Let’s get to work on a Diaspora Investment Fund

There is one area in which some Caribbean countries are making solid returns on their investment in the human resources which they have “lost” as a result of the brain drain: the outflow of skilled persons who have been educated with “taxpayer dollars”.

In fact, there is a lesson to be learnt from the fact that countries like Guyana and Haiti are way ahead of many others in the volume of the remittances they receive from their diaspora communities. Those remittances represent a significantly higher percentage of their GDP than is the case in Trinidad and Tobago.

Thanks to Professor Marcia Annisette of York University’s Schulich School of Business, nationals of the twin-island republic assembled recently at that country’s Consulate General in Toronto for an Independence Anniversary Flag-Raising Ceremony have been reminded that they need to adopt the innovative approaches and the entrepreneurial spirit that can convert their skills and their money into investment resources that can benefit both them and their ancestral home.

Taking the point further and looking at the diaspora investment strategies used by India and China as well, there are interesting options for diaspora inputs that can help to overcome some of the weaknesses that still limit the progress of the most developed economy of the English-speaking Caribbean.

In that regard, commentators are quick to point out that the Trinidad and Tobago economy is still not adequately diversified, productivity is not yet what it can be and the level of innovation is below the country’s significant potential for commercially viable business that is based on high technology.

It is precisely in order to target those weaknesses and to stimulate more balanced and sustainable economic growth that there should be a focus on combining the human and financial resources of its overseas communities with the local capacity for internally-driven business activities.

As a first step in that direction, it is logical to select a few sectors which are more appropriate for the diaspora investment initiatives. The pool of capital mobilized from the diaspora inputs should be specifically targeted to grow sectors such as tourism, culture and high-tech.

A diaspora investment fund with a reasonable and guaranteed interest rate will be attractive for our expatriates whose presence in markets abroad also brings more direct access for Trinidad and Tobago’s exports.

The consequent and increased reliance on our family and social ties with our overseas communities entails a different type of foreign investment. Instead of working with a coldly commercial investor, we will be developing a relationship with an investor who is more closely related to us and therefore more readily disposed to mutually beneficial profits that are not automatically exported to a foreign country.

On that basis, we can be more confident in the successful channeling of the skills and investment funds of our foreign-based “cousins”, our extended family, in a manner of speaking.

The joint efforts that we make with them can bring more employment in labour-intensive sectors such as tourism and culture, a greater inflow of foreign exchange, increased trade surpluses and a significant enhancement of the country’s high tech sector.

Let us take the example of a bed and breakfast establishment jointly owned and developed by two Trinbagonians in Canada and two Trinbagonians at home. In addition to the cash profits generated by the joint venture, the Canada-based “diaspora investors” will now have a place to stay when they visit their native land, a place to work if they decide to return to live there, a source of investment for their retirement years and a valuable asset  to leave to their children and grandchildren.

There is no reason why private individuals and private companies owned by persons of Trinidad and Tobago ancestry should not have access to the same attractive incentives as are traditionally offered to foreign investors with large amounts of capital at their disposal.

In fact, one can sometimes detect a pet peeve among some members of the diaspora communities, a sensitivity about a broader issue: those persons feel that the government at home is not connecting with the diaspora and is not responsive to their concerns.

But, here is a concrete and positive proposal on which all of us can readily agree.It is time for the government and the private sector of Trinidad and Tobago to act. And nothing prevents other Caribbean countries from doing the same.

Let us all get to work on a Diaspora Investment Fund.