Jamaica’s high profile in North America and Europe are the pervasiveness of the country’s culture as a part of popular entertainment manifested chiefly in the country’s craft and music and the high levels of success it has secured in marketing its products and services abroad.
What Jamaicans in the diaspora have done over the years and with an outstanding degree of success is to use their culture and their products as platforms for the marketing of their country in a manner that no other country in Caricom has been able to do.
What is particularly significant about the biannual gathering of expatriate Jamaicans at home is the official acknowledgement the event has won – as if the government in Kingston has come to see countrymen and women living abroad as a second constituency. The 2014 gathering was opened by Prime Minister Portia Simpson while the deliberations featured more than 30 investors from the USA and the UK who were among the 700 attendees. Information gleaned from last year’s forum indicated that the investors had gone to Jamaica to probe a number of sectors, including information and communication technology (ICT), business process outsourcing (BPO), the creative industries, manufacturing and agro-processing in keeping with the organizers’ focus on encouraging relations between local and diaspora Jamaicans in a bid to help drive economic growth.
Beyond business, attendees addressed topics such as education, health, social investment, philanthropy, leadership and innovation.
The real importance of Jamaica’s biannual diaspora forum reposes in the space that it allows diaspora Jamaicans to have a say in key issues in the development of the country. This, manifestly, cannot happen without the acknowledgement and recognition by the government (whichever political party may be in office) of the importance of diaspora Jamaicans to the country’s development and perhaps more importantly the nationalistic passion felt by Jamaicans, wherever they may live.
It is of course hardly necessary to say, first, that over the years, government in Guyana has not paid anywhere near sufficient importance to the strategic importance of Guyanese in the diaspora to the country’s development and secondly—and there may be numerous reasons for this—Guyanese in the diaspora have not, as a collective and over the years, demonstrated anywhere near the same passion for the land of their birth. Such investment initiatives at home undertaken by Guyanese in the diaspora have been mostly modest and relatively few; the other contributions that have been made in the various social spheres have been strictly limited.
Of course, it has to be said that government has, over the years and to this day, demonstrated no great appetite for investing the requisite energy and resources in either reaching out to the diaspora or in effectively marketing Guyana abroad.
It is impossible to successfully undertake a mathematical calculation of how much we have lost over the years through our indifference to the diaspora. We are only just beginning to discover through what has become the significant repatriation of monies from abroad and to a lesser extent through remigration, the extent of the impact that Guyanese in the diaspora can have on the country as a whole. There have been, in recent times, other clear indications that Guyanese in the diaspora and particularly in North America and Europe, may not be as indifferent to the development of the land of their birth as those of us who reside at home might imagine.
As is commonplace with officialdom in Guyana, the discovery of an opportunity does not, invariably, transform into action designed to take advantage of that opportunity. It is worth reminding, however, that the Jamaica example is not so far away that it cannot be emulated.