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Diaspora Matters

Diaspora Strategy: Lessons from Jamaica

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With a Diaspora population almost equaling that at home, Jamaica is committed to engaging its Diaspora, concentrated in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The almost (US) $2 billion that Jamaicans send home annually is the largest earner of foreign exchange in Jamaica. Yet it is only one aspect of support by Jamaicans abroad to their island home. Both the Government of Jamaica and its Diaspora have forged a formal partnership, whose mission is to realize the goals of the country’s national agenda. Hence, Jamaicans abroad play a role in many key aspects of society, such as healthcare, education, investment and trade, and tourism. The Government of Jamaica launched its formal Diaspora initiative in 2003 under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and Foreign Trade within which the Diaspora and Consular Affairs Division was established. Foreign missions, i.e., consulates, embassies, and high commissions, are the bridges to the Diaspora. They implement Diaspora strategies and programs in the host countries.

A network of Diaspora Chairs, known as the Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board, in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, advises the Jamaican and Foreign Trade on the staging of a biennial Diaspora convention. The convention brings together each Jamaican Diaspora location, including alumni associations, interest groups in healthcare, education and business, foundations, and social groups ranging from cricket to domino clubs. Conference objectives include placing on record the country’s appreciation for contributions made by Jamaicans residing abroad to national development; using the conference to involve Jamaicans overseas more comprehensively in the economic, social, political and cultural aspects; and to develop the necessary structures to strengthen the relationship between the two groups.

The following are highlights of Jamaican Diaspora Engagement initiatives:
Health: Medical missions are a key component of the Jamaican Diaspora contribution to Jamaica’s health care system. These missions whose delegations comprise a diverse team of physicians, dentists, nurses and volunteers from these countries, provide much-needed medical services and supplies that would otherwise not be readily available to Jamaica, especially in the more rural, isolated Jamaican communities and parishes. A Committee comprising prominent friends of Jamaica, Jamaican business leaders and physicians, is focused on developing a public/private partnership model to support major health care projects in Jamaica, such as the building of health clinics in rural Jamaica.
Education:  The Union of Jamaican Alumni Associations (USA) Inc. (UJAA) is a nonprofit umbrella organization comprised of alumni associations that include Jamaican primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions. The Jamaican Diasporan community strongly supports Jamaica’s education with 50 formal alumni organizations in the Northeastern U.S. alone. They organize fund raising initiatives and social events and contribute to Jamaica’s schools with state-of-the-art equipment and supplies, such as books, computers, pencils, paper and other important school-related materials. n ‘Handbook for Jamaican Students Entering Schools in the United States of America’. The UJAA-published Handbook was developed to assist the U.S. public educational community – primary and secondary school teachers, many based in New York City and Connecticut, in gaining a fuller understanding of the public school system in Jamaica and to better evaluate and raise academic standards for newly arrived students emigrating from Jamaica. The Handbook contains a description of schools, types of examinations and terminology unique to Jamaica’s school system. n Special School Teacher Trips: The UJAA organizes special trips, where Jamaican school teachers in the U.S. can meet their peers or counterparts in Jamaica and hopefully gain a better understanding of Jamaica’s school system and the environment and culture that Jamaican students are emigrating from.

Global diaspora skills database initiative: The absence of a well-populated and current database of Jamaican nationals has been a huge challenge. To that end, The Diaspora Foundation in Jamaica is spearheading the development of a global database of Jamaican nationals – with a focus on garnering information on the professional skills of its Diaspora. The database will be an information reservoir for the Jamaican government and the private sector that will include professionals in technology, healthcare, accounting, financial services and business.
Critical conversation series: In an effort to share ideas, learn about best practices and discuss challenges and successes of the Jamaican Diaspora initiative, the New York Consulate collaborates with the Diaspora Advisory Board, NE to undertake a series of conversations uniting Jamaican community leaders and representatives from other foreign missions charged with Diaspora affairs. Topics of interest include: how to strategically use community organizations, engaging young Diasporans in community activity and the role of the Diaspora to attract trade and investment, leveraging remittances for sustainable development.

Online interactive community events calendar and organizational database: Launched by the Consulate General of Jamaica, N.Y., the site includes a monthly
listing, detailing important special events, including annual banquets, cultural programs, fundraisers and other activities hosted by Diaspora organizations for the Diaspora community. More than 150 Jamaican community organizations in the Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) are represented, as well as some 50 alumni groups in New York.

Source: Conjenjamaica-ny.org

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