‘Connecting Diaspora Future Leaders: Solidifying our places in our homelands and Jamaica’
I am honoured to have been asked to participate in this Inaugural Future Leaders Diaspora Conference which is aimed at building and strengthening systems and networks for Future Leaders in the Jamaican Diaspora so they can to engage more meaningfully in Jamaica’s development.
It is significant that this Conference was planned to coincide with the celebrations of the 47th Anniversary of Independence celebrations and I hope that the sights and sounds generated during the season served to heighten your patriotism and reinforced your national pride.
The thoughts, ideas and feelings of young people have always been important to me. I welcome the opportunity to meet with the young people of the Jamaican Diaspora; to hear about the numerous and significant contributions they are making globally and the roles they see for themselves in shaping Jamaica.
In keeping with your conference theme: “Connecting Diaspora Future Leaders: Solidifying our Places in our Homelands and Jamaica,” you have selected areas of focus that are in keeping with your interests and where you believe you can make the most contribution. These include:
- Business and entrepreneurship
- Education and its role in your future
- Engaging youth in governance
- Crime and Violence and
- Culture and spirituality
But let us not forget also the fundamental morals, values and principles on which our nation is built. Values such as honesty, punctuality, fairness, respect, forgiveness, sharing, caring and lending a helping hand. These provide the firm foundation on which any nation hoping to achieve greatness must be built.
In challenging and seemingly desperate times such as the one we’re living in now, if a country cannot fall back on its core values in order to forge a way ahead, it will certainly perish.
Avenues of inclusion
I commend the organisers of this Conference for their vision and initiative in stimulating the interest of young people of Jamaican descent and heritage as they connect their life experiences abroad with that of their counterparts in Jamaica.
I am happy that our ‘Future Leaders’ in the Diaspora have come home to share their thoughts with folk in Jamaica. You are an essential link in the chain of events that must unfold as Jamaica moves forward. You are a valuable resource because of your fresh, sometimes out-of-the box thinking, and your dynamic creativity in dealing with issues.
We want to work with you and combine your knowledge and experiences gained abroad with those of the youth in Jamaica, as we seek answers to the challenges the country faces. Interaction and cross fertilization is bound to bear fruit.
I commend the Mona School of Business at the University of the West Indies for hosting the Jamaican Diaspora Institute which will serve as the operational arm of the foundation. This collaboration between the University and the Diaspora will help to create synergies between the collective body of knowledge, research and experiences by academia and professionals in the Diaspora with that of their counterparts at the UWI and tertiary institutions across Jamaica.
I believe that this collaborative effort will serve as a springboard for exploring and identifying solutions to the myriad of social, economic, environmental and other issues that we have to deal with as a nation.
The 2007 World Development Report of the World Bank titled “Development and the Next Generation” notes in the chapter on “Exercising Citizenship” that, “countries can promote citizenship not only by establishing broad liberal democratic principles, but by making every institution with which youth come into contact an avenue for inclusion, solidarity and participation”
Over the past couple of months, Lady Allen and I have been travelling around the Island engaging in conversations with Jamaicans from all walks of life including the youth. We have observed similarities in the views, vision and hopes that the people have for themselves and Jamaica:
- They want a peaceful, prosperous and united nation.
- They want to see improvements in the standard of living for their families and better access to quality education for their children.
It was encouraging to hear the youth in particular offer possible solutions to the challenges facing the country. They have a vision of a better Jamaica and recognize their role in making it a reality.
Opportunities for engagement
Many of our young people are raring to make worthwhile contributions to building Jamaica and we must open up new avenues for this to happen. One of the first steps I wish to suggest is that we engage the youth in discussions and use that as a vantage point from which to tap into their maturing consciousness and mentor them in the right direction. We must believe in them and have faith in their abilities. They rely on the adults around them to motivate them and instill in them the confidence that they need to develop strategies for making their mark in their respective countries and in Jamaica.
The seminars and workshops which have taken place here over the past few days will help to build bridges and networks that are likely to create opportunities for business and entrepreneurship. But without the right guidance, support, encouragement and commitment, you run the risk of this Conference being just another gathering. I encourage you to keep the dialogue going amongst yourself and constantly exchange ideas. Seek out role models in the Diaspora and Jamaica who can be mentors as you progress. Let the dialogue continue.
