A recent report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has provided an extremely useful insight into the present state of the Guyanese Diaspora and how the authorities here should move forward in capitalising on the skills and financial resources of this group for the benefit of both sides.
The report “The Guyanese Diaspora” was authored by Michael Matera, Linnea Sandin, and Maripaz Alvarez. It provides useful recommendations which the Government, Private Sector, and other stakeholders should study and seriously consider implementing, since for a long time now, there has only been mere talk about engaging the Diaspora and no concrete action being taken in this regard.
Guyana’s emigration rate, which skyrocketed in the 1960s due to the hardships created by the then LFS Burnham-led People’s National Congress (PNC) Government, is one of the highest in the world. According to the report, the first-generation immigrant Guyanese Diaspora today is estimated to be approximately 550,000 worldwide, not including their descendants.
The report outlines that Guyana’s population, including the country’s civil society, Private Sector, and political leaders, as well as the large diaspora community, have “a shared mutual interest in increasing formal links between the country and the Diaspora and in exploring means to increase cooperation and collaboration”.
It highlights that for many reasons since independence, the Diaspora communities outside of Guyana have not been well-organised nor engaged in a deliberate and consistent way by the Government. For example, while there has been extensive contact between members and organisations of the Diaspora and their families and communities at home in Guyana, there has been no consistent official effort to promote the more formal, mutually advantageous two-way relationships seen between some Diasporas and their home countries in the region (eg, in Mexico, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic) and outside of the Region (eg, in India, Israel, and China).
According to the authors, the capacities and expertise of the Guyanese Diaspora, if properly understood and engaged, could become an important factor contributing to the growth and development of Guyana.
We had stated several times before that there is much the Diaspora can do to help in moving our country forward once the necessary systems are put in place for them to do so. First, there needs to be a proper mechanism through