By Victor Carrington
I feel it a necessity to express this perspective: the deficiencies of the Guyana Diaspora Engagement Strategy meeting — held last month — were so glaringly obvious, that it would be odious to persist in that mindset, hence this viewpoint. We can still make this work.
My wife and I received an invitation from the Guyana Consulate in Toronto to attend a consultative meeting on Guyana’s Diaspora Engagement Strategy; I was delighted and excited.
I read the invitation we received, carefully, to ensure that I understood what was required. It disclosed that a draft of the strategy was currently seeking approval from a Cabinet Sub-Committee, which would allow the mandate to further study, and make recommendations for the finalizations of the document.
I called the consulate office to procure a copy of the draft document and was informed that it was not available for public consumption at this time.
My intention was to peruse the draft document to ensure that my questions would emanate from the document itself. This would more effectively serve to accomplish the objectives of the meeting, and add value to my contribution.
I thought to myself that our Guyana seems to be current, and in sync with the progressive mind stream in the Caribbean.
I had previously read an article, written by Michael Vancooten, in the Pride Online Magazine, about the viable and substantive contribution that the Jamaican Diaspora provides to their economy.
Studies by the University of the West Indies and the Caribbean Policy Institute revealed the extent to which this resource promotes and supports its homeland.
The meeting was promoted as a “consultative meeting” to garner further views and recommendations from the Guyanese Diaspora in Canada, on the elements that should constitute the Strategy.
The meeting however, was not appropriately designed to accommodate meaningful sharing. More emphasis was paid to discharging information rather than dialogue exchange.
I doubt whether the delegation received enough feedback from the Diaspora to inspire policy changes or designs.
What is the Diaspora Engagement Strategy?
Based on the information delivered and discussed at the meeting, the Diaspora Engagement Strategy is a formal infrastructure through which diaspora matters will be managed and developed.
The intent of the Strategy is to foster continuing and sustainable collaboration between the Diaspora and all levels of government and private businesses in the home country; and to facilitate economic development, and build stronger Diaspora communities.
The word Diaspora was coined by the Jews when they were scattered from their homeland. Today the word is more widely used to describe communities formed by people living outside their homeland.
How important is this Diaspora Strategy?
We learnt at the meeting that the Diaspora has become a major subject on the world arena: between 500 to 6oo Billion Dollars a year is transferred from Diasporas to their homelands, according to Arnon Mantver, an expert on diaspora matters.
Mantver is employed by the Centre for International Migration and Integration (CIMI), in Israel, and was contracted as a resource person for the meeting by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) — an agency of the United Nations.
Robert Natiello, the I.O.M. Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean, and Chief of Missions of Guyana, explained that Mantver was heading a regional project, funded through I.O.M. development fund, called Sustainable Diaspora Development that includes Guyana, Jamaica and Surinam.
Mantver commented that there are many virtues in our diaspora, referencing Diaspora Capital, which he explained is not only money, which is important, but also knowledge, network connections, skills, and abilities.
The idea of harnessing these virtues is public diplomacy. A lot of activities and continuing studies are happening in this area, and the Guyana government, in collaboration with the IOM, have envisaged a Diaspora engagement paradigm that is inclusive and comprehensive.
The government made a stated commitment to enhance a structured approach to Diaspora affairs, according to Michael Brotherson, the Head of the Diaspora Unit in Guyana, who represented the Guyana Foreign Affairs Ministry at the meeting.
He added that the Unit is an adjunct of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and its primary focus is to increase efforts to further strategically and sustainably engage with the Guyanese Diaspora.
The available skills, expertise, resources, the philanthropy, investments, real and potential, and the international advocacy on behalf of the country, are but a few of the incontestable and sustainable benefits that do ensue from structured diaspora engagement.
The importance of consultation to the Engagement Strategy
We are all Guyanese, Brotherson acclaimed, and our collaborative efforts should result in a relationship that is mutually beneficial to the Diaspora and our home country.
He said that following the previous Diaspora contacts, his unit and IOM have interacted with other countries that have already instituted Diaspora strategies and projects.
This effort is to garner best practices, learn from their experiences, and apply them appropriately to our procedure, he said, disclosing that out of these consultations they have developed:
- A Guyana website: An online platform designed to capture and share information between the stakeholders in a real time basis; register concerns; provide directions to new and existing businesses; direct connection to the Diaspora Unit.
