EDITORIAL - Embracing the Diaspora
Wed, 08/03/2016 - 8:49pm
Yesterday the Barbados Network Consultation 2016, otherwise known as the Fourth Biennial Diaspora Conference, got going at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, bringing together Barbadians from at home with those from across the world.
There is a saying ‘wherever you go in the world you will find a Bajan’, and that has certainly been proven to be true. It is no surprise therefore that participants at this year’s conference have been drawn from places such as Panama; Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Washington and California in the United States; Toronto, Canada and Manchester, England to name a few; all to share in the uniqueness of being a Barbadian. Indeed, it is good to see that the drive and passion to reconnect with their roots has remained ever strong.
This Diaspora Conference, the vision of the late Prime Minister David Thompson, was started because he saw that group of Barbadians and Barbadian descendants as an integral part of the economic, social and cultural development of Barbados that had to be tapped into. This is a realisation that countries like Ireland, Israel and China have long accepted and been utilising effectively, and Barbados should definitely continue along this path as well. Prime Minister Thompson, were he alive today, would no doubt be pleased that the fourth instalment of the conference is currently under way, and growing bigger and better every time. He would certainly also be pleased to know that his vision of seeing a stronger relationship between Barbados and the Diaspora is definitely being realised. But there is still some way to go.
Since 2010 when the conference was first held, there have been efforts made by many a Barbadian living overseas to get to know their family tree, increase their visits to Barbados, share their knowledge and expertise with Barbadians at home and even invest in the country, and there are even more investment opportunities for them to capitalise on. While the country has endured some trying economic times in recent history, we can still boast of a high ranking local banking sector and a relatively stable economy, even though it has only seen marginal growth, and so Government must ensure that the requisite provisions are in place to allow such investment to take place and thrive. The investment would be a win-win – the investors would increase their personal wealth or the wealth of their companies and the country would benefit too.
But too often it is said that while there is a strong desire to invest or give back to Barbados, the proverbial red tape they encounter stands in the way of them doing so. The issue of such red tape was raised just yesterday on the first day of the conference; so where it does exists, the authorities are duty bound to ensure that it is removed. Also, if we are serious about strengthening the bond between Barbadians here and abroad, there is a need for a government agency, set up to handle that and that alone.
Some may suggest that to establish such an agency would be a waste of money, but if Barbados is truly to capitalise on the opportunities that overseas populations present, then such a body is necessary. That body, we envisage, would be a clearinghouse of sorts, which would work across Government ministries, departments and the private sector to facilitate collaboration between Barbados and its Diaspora.
As a country on the cusp of its 50th year of nationhood, such a suggestion should not be taken lightly, as all hands are needed on deck as we set sail towards the next 50.