Diaspora policy is a win-win strategy

We’ve got a great thing going.

That is just one way to describe the fact that large numbers of individuals and families enjoy the pleasures and the benefits of the traditional relationship between our Caribbean people based in the Caribbean and our Caribbean people based overseas.

On the other hand, we are still losing out on the enormous potential of that relationship, because we have generally not recognized how much more we can gain if we make the effort to strengthen that relationship with a diaspora policy.

The issue here is not to develop requirements that take away from the natural, pleasant and spontaneous aspects of the interaction.

Rather, we are referring to practical mechanisms to solidify two-way engagement: setting up lines of communication and consultation, as well as principles and practices that can make our relationship more meaningful, more effective and properly channeled.

That is the purpose of a diaspora policy, a set of structures that represent a strategy for maximizing the value of the relationship.

It is in this context that the government of Jamaica deserves our congratulations for its consistent efforts in recent years to formalize its diaspora policy and the institutional framework within which the policy is being implemented.

Having done that, our Jamaican brothers and sisters are now ready and willing to enhance their existing policy and to deepen the engagement of their overseas communities in the process of planning and implementing all areas of national development, with special emphasis on socio-economic development.

The current enhancement and deepening phase of that process was publicized by Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade,  Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith during her recent visit to Canada.

In her address to participants in the 54th Independence anniversary celebrations hosted by the Jamaican Canadian Association in Toronto, the Minister spoke of the ongoing preparation of a new document, a new Draft Diaspora Policy.

That new policy document, in her words, is intended to “integrate diaspora- related issues into government policies, plans and programmes throughout all public sector entities”. The Minister also pointed out that when the draft document is readied, it would be submitted to the diaspora communities for their inputs.

The Jamaican government sees those inputs and the inputs of Jamaica’s youth as being particularly significant contributors to Jamaica’s efforts to achieve its critical development goals.

Can we imagine the extent to which a diaspora policy in all Caribbean countries can lead to a vast improvement in the two-way relationship?

Some obvious benefits in that regard are easy to identify.

Our diaspora’s material donations can be more effective if we have a more comprehensive awareness of the specific needs of each country, of its various charitable organizations and of the less well-connected of those charitable organizations which may need the most assistance.

Our processes in that context can be a lot more cost-effective if we co-operate with each other here in Canada in the collecting, storing and shipment of donated items for the Caribbean.

Similarly, the customs clearance and approval process for tax-free receipt of donated items in our Caribbean countries would be enhanced if those governments had an institutional, non-political relationship with their local charitable organizations.

Here is one more example which addresses the Canadian aspect of the two-way process. Caribbean governments, businesses and community organizations needing to hire foreign professionals and experts should have the option to tap into a pool of persons of Caribbean ancestry here in Canada with a wide range of specialties. These persons are likely to be more productive because they will have a greater understanding of Caribbean realities and a more extensive network of relevant professional and social contacts both here and in the Caribbean.

The broader application of a sound diaspora policy automatically provides a platform that increases the opportunities for the production of goods and services, for international trade and investment, and for the development of the industries related to travel and tourism, food, entertainment, sports, music and other areas of the arts.

Even in the absence of a diaspora policy, the Guyanese community in the GTA has been spearheading the organization and fundraising for their extensive week-long independence anniversary celebrations for very many years.

And further afield, the government of India established several years ago a special category of citizenship for persons of Indian ancestry.

There are several benefits to be derived from developing a deeper and more diversified relationship between two parties who have only barely understood how much they can enhance each other’s lives and contribute to the economic and socio-economic of the country of origin of their parents and grandparents.

Our Jamaican cousins are already showing us the way. What are we waiting for in the rest of the Caribbean to set up our own Diaspora Policy?