I had thought the idea of the two Caribbeans to be a unique concept, but research via the ever reliable Google quickly shelved that thought. Not to worry, I will press on with my thoughts, as the passion felt towards this concept is effervescent.
The two Caribbeans I speak of are intricately linked; they are the Caribbean region and the Caribbean Diaspora. I have a deep-rooted belief that there should not be a wide ranging disconnect between the Caribbean islands and their overseas 'outposts'. Geographic distance is a work of God, or some would argue Science, but I affirm that social disharmony and unprogressive attributes are human induced conditions.
In an age of ever improving communication mechanisms, maybe we are not utilising these tools properly to help us coexist better than we currently do. Communication technologies, I believe, may well serve to be the core building block to enshrine the relationship of equals between both the two Caribbeans.
I have created a mind map, contemplating the doomsday forecasts I have been reading about to do with the state of the world's economy. If I were a man of lesser persuasions, then perhaps I would have been stricken with fear, after all the negative reports I encountered. But sometimes, it is best to contain fear with pragmatism and figure out a way forward away from panic.
Some notable moves by the governments of Jamaica, St Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, Montserrat and St Vincent & the Grenadines, to name a few, have been made to engage the Diaspora. However, I have noticed that by and large, the Diaspora is still viewed in some aspects as those people who left.' Therein lies the root of the disconnect.
This perception must change if we are ever to get meaningful engagement and sustained, measurable contributions from the Diaspora. It can be done, but it takes a cocktail of will, policy, attitude and a structured approach. I would say, that in light of where the world economy is currently, the time for hosting talking shops is running thin; action and execution are now required. If the Caribbean is to fight off this doomsday scenario for the global economy, then the two Caribbeans, at home and abroad, will need to collaborate on an entirely new path.
I see involvement by way of foreign direct investment from the Diaspora to aid development, social participation by way of mentoring & a focus on youth involvement by way of educational and sports engagement. Also, private sector growth by way of entrepreneurial initiatives. Political involvement is an argumentative issue, so perhaps we save that for another time.
There is yet another crisis developing within the global economy. This time around, I fear any second recession will deal a damaging blow to many households, and small island states such as those in the region, could be in for a wobble.
The Caribbean's Diaspora in the United States alone contributed US$48 billion in remittances to the region in 2009. According to a paper published on Global Recession, Migration and Remittances: Effects on Latin American and Caribbean Economies, also in 2009, immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean sent home a total of just around US$64 billion down from US$69 billion in 2008. The global economic crisis was attributed as a reason for the downturn.
The significance of remittances to the region is unquestionable! If however, Western economies do not recover, remittances again would suffer. Many families in the Caribbean who rely on this extra cash may have to now begin looking at the real possibility that monies being sent home may either be suspended for a time, or be cut as hard times hit. Contingencies for such disruptions would be crucial.
Will the CSME be the region's saving grace? Only time will answer that. But apart from that, I am of the view that developing nations such as the Caribbean, ever reliant on Western favours, must now seek innovative ways to diversify their economies beyond tourism and remittances. Foreign Direct Investment is key. Beyond courting China, our Diaspora even more than before, ought to be considered when mapping the region's future.
Professor Avinash Persaud, who addressed delegates at the Caribbean Tourism Organization's inaugural State of the Industry Conference in St. Maarten said: We must build economies for the future. Complacency, fear and a lack of hunger are keeping the Caribbean from growing as fast as it can."
Many Caribbean governments have an entrenched fear of their Diasporas getting involved too deeply. Why is this?
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently commented that it is entrepreneurship that will help save the British economy. I would like to transplant this similar thinking towards the development models for many of our islands, and suggest that now Sir Richard Branson has opened his Entrepreneurial Centre in Jamaica, individual islands may perhaps begin looking at how best an environment can be fostered towards developing more entrepreneurs that will help to sustain regional growth.
Do we need more mentors? Training? Financial structures? Internet facilities? E-commerce training? Marketing vehicles? Business and entrepreneurship awards to encourage excellence? Internships abroad to experience what it takes to succeed at the highest level? Whatever is required, we should develop a strategy towards implementing, so that we do not get left behind in a world where the guarantees of today no longer hold as the assurances for tomorrow. I do believe the two Caribbeans working together can go a long way to foster development and growth.
Jeevan Robinson is Editor-in-Chief of MNI Alive. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org