As I look back on the path taken by the Diaspora movement since 2004, I can’t help but marvel at the progress made and the route by which success has steadily achieved. . In the earlier days, it wasn’t uncommon to hear people ask “What is Diaspora?”; or Diaspora members themselves sarcastically referring to other Diaspora members as “oonoo” which automatically excluded them from the Diaspora. Since then and over the years, this reference to “oonoo” has more and more become “we”, with persons having a better appreciation and understanding of what it means to be a part of the Jamaica Diaspora and the Diaspora movement.
Further, the initial sentiments of not knowing where this Diaspora movement would go, what path was right or wrong (sometimes I even felt as if we were holding on to a thread), made our achievements and success much more phenomenal! In spite of the informality and to some extent nebulous path, we nonetheless, believed the Diaspora movement was just the best thing to do for our country. Except for the Diaspora Advisory Board Members and the Diaspora Conference, there is still no acceptable formal structure or guideline today. Despite, the “informality” the “effectiveness” of what has evolved is remarkable and very encouraging.
Now that Diaspora Conference 2017 (which would be the 7th Biennial Diaspora Conference) dubbed this year as “Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference” is imminent, there are things that we need to have in place to prepare for this very significant affair. This is an event where all Diaspora members, who are actively working to fulfill promises made and recommendations agreed upon in previous conferences, will display their work via verbal, written or pictorial presentations. There is also a promise to recruit and enlist new members to make conference bigger, better and more meaningful, In so doing, we will make our presentations, tell our stories, share our ideas, laud our achievements, meet new Diaspora members and learn what we’re all doing worldwide for the betterment of our Jamaica. Let’s review the things we should/must do prior to and at conference.
1. Plan our task force presentations: Several task forces have developed out of the recommendations of previous conferences; Education, Agriculture, Technology, Crime Intervention and Prevention, Immigration and Prevention. Plus other initiatives not called task forces, the health sector and Jamaica Diaspora Youth Connect, for example. They are all armed with the energy to assist in supporting and developing the nation’s growth agenda. These presentations are important as they will communicate the work being done, milestone achievements, the next steps for success and where more help is needed.
2. Elect or re-elect regional representatives to be presented and appointed at the conference: There are seven Diaspora Advisory Board members who represent the various major Diaspora regions across the world that are up for election, based on the Terms of reference. They each do great work in representing us as they advise the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. USA has three (3) reps; Canada has two and UK has two a total of seven across regions. Each region also has a slot for an Alternate Diaspora Advisory Board Member and a matching number of Future leaders; a total of 21 persons across the world who represent us. So we are looking forward to robust nominations, and a great election or reelection of DABs.
3. Engage our youth and encourage participation in conference: We should engage our youth for betterment of our future. I recently met with Nathaniel Peat (UK) who has shown me how he has engaged first, second and third generation Diaspora youths who have come together to create and execute initiatives in Jamaica. They raise funds to finance their missions and their travels from the UK to Jamaica. We hope to hear more of this at conference. Also, the Grace Kennedy Birthright program that promotes Jamaica Diaspora’s youth of various Diaspora regions, should be elevated and displayed as a model to engage our Diaspora youth for succession planning, and exposure to our culture and country. The program currently selects youth under the age of 25 who are currently in University and provides them with a one month, all expenses paid internship at Grace Kennedy (GK) to help them learn more about “their” culture and heritage, and about Jamaica, the “Land We Love to Love” so that they can become ambassadors of GK, its products and for the country at large.
4. Kickoff a Diaspora Excellence Award which will allow Diaspora members to recognize each other (Peer Award): There is a new movement to establish the most coveted Diaspora Awards for Diaspora members and friends of Jamaica who have significantly contributed to Jamaica’s development. This must be encouraged and presented at the conference. This proposed coveted award is well needed and will serve to assist in recognizing all the efforts and initiatives going to Jamaica. Recipients are expected to be both individuals and groups. Let’s be prepared to talk about Diaspora members recognizing Diaspora members for work well done.
5. Share Diaspora activities around the globe: Many projects have been born, reborn and maintained through the task force movement and many more have been identified. I am looking forward to some of these groups such as, the Jamaica Middle East Diaspora (JMED) education movement, YAARD Market concept of creating “farm to market online”, Nuh Guh Deh (NGD) Task Force and Protect Them Campaign which aims to increase awareness of the long term effects of abuse on women and children; Jamaica-Australia Education movement, the Tourism Task force in UK, and many other groups that have reached out for guidance in forming their task forces and not-for-profit organizations. Additionally, I am looking forward to seeing the alumni associations represented in full force. Union of Jamaica Alumni Associations, the Northeast umbrella organization for alumni associations, have done wonders as an umbrella organization to reinforce the importance of focusing on early childhood education in Jamaica. The Coalition of Alumni Associations in Florida has also created a strong network of these groups to benefit their individual alma maters.’
6. Seek and forge collaboration among public and private entities for development: Over the past few years we have seen numerous collaborations between the Government of Jamaica, its agencies, councils, private sector and the Diaspora for many initiatives. These types of engagements help with building trust, bonds, friendships, business relationships, and at the same time break down barriers that have hindered growth in the past. The door for future developments are wide open. Jamaicans in the Diaspora and at home are seeing eye-to-eye on many fronts. Growth is possible and the ease of collaboration is wholesome and fulfilling! I am looking forward to the discussions at the conference that will continue the improvements in relationship building this coming summer.
7. Measure the “true” value of Diaspora contributions. Finally, the Diaspora should consider placing a dollar value on our engagements and contributions, and return to conference prepared to show our financial impact. I encourage our Diaspora members, non-profit groups, and alumni to place a value on our all contributions to Jamaica; our gift giving, equipment and supplies, “intellectual remittances” and the non-taxable dollars spent on the island each time we visit. Acknowledging that the dollar value of everything we give, is not for bragging rights, but to show how the Diaspora can contribute to the nation’s economic growth agenda and economic developments. When it’s written, it sticks. If the Diaspora needs a voice, as we have regularly requested, this is the way to prove our worth beyond remittances, which is already sizeable and at the same time, manage the issues we face. Valuation is the key.
The Diaspora movement started on a rocky foundation. However, trust, collaboration and high expectations have been the key to our success and the foundation of past conferences. This is no longer a talk-shop. The achievements are measurable and very practical. The concept of the 21 seats of Diaspora Advisory representatives (DABs) and associates across Diaspora regions is working; so are the many Task Forces, non-profit organizations, alumni and friends of Jamaica in tandem with the Consuls /Missions and diaspora members. Whichever governing party is in power, it is in our nations interests to continue engaging the Diaspora in this multi-faceted way to maximize the efforts in achieving Vision 2030 for Jamaica.
Conference is the place where we all get a chance to be home, connect on shared interests and passion, brainstorm, make plans for the next two years, look at the needs of our country in the various sectors and learn new strategies. Diaspora movement is “coming-to-come”! So come to conference this summer (July 23-26, 2017), be prepared to improve self, relationships, organizations, and the Diaspora at large.