Nominations for the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board Member have closed. Jamaicans in Florida and eleven other southern US states will vote between May 23 and June 7 to elect one of the nominees.
Since 2004, when the Jamaican government initiated a formal structure between Jamaica and its Diaspora, four individuals, all from Florida, have been elected to represent the Southern US as advisory board members.
However, only a few of the estimated 750,000 Jamaicans who live in the region voted for them. That’s because after 13 years most people either have no interest in, or lack understanding of what an organized Jamaican Diaspora stands for. Since 2004, attempts to formalize relations between Jamaica and its Diaspora have been sluggish. Granted, a Jamaica Diaspora Conference is held biennially in Jamaica, but in between there are significant inconsistencies in the relationship.
There are several challenges that impede the Jamaican Diaspora from functioning like a coordinated organization, similar to for example, the Israeli and Irish Diaspora. Few of these challenges were effectively addressed by former advisory board members in either the US, Canada or United Kingdom.
Among the challenges is a functional Jamaica/Diaspora organization. The Jamaican government formally liaises with the Diaspora through a Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board consisting of members from Jamaica and the Diaspora. However, this isn’t proving to be a practical system.
The role of advisory board members representing the Diaspora have been frustrated by factors, including lack of funding and administrative support, and the logistics of being effective representatives of the vast US territory. This system needs to be urgently reviewed, and adjusted. The Diaspora is also challenged by lack of unity. Without some unification, it is difficult for it to participate effectively in Jamaican affairs.
Another serious challenge is the misconception that a unified, functioning Diaspora is the responsibility of the Jamaican government. The Diaspora is a Jamaican community outside of Jamaica. To function effectively internally and with Jamaica, the Diaspora needs a formidable autonomous organizational structure.
The focus since 2004 is for organizations within the Diaspora to provide various forms of assistance to Jamaica. While this is commendable, the Diaspora badly lacks leadership within itself to address issues affecting Jamaicans living in the respective overseas communities. This needs to be addressed by the incoming advisory board member.
There’s serious need for a strong Diaspora leader to effectively represent the interests of Jamaicans living in the Southern USA, while addressing issues relevant to Jamaica.
However, for this leader to be effective several changes are needed. The changes suggested for the incoming advisory board member include:
- Replacing the overseas Diaspora Advisory Board membership with an umbrella type Jamaica Diaspora Council involving a system that functions within and across the broad Jamaican Diaspora. To be effective, the Council needs to be appropriately gender-balanced, capable of pulling the participation of youth, cultural, community, business, media and religious leaders and professionals.
- Establishing stronger rapport with Jamaican diplomatic representatives in the region and across the US so the Diaspora can be sufficiently apprised of Jamaica’s public policy.
- Participating in a functional communication system that reaches and sustains feedback from Jamaicans regionally, nationally and internationally. This is necessary to make the Diaspora more proficient at serving itself, while developing, coordinating and implementing projects relevant to Jamaica.
- Addressing the funding challenges, it’s suggested a Jamaica Diaspora Investment Fund (JDIF) be established under the JDC, supplemented with loans and grants from Jamaican, national, international financial institutions, and structured financial contributions from the Diaspora. The focus of the Jamaican Diaspora needs to move beyond attending biennial and other conferences in Jamaica, being the source of financial remittances and charitable contributions to Jamaica.
The incoming advisory board member should have the vision to lead the Diaspora to be a comprehensive, viable self-serving community, mobilized as an effective asset to Jamaica.
The nominee who best displays this potential leadership deserves to be elected.