by Lipton Matthews
Just under a year ago, the 5th Biennial Jamaica-Diaspora conference was hosted at the white elephant-Montego Bay Conference Centre, under the theme “A Nation on a Mission: Jamaica Diaspora Partnership for Development”. Just as the previous conferences before it, will not bear fruit. It was akin to political posturing and a symbolism filled talk shop. Business events achieve much more, when there is focus on a central theme and not a plethora of unrelated issues.
Future Diaspora conferences can only become more successful if policymakers commit to a theme or an issue of national importance, instead of trying to generate investments for every sector. Development is a long term process, and we cannot fix every ailment within a two year period. That is not realistic.
Jamaica’s economy will only grow, when the foundation for growth exists, and our people must understand this concept. Due to high unemployment, now (officially) hoovering at 16.3%, the growth fanatics are becoming louder, but sustainable jobs are only created when structural economic problems are solved and only then would the Jamaican diaspora play a greater role in solving some of these problems. But the biennial conference must first become more strategic to do this.
Jamaica’s debt burden is exorbitant at >150% of GDP and rising annually, so diaspora bonds should not even be considered. There are other ways in which we can solicit assistance from the diaspora. At the next conference may I suggest that science and technology, be the central theme, as Jamaica will never be competitive regionally or internationally, without a capacity to innovate.
The diaspora could be a possible source of funding for the creation of a Science Foundation, which will provide innovators and academics alike with research grants, anyone who is au fait with development studies, knows that this is an international trend. In addition, a number of successful Jamaican entrepreneurs reside abroad, therefore a mentorship programme should be created for local SMEs who wish to innovate. This initiative could be most beneficial for local businesses as they would get the opportunity to familiarize themselves with foreign markets, receive technical assistance and therefore enhancing their competitiveness.
We will achieve more when future conferences become more solution-oriented and less political.
Lipton Matthews is a first year law student and is unusual in being a Libertarian-Conservative Jamaican Adolescent who believes in the virtues of Capitalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.