Who, what and where is the Jamaican diaspora?
It’s a funny word, that used to have a line underneath it when I typed it in a document, as if it wasn’t real. But the Jamaican diaspora, wherever it may find itself, is very real, indeed. Real people living real lives, working, raising families…and cherishing a heartfelt love for the island, whether they were born there or not.
The word “diaspora” comes from the Greek, meaning a “scattering.” In the 21st century, this scattering is commonplace. My brother (in Australia) and I (in Jamaica) are really members of the UK diaspora, if you like. An estimated 215 million people globally live outside their country of birth. As far as Jamaica is concerned, with a population of just under three million, there are 1.8 million living in the United States (by far the largest diaspora); 650,000 in the United Kingston; and 300,000 in Canada. At a press briefing yesterday to launch the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diaspora Mapping Project, State Minister Arnaldo Brown suggested that these numbers are quite conservative. There are also communities throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America and Europe.
What is the aim of this project, which is supported by the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM)? The Jamaican Government sees it as another step in the direction of really connecting with the diaspora in a meaningful way that will bring results – largely, it is hoped, by contributing to Jamaica’s economic growth and development. As Minister Brown rightly noted, “Diasporas often coalesce around an issue” and for the Government, investment and trade is an important area of engagement and dialogue. It’s not a one-way street; the aim is also to empower diaspora members. There are many potential benefits for all. The Government has identified key growth areas as follows: logistics; agriculture; manufacturing; ICT; creative industries; energy and mining; and health and wellness tourism.
Well, the platform for all this is a website: http://www.mapjadiaspora.iom.int - which Minister Brown described as “long talked about, long overdue.” Kudos to the IOM for their major input in this clear and well laid out site, which the IOM’s Rukiya Brown – herself a young “returning resident” – guided us through. You will find a survey on the website. This is for individuals and diaspora groups – e.g. a Jamaica Birmingham Association, etc. The confidential survey seeks to determine the skills and experience of Jamaicans in the diaspora, and to get a sense of whether they are interested in and willing to contribute to Jamaica’s development in some way. On the other hand, it also seeks to determine the needs and concerns of Jamaicans living overseas. There is also a section for Returning Residents (that is, those Jamaicans who have returned to live on the island after living overseas) which is to be developed further but currently contains an information booklet.
The survey will eventually form the basis of a diaspora database, to be administered by the Jamaica Diaspora Institute (headed by Professor Neville Ying). It will also have social media interfaces. As always with databases maintained by governments, one expects good guarantees of security, as with the survey itself.
Kudos are due to local corporate sponsors for the project: Jamaica National Building Society, Victoria Mutual Building Society, GraceKennedy, LIME and J Wray & Nephew. The Jamaica Tourist Board and JAMPRO have been key partners on the Government side. International partners the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have also provided technical and financial assistance for the Jamaican Government’s work with the diaspora, with the ongoing support of the diplomatic community in Jamaica – several of whom attended the press briefing and launch yesterday.
Last year, I commented in my blog that I wasn’t hearing much about the Government’s work with the diaspora; I’m now convinced that a lot of work has been quietly going on. The IOM is supporting the development of a Migration Profile document for Jamaica, besides the National Policy and Action Plan on Migration and Development (now in its final stages) and the Diaspora Policy. The Jamaica Diaspora Foundation and the Diaspora Institute are up and running.
Percival Latouche, a returning resident and President , Association for Resettlement of Returning Residents.
By the way, the diaspora has contributed over US$2 billion in remittances to Jamaica in the past two years. This does not include the amazing charitable work, donations, personal gifts and outreach in Jamaica by many individuals and organizations. These visits are ongoing – almost every week – and I have often praised their generosity. We cannot doubt that remittances remain a huge part of the financial contribution of our diaspora though. As Minister Brown pointed out, this activity is not policy-directed, but “it does make a great difference in poverty alleviation in Jamaica and is reflected in our GDP.”
So, if you are a member of the Jamaican diaspora – wherever you are in the world – I urge you to fill out the survey form, get connected and get engaged. Do support the Jamaican Government as it aims to register a minimum of 100,000 people. There is strength in numbers!
By the way, the 4th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora UK Conference will take place in Edgbaston, Birmingham from June 13- 15. This week! So if you are a Jamaican living in the UK – why don’t you check it out, get in touch and go along to find out what is happening? More details at http://conference.jamaicandiasporauk.org.
As Jamaicans would say, “link up” ! The world is getting smaller, every day – one of those clichés which happen to be true.