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Let's 'map' Jamaica's Diaspora to achieve growth

Diane Abbott

Sunday, August 03, 2014    

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I am pleased that the Jamaican Government has set up the "Mapping Jamaica's Diaspora" project. It is potentially a brilliant idea. I have long argued that Jamaica's overseas diaspora is its greatest untapped natural resource.

The project is being driven by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and they are working with the International Organisation for Migration.

Its aim is to identify, through an online survey, what skills the diaspora has, and what they can contribute to the development of Jamaica. The survey is also designed to shed some light on what those of us in the diaspora think are the main issues facing us in our country of settlement.

I have dutifully filled in the survey and will wait to see what happens.

But, in the meantime, I would humbly suggest that ministers consider how they can maximise the value of the survey.

First of all, it needs to be more widely promoted so that people know about it. I know of very few Jamaicans in the UK who have actually heard of it. Most members of the Jamaican diaspora are going to have to be guided to it. So it cannot just be a question of merely putting it up online.

The Jamaican Government should work with churches and other grass roots organisations in order to get them to rally their members to fill it in.

There are at least 650,000 people of Jamaican heritage living in the UK — many more if you count the second and third generations. Hundreds of thousands of those will be connected to one of the black-led churches. They should be the go-to partners for any serious survey of Jamaica's diaspora.

I assume that the Government has sent details of the survey to the many different Jamaican organisations out there, whether they are national or linked to a particular town.

These organisations will be particularly valuable in targeting middle-aged Jamaicans who do not naturally spend a lot of time online. Because there will be this group of Jamaicans who will not find the survey online, because they never go online, the survey must be supplemented by other forms of research and data collection.

The danger in a survey restricted to online users is that, with no other supporting activity, it will fall short in documenting the diaspora in a genuinely useful way.

The Jamaican Government should also organise market research-type "focus groups" in all the towns of cities of Britain where there are large Jamaican populations.

This would add qualitative information to the merely numerical. This would cost money. But I suspect that the International Organisation for Migration is not working on this project for free.

So the same international organisations that are paying for that work could also pay to employ marketing and other experts to do a really thorough survey of Jamaicans and their descendants in the UK.

Then, once the survey is completed, the question is what will the Jamaican Government do with the information?

Having identified these talents, what will the Jamaican Government do with it to better the country and its people at home and abroad?

They have said they want to use the mapping exercise to support the development of a logistics hub, by identifying men and women with maritime industry, logistics, shipping and engineering experience.

Government has also intimated that it wants to advance the creative industries, such as animation and developing mobile apps.

If Government has these specific goals, in terms of identifying skills and talents, maybe they should also be approaching professional organisations and universities, encouraging them to identify people of Jamaican origin or affiliation within their ranks.

Professionals of Jamaican origin who have applied for jobs in the public sector back in Jamaica have sometimes felt unwelcome.

It would be a shame for the Government to go to all this trouble to identify skilled Jamaicans overseas yet still continue to recruit expatriates who are not obviously of Jamaican origin. We wait and see.

But "Mapping Jamaica's Diaspora" is a great project and, with a little tweaking, can make an important contribution to Jamaica's economic development.

— Diane Abbott is the British Labour Party MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington www.dianeabbott.org.uk

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