- A mechanism for Interagency collaboration, making it easier to navigate between departments, such as finance, revenue, and other departments, in conducting diaspora projects.
- A Mapping Exercise, Situational Analysis, which affords a streamline mechanism to a societal holistic approach to Diaspora matters.
- They have also doubled the staff in the Diaspora Unit, and resourced the Consulate Centres to ensure that members in the destination countries have appropriate support.
Brotherson advised that the Diaspora Unit would be the first point of contact for all Diaspora matter.
Based on the project requirements, the principles of the project will be channel to the appropriate departments or agencies. The home country should ensure that the diaspora members have suitable access to services; health care; and in some cases, protection from exploitation in the destination countries.
This is irrefutable evidence as to the government’s efforts and intentions to support this project.
What would the finish product look like
The Guyana government envisages that a substantive and sustainable infrastructure would be in place: This would comprise of effective policies and procedures.
Diaspora organizations working in a symbiotic relationship with the Unit would be able to operate more effectively and efficiently in and with the homeland. This would enable Diaspora organizations to focus on certain areas that could be exercised and developed, start small projects and develop a cycle of success.
This infrastructure would promote stronger Diaspora communities by: recommending that all the Diaspora organizations are identified; encouraging the amalgamation of diaspora organizations for more efficient leadership, and operational management; amassing resources, financial and skill capital, thus mobilizing and maximizing community efforts; looking into the future to predict economic opportunities; to anticipate the direction and development of certain area, tourism, philanthropy, import export trade, information sharing.
Developing and implementing successful policies and procedures, can lead to success. The results emanating from the consultation studies, the discussions with experienced diaspora countries, and enacting progressive legislative policies, will determine the successful development and implementation of this program.
This is a work in progress.
The United Nations is discussing ways to address remittance charges: if remittances are in the range of $500 million a year and remittance costs are 10%, reducing the cost to 8% would be a tremendous saving.
Ease of activity, removal of red tape, reducing frustration with the process, identify areas of need, influencing legislative policies, all add to the successful implementation of this program.
There are many current issues that need attention under the diaspora umbrella. Some of these were mentioned during the question and answer session. The reintegration; the safety of transnational community’s investments; and a prevailing local community attitude that resists external recommendations or varied perspectives, are some of the issues mentioned.
There is also a general concern about our younger generation in the destination countries, not having a relationship with our homeland. This was identified as an opportunity for further development.
We should create short and long term projects and programs to teach our youngsters about Guyana. Link diaspora youths to communities in Guyana and give them opportunities to connect with the cultural identity.
We could sponsor travel programs; educational programs and projects; and create opportunities for volunteerism. It was also suggested that work activities in another country, listed on a resumé, would greatly enhance the effect of the resumé.
Re-integration is a tricky issue, it is difficult to bring the population back, in most instances economic development has proven to be a great motivator for return. Investment security and financial access are all part of the diaspora dialogue.
Was the meeting a success?
In my opinion, the meeting did not achieve the stated objective, but it opened a line of communication that could be exploited to the mutual benefits of the homeland and the Diaspora.
It provided useful information as to how the Diaspora can continue to help the home country, and how the home country can assist the Diaspora. It also encouraged entrepreneurs and perspective entrepreneurs to utilize the finished product.
Utilizing the Strategy promises ease of operation, access to all levels of government, private businesses, and civic entities. It also provides a focal point from which to engage.
A possible opportunity originating from the Strategy
One opportunity that I feel could be pursued is Diaspora building. We have several Diaspora organizations, and I don’t think that a diaspora registry (a listing of all the organizations), exists.
The Alliance of Guyanese Organizations, a current organization operating with the endeavor to align all Guyanese organizations under one umbrella, could be a focal point (of contact), for all the diaspora organizations.
One aggregate organization advocating on behalf of all the diaspora organizations could be awesome. This requires serious thought, planning and commitment.
Will the Strategy work?
There are several challenges to the success of this process. One that demands mention is the mediocre and constraining attitude, often displayed by the powers to be, when approached with new ideas or procedures from members of the Diaspora. Openness would be a refreshing and progressive shift.
If success is our end result, then it demands the political will of all Guyanese. We are all engaged in Diaspora matters to some extent; we all love Guyana. We should have a formal organized structure, with which we can hold ourselves and the homeland accountable.