The role of the Diaspora can be seen as directly proportional to the establishment of the global umbrella. It is now commonplace to see established cultural communities now moreso with clearly defined boundaries, thriving in a foreign territory. As these communities interact, the cultural fusion takes place. No longer does one have to set foot in a country to be able to experience certain elements of what it has to offer
It is no secret that ‘Brand Jamaica‘, the black, green and gold are well known and our products are sought after everywhere. We have to identify new ways to engage the Diaspora in order to successfully develop and market our brand. This can be achieved through social network websites, such as, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Instant and Text Messaging. These are tools which are more likely to appeal to new and younger consumers when compared to traditional means of advertising and marketing. You have to help us by giving the testimonials to people all over the world so they too will want to Buy Jamaica and “Come to Jamaica and feel alright’.
On the Jamaican side, we need to commit to improved productivity and efficiency. We have to ensure that the education our students receive will provide them with the advanced technical skills and training that will enable us to create new businesses and products to meet the demand of new and emerging markets. I don’t need to emphasise the importance of education to the development of a nation.
I believe Diasporian entrepreneurs are able and willing to bring first world technology and skills to Jamaica. We have to ensure that our people are ready to use these tools to build a solid economic base for Jamaica, and education is the primary avenue through which this can be achieved.
Although you live overseas, the problem of crime and violence facing Jamaica affects youth both in Jamaica and the Diaspora. While Jamaican youth are confronted with the harsh realities of crime and violence, your reality is evident in the pressure you face when you have to defend Jamaica’s negative image abroad. You may find, and some of you may have had the experience of being ostracized because of your connections with Jamaica.
The critical linkages must be made. We have lost too many of our young people in at least one, and maybe even two of the last generations to crime. There are over 160,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 years who are unemployed or unemployable. With nothing to do, they are easily influenced by the lure of money to carry out criminal acts. The feeling of power when they have a gun in hand gives them a false sense of security and provides a false boost to a crumbling self esteem.
Organizations like yours must take the conversations to the streets and talk to the youth in the communities. I believe that as one youth to another, you are in a more suitable position than anyone else to mentor, motivate and encourage them to adopt a better way of life. Share your experiences abroad with them and tell them about the positive things they can do in life based on what you have seen. Tell them of the setbacks you might have faced because of the challenges here and show them how much more assistance you could offer them in their search for a better way of life if you did not have this burden to carry.
I believe a part of the problem is that many of our people not only feel excluded from the mainstream of society but they are also feeling excluded from the process of identifying the solutions. Your established strategies for building networks in business and entrepreneurship, promoting education and training, is geared toward future opportunities, mentorship and addressing the problem of crime and violence at the level of the youth. These will help to alleviate some of the malaise affecting the youth in Jamaica and the Diaspora. But it needs to be taken out of the laboratory and in to the wider society for application.
The brain drain has adversely affected Jamaica. I would like to suggest that where possible and practical, some of you may wish to consider returning to Jamaica permanently and to offer your skills and knowledge. If not permanently, then be a type of ‘Peace Corps’ Volunteer in your country for a year or two. It will be akin to doing your national service in reverse. At the least, sequenced and repeated visits should form part of your agenda.
The Diaspora has a vested interest in what goes on in Jamaica. You believe in Jamaica and Jamaicans. No matter how long you have lived abroad, your heart remains with Jamaica. Those of you who were born in the Diaspora also have a special fondness for home and a strong sense of belonging.
As we seek strategies to overcome the challenges facing Jamaica, the country needs the network, alliances and partnerships which the international community affords. At a time when important decisions affecting the lives of Jamaicans at home are made outside Jamaica, we need people like you who can influence decisions on various levels in the international community. Our young people in the Diaspora therefore need to know what is happening in Jamaica so they can use that information as a springboard to positive action.
I believe we have an active, involved, passionate group of Future Youth Leaders in the Diaspora who have the energy and drive to ensure that our interests are protected. We have young, vibrant and dynamic youth leaders who can influence the decisions which are made at home, as well as those that are made in the Diaspora. Your experience in the metropolis, your contacts, your network and your unique reflections away from home represent a goldmine. We must harness that goldmine.
I trust that this Conference has ignited the fire of public-spiritedness and activism within you and that this will result in a brighter future for you, the countries where you live and Jamaica land we love.
May God bless you.