This week, Jamaicans from around the world are gathering up in Montego Bay for the Jamaica Diaspora Conference 2013. Roughly three million Jamaicans live around the world, representing a strong diaspora population. The majority are clustered in Canada, the U.S., the Cayman Islands and the U.K. This population accounts for $2 billion worth of remittances to Jamaica every year. (Visit jamaicadiasporaconnect.com for more information).
Seeing an opportunity to further capitalize on this, the government, private sector, civil society groups and the University of West Indies are looking to strengthen ties between Jamaicans abroad and their homeland. This is the 5th Annual such conference and many Cuso volunteers are attending the conference. It opened Sunday evening, with the Prime Minister in attendance. Here is what she told the audience:
“There is room and space for everyone to participate, and this Conference is a clarion call to all Jamaicans, at home and abroad, to engage in Jamaica’s drive for growth. I hope you will grasp the opportunities, which will be presented at this Conference for investments in business and social projects…We must not lose sight of the need to keep regenerating our Diaspora movement with new ideas and the boundless energies of our youth. We must increase our outreach to the youth of our Diaspora, and in so doing, build upon inspiring projects like the Diaspora Youth Connect, that is making a difference in inner-city communities like August Town, Trench Town, Mountain View, Tivoli Gardens, and Flanker,” she said.
The conference is focusing on several areas, including business development, the always popular topic of how to leverage “Brand Jamaica” and engaging future leaders. The theme of the conference is “A Nation on a Mission: Jamaica-Diaspora Partnership for Development.”
While many people are in attendance (apparently hotel occupancy up in MoBay is over 90 per cent), I have heard some people say that such a conference is useless and that the diaspora does not do enough to support its homeland. There was also a story in yesterday’s Gleaner in which a government opposition Member of Parliament called the conference a waste and merely a chance for people to vacation and enjoy a drink. Indeed, a member of the Canadian diaspora said past conferences have failed to mobilize any activity. From the Gleaner story:
Phillip Mascoll, an executive member of the Jamaican Diaspora Canada Foundation, said the absence of structure has prevented Jamaica from tapping resources in the diaspora.
“The first conference ever said ‘Harnessing the Potential’. Have we harnessed it? Not in any way at all. We simply have not got organised,” Mascoll said.
Certainly, it will amount to more than that, but it remains to be seen just how much more. And hopefully my colleagues are enjoying themselves and not working too hard!