COMMENTARY: Strength from Abroad: The ‘Diaspora Option’

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 16th 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.

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17 Comments

  1. Ron Charles
    May 23, 2022

    Very interesting article. I too asked questions about the source of her statistics, because it leapt at me. I cannot say I agree with everything she said. I do have questions. But this is a good starting point to begin the conversation.
    Some of the issues we have here centers on the thinking for some of the more vocal members of the diaspora is that unless they can be in a position to direct, advise or influence government’s policy then the government is not good. They join in the local partisan fray to criticize everything that is being done here. They speak down on us who remain here to build the country like we =, who remain here, do not know what is best for our country.

    She wrote about some of the non-local factors that has impacted our economy to include WTO (where we lost preferential trading for our bananas in Europe) and successive natural disasters. These are not figments of the imagination. They are historical truths. So let the conversation begin. Don’t eat me up…

  2. Kathleen
    May 22, 2022

    “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%).”

    From where the above statistics derived?

    So, let’s see; a total 160,000 who left to the United States 160,000 X 44 =7,040,000/100 =70,400 people.
    160,000.00 x 12=1,920,00/100=19,200 people
    160,000.00 x 9=1,440,000/100=14,400 people
    160,000.00 x 7 =1,120,000/100=11,200 people
    160,000.00 x 6 =960,000/100=900,600 people
    Hence: 70,400
    + 19,200
    ” 14,400
    ” 11,200
    ” 9,600
    …………………………………………..
    124,800 + or – 124 thousand people left the country?
    160,000.00 -124,800 =36,000, if correct is the total number of people resident in Dominica. Could the man Telemaque be correct all along when he said there is approximately thirty-five people resident in the country?
    The statistics according to Wendy seems warped!
    How do we know factually…

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
    • Kathleen
      May 22, 2022

      What is wrong about the lady’s account is that, in the 1940’s Dominicans immigrated to other islands in the Caribbean, Trinidad, Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts, Aruba, Curacao Cuba, Panama working on the Panama Canal.

      Some went to Cayenne, and Bermuda too!
      I do not get the point or any sense in what she is saying; there were never a large majority of Dominicans migrating to the United States, and it was not until the late 1950’s when the British invited immigrants to immigrate to the United Kingdom do to a labor shortage, West Indians (Dominicans) commenced immigration to England.

      The few who went to the British isles before the 50’s such as those whom became doctors and lawyers, studied in Ireland, and not in England!
      Everything out of Dominica must always be false lies, or exaggerations

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0
  3. AEB
    May 22, 2022

    @Beta, I think you missed one very important reason that must be added to your list of reasons and that is lack of a suitable alternative.

    Some of the 50% of Dominicans guilty of sitting on the fence do so because they feel that removing this government would be like moving from the frying pan into the fire.

    As we are it, I believe it would be a very instructive political statistic to fine out what percentage of people who remain on the fence do so because they feel that there is no significantly better option at this point in time. One other measurement could be added, by how much this figure has changed over the last 15 years.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 0 Thumb down 18
    • Beta
      May 24, 2022

      Anything would be better than having ONE person enriching himself at the expense of state resources that belong to ALL. If our country can’t find a better person than that, well what does that say about our people and our country! Finally, your comment is just a sorry excuse for all you who desperately seek to justify your general cowardice. Grow some tennis balls and stop hiding behind your mothers skirt! We CAN do better than that.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 0
    • Lawyer
      May 24, 2022

      Let me tell you something: those who stand for nothing fall for anything! That’s Dominicas problem described in less than 10 words. Greed, cowardice and total lack of principles will be the downfall of our beautiful country. Isn’t it true that the country should be bigger than any single man, no matter how pleasing to the eye he is?? The members of the ‘youth council’ like Eusebe, Wallace and others should think twice before open their mouth again.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 0
  4. Dr Clayton Shillingford
    May 21, 2022

    A well written article by Wendy Wallace Back in 2004 Leroy Mitchell And I as DAAS President presented to Skerrit a comprehensive blueprint to enhance the partnership between the Dominican Diaspora and the local public and private institutions.. It was not acted upon The blueprint touched upon most of the ideas expressed by Ms Wallace.. At one instance a Minister of the DLP Government criticized that we were trying to ‘run the country by remote control”” Comments of that sort did not help

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1
  5. Corn Corner
    May 21, 2022

    A brilliant article Ms Wallace. You are part of the diaspora yourself, and I trust that if you do return home you can help to be part of the change. It is sad that our country does not fully appreciate thinkers, or that the thinkers quickly deteriorate into non-thinkers once they become members of the regime. Their brains retire for money.

  6. BP
    May 21, 2022

    “The diaspora is Grenada’s 16 th constituency.” Perhaps it could be Dominica’s 22nd constituency. That would allow the diaspora to vote as a single constituency without clouding local constituency results.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0
    • The Calabash
      May 24, 2022

      Interesting. Never thought of that. It has value.

  7. May 20, 2022

    Well thought article, but the attitude at home towards the Diaspora should be more welcoming and not antagonistic. There should be a more congenial approach with the tone set at the leadership level. By the way, the 2004 document to which you refer was never acknowledged by the government, despite several attempts to get a response or an acknowledgement of the receipt of the document. We should embrace the members of the diaspora and not regard them as threats. We are anxious to help and to assist in any way possible.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0
  8. STEPHEN NICHOLAS
    May 20, 2022

    That’s a well thought article by Ms. Wallace. “Brilliant”.
    The DLP Government is more interested in using the Diaspora’s to help him steal elections.
    The majority of them taking this joy ride to help steal elections are uneducated with no skills set and have nothing to offer in the development of Dominica. Most of them are on social services and that’s the only way they can visit their love ones back home. A free ride from the DLP.
    DLP as failed miserably in adopting a Policy which can incorporated Dominica’s economic growth using the expertise of the Diasporas.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1
  9. Lawyer
    May 20, 2022

    I do agree with almost everything you are saying. However, what is missing, as in almost all of those ‘clever’ utterings from those ‘Youth Parliamentarians’, is the willingness to address those issues at hand. I simply haven’t got the space to go into any detail but I’ll give you just a few bullet points: the continuation of unfair elections, the stubborn refusal by Skerrit to account for our CBI funds, the ongoing refusal by him to brief the citizens on the entirety of the MOU with China and lastly the lack of comment by the government regarding the writing off of USD 100 million debt by Venezuela. It appears those youth parliamentarians are using one of Skerrits famous tactics to create smoke screens with clever suggestion that are simply designed to divert from the core problems. Wendy, you have no credibility at all as long as you keep on sitting on the fence and avoid to criticise the core problems caused by YOUR PM. Are you afraid or are you just singing for your supper?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 34 Thumb down 9
    • Truth
      May 20, 2022

      Lawyer when will you people stop using politics for everything? Your pointers clearly show your obsession with some people.

      What are you teaching this young person? To be hateful, bitter, or forever being obsessive in those ways and trapped in a closed mind of looking at all negatives, etc.

      Teach this young upcoming youth parliamentarian to be humble and to listen attentively. Not to be bitter, or hateful.

      We need love love love and what are you spewing your utter political rubbish at this young lady. Are you trying to kill her self-esteem?

      Lord have mercy on you guys only looking to destroy persons self esteem.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 4 Thumb down 28
      • DAFriend
        May 22, 2022

        Nothing to do with hate, everything to do with criticism. You another one of them that allow one man to steal our state resources without as much as a word of criticism. Is that what you want to teach our children?? Hate you and your fellow Skerrit worshippers call it? Corruption and plain crime I call it!

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 2
    • Beta
      May 21, 2022

      Unfortunately she is not the only one that’s constantly sitting on the fence and simply hope for the best. At least 50% of Dominicans are guilty of that for various reasons. Some are just afraid, others just want a ‘quite’ live and most are simply satisfied with the status quo because they benefit from it or at least hope to benefit from it in the near future.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 1

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