Elevating Jamaica to world-class status by 2030 requires all hands at home and abroad on deck, says Arnaldo Brown, the country’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade.
Brown made the pronouncement while in Toronto last week to promote the sixth biennial Jamaica Diaspora conference in Montego Bay in June.
The conference’s theme is “Jamaica & the Diaspora: Linking for Growth”.
Brown said the conference is critically important because it allows Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora to dialogue as a family.
It’s estimated that nearly five million Jamaican nationals reside outside the country, which has a population of about 2.7 million.
“Our destiny is in our hands,” Brown told nationals at the Jamaican Canadian Centre. “The question is, what are we doing with it? We have an obligation to remain true to Jamaica and support the country and one of the ways in which we can do that is by supporting the global Jamaican Diaspora movement. When we speak about the development that we want to see happening in Jamaica, we don’t conceive of that development without the participation of Jamaicans everywhere. We have to work together to make it happen.”
Approximately 300,000 nationals reside in Canada, the majority in the Greater Toronto Area.
In the last four years, Jamaica Diaspora members have remitted over US$16 billion. Those in Canada contributed US$246 million to that total in 2013 and US$241.5 million the previous year.
“That’s significant,” said Brown. “That doesn’t come to the Government of Jamaica. It goes to your relatives and friends and therefore it’s doing a very important thing in the economic space of Jamaica. If people want to know how it is that Jamaicans survive and live, it is because of the support of their relatives and friends in the Diaspora that contribute to their welfare and their well-being and that in turn benefit the country at large.”
Brown noted that the remittances don’t include other significant contributions made by community and alumni organizations in the Diaspora.
“When you speak about the contributions in education and health care, and those are quantified by the international monetary organizations like the World Bank, the estimate is that the Diaspora supports up to 30 per cent of Jamaica’s Gross Domestic Product,” he said. “So I want you to understand that you are like the cornerstone of the Jamaican society and therefore further engagement in every single area of Jamaican life is important. And that is why when I say to you that when we talk about transformation and we talk about becoming developed, it can’t be done without a partnership.”
Almost 1,500 nationals – about 300 from Canada – attended the 2013 conference that included business meetings between Diaspora investors and local businesses.
“That was a very successful conference because it changed the tone of the conversation,” he said. “One of the things that has been keeping Jamaica back and continues to do so is that we look at the glass as being half-empty. We are only concerned about the challenges, but we don’t look at the opportunities that are available which is what we began to do in 2013.”
The conference, which runs from June 13-18, features an expanded marketplace showcasing local and overseas exhibitors alongside the legacy sponsors, Jamaica National, Grace Kennedy, J. Wray & Nephew and Victoria Mutual.
A lawyer and former University of the West Indies Guild vice-president, Brown’s portfolio includes the Jamaica Mapping Project, aimed at determining the location, interest and skills of Diaspora members.
The International Organization for Migration is funding the project to maximize the significant resource pool.
“We want to know where our Jamaican people, what they are doing, how they would like to be engaged and what help they would want to get from the Jamaican government so that we can build a network,” said Brown, who recognized former Ontario government minister, Mary Anne Chambers, for championing the project in Canada. “What we are seeking to set up is a database with 3,500 persons to start with and then grow it to a minimum of 100,000.
“We are not looking to use your information unethically. All we are doing is trying to identify people with skill sets. From time to time, positions come up at the international level and we would like to forward suitable candidates. They may not be in Jamaica, but right here in the Diaspora.”
Nationals are being encouraged to participate in the survey to determine their skills and interests. They can log on to www.mapjadiaspora.iom.int. The website houses survey instruments geared towards community, alumni or other philanthropic associations.