COMMENTARY: Strength from Abroad: The ‘Diaspora Option’

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Wendy Wallace, Youth Parliamentarian. Photo credit: GIS, Dominica We are entering a future where the global situation is unpredictable, environmental conditions more volatile and transformation more fast-paced than ever. Our vulnerability to Atlantic hurricanes that intensify with climate changes and threatens our socio-economic existence creates a greater sense of anxiety and insecurity about our future. We can and must adjust to this new-fangled environment and search for opportunities beyond our borders and in new areas.

Since the 1940s, an estimated 160,000 Dominicans have migrated from the island to the US (44%), the UK (12), France (9%), USVI (7%), and Antigua & Barbuda (6%). One of the main characteristics of this migration involves the mobility of the active population, including students who never return, thereby, nourishing the stock of the highly skilled diaspora.

For the past 18 years, the prominence of diaspora communities has been the subject of analysis in the area of economic development. In 2004, the Government endorsed the preparation of a Draft Diaspora Policy Paper by the Dominica Academy of Arts and Sciences (DAAS). A number of policies were outlined in the Growth and Social Protection Strategy (GSPS) in 2006 and revised in 2008. Another policy was formulated in 2010 by the then Ministry of Trade, Employment, Industry and Diaspora Affairs. At a ministerial level, the Hon. Kenneth Darroux currently sits as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Business and Diaspora Relations.

The participation of the Dominican diaspora in the economic development of Dominica cannot be underestimated. A country’s greatest resource is its people, whether resident or abroad. What is fascinating about the diaspora is that their connection never fades and they remain invested in seeing the predicaments that they once faced eliminated. Some diaspora members will ‘give back’ to their communities out of sentiment without asking for returns, but these sorts of engagements work best when there is a two-way street, in which all parties see clear rewards.

When compared to a typical Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), diaspora investment has a unique appeal that is not wholly compelled by financial gains. Notwithstanding the economic role of remittances and the barrel trade, possibly accounting for over 10% of Dominica’s GDP, it is important to explore other means through which the diaspora can be a complementary or alternative source of financing. There are amazing examples from countries that have integrated their diaspora into economic development far beyond their source of remittances.

Recently in SVG, the first EB John Memorial Bursary was conferred on a media worker by the Toronto SVG Support Group, a group established to promote and facilitate positive interaction among nationals of SVG throughout the diaspora.

Two years ago, Grenada embarked on an initiative that concluded with the parliamentary passage of their Diaspora Engagement Policy, highlighting that » the Grenada Diaspora is our 16 th  constituency and must be integrated into national development.»  What stands out among their many initiatives is an incentive program called ‘473 Connect’ which targets the Grenadian diaspora to become tourism ambassadors for the island. 473 Connect ambassadors will be eligible to apply for a membership card, offering discounts on airfare, accommodation and even petrol among other enticing perks.

The Haiti Renewal Alliance, a non-profit based in Washington, DC developed ‘Investors Tank,’ a platform for entrepreneurs to present their ideas that can benefit Haiti and potentially receive funding and business mentorship. This is similar to the well-known TV shows ‘Shark Tank’ and ‘Dragon’s Den’ where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to established investors.

As early as the 1990s, Jamaica’s diaspora movement has sought to connect tourism, technology and talent to contribute to an increase in jobs, enterprises and investment through a number of structured initiatives.

In 2020, Kenya introduced its first licensed investment fund for citizens living overseas in an attempt to channel the diaspora’s money into development projects.

The African Diaspora Summer School (ADSS) seeks to channel the transfer of knowledge, technology and experience between the diaspora and the African economy.

The Indian government’s diaspora policy has been effective at appreciating the potential of issuing diaspora bonds and promoting other investments in the stock market.

Jobs for Lebanon is an NPO meant to connect employers worldwide with individuals who are in Lebanon and are seeking employment or projects that they can outsource themselves to. What is beautiful about this is that it combines everything, for instance, an entrepreneur in Lebanon may have a graphic design business and there may be insufficient people within the geographic boundaries of Lebanon to access their services. This platform will create a profile and connect them with other individuals and companies who are possibly situated in Canada, the US or elsewhere who require such services.

Even before implementing policies, a strategic approach must be utilized to assess existing engagement institutions, a sustainable fiscal policy, integration with other agencies, a communication and marketing strategy, data collection, monitoring and evaluating capacity and public education and awareness.

To plug this economic hole, the fiscal perils afflicting Dominica must be thoroughly analyzed in order to explore alternatives that are specific to our needs, one such alternative is the ‘ diaspora option .’

Over the last 40 years, our economic development has been strangled by the development of the liberalization of trade and the opening up of foreign markets-free trade. The amassed pressure on Dominica to compete freely with other countries had a devastating impact on the agricultural industry since countries that had maintained preferential trade treaties such as the UK and the EU under the Lome Convention have since refurbished such agreements in compliance with the WTO requirements. Many countries have crafted bilateral trade agreements with any country it pleases in pursuance of their economic goals. The result has been the EU and UK opting for trade in agricultural products that are mass-produced in China, India, and Brazil among other large markets.

Unfortunately, Dominica felt the pinch from foreign markets closure which reduced our agricultural livelihoods and revenue resulting in an increased food import bill and mass unemployment. A significant amount of upfront investment is needed for Dominican farmers to revolutionize the agricultural sector for resilience against Atlantic hurricanes and global economic uprisings.

One such expectation of diaspora engagement involves the implementation of a diaspora bond which provides crucial financial investment when purchased in foreign currencies. The diaspora bond is great for private investment in productive assets, including start-ups or other private sector enterprises and physical infrastructures, such as energy, transport and water. Such diaspora-led investments can spur economic growth and job creation, thus curbing youth unemployment.

Being an entrepreneur is a difficult endeavor and without resources and support to ensure that your venture grows successfully, it’s a compounding issue of challenges. Our ecosystem does not culturally allow for economic risk or personal experimentation and the possibility of failure emanates from the lack of infrastructure, minimal resources, high-interest business loans and the expense of legal protection. There are many Dominica-led diaspora groups that can collaborate with their homeland community groups to invest in young entrepreneurs and facilitate the expansion of existing private businesses.

We must accept that the volatile nature of our tourism industry desperately requires economic diversification and highly qualified expatriates can contribute their knowledge and skills to achieve this. India is a great example of economic diversification aided through the efforts of its diaspora community in software development.

As the global economic center is shifting, diaspora engagement can foster our attention to trade in services, thus positioning Dominica as a launching pad for a new trade focus in the exportation of services. This engagement will boost our competitiveness in the global market by focusing on the digital economy.

The diaspora community can transfer the skills, experiences and contacts that they have generated to seed businesses and entrepreneurs through training, mentoring and other intangible means. For instance, medical professionals or educators abroad who have received advanced training can bring new training and skills through online modals. IT moguls can organize online summer schools to introduce and teach coding for games, artificial intelligence, robotics among other digital and science offerings.

Most pointedly, the government would need to address any regulatory barriers, such as lengthy procedures and the low digitalization of government services that seek to discourage diaspora investors. Also, the feasibility of the ‘diaspora option’ would depend on research focused on the size of the diaspora population, its investment potential and interest, market research on the investment landscape, and the legal and regulatory framework for investments.

In sum, diaspora communities are not «magic bullets» that are expected to decipher complex development problems or structural constraints. As CIP programs are being threatened, Caribbean governments should begin exploring ways to attract investment from diaspora communities. The time has never been more urgent to stop counting our losses and turn them into gains, for one man’s loss is another man’s gain.

LINK ORIGINAL: Dominica News Online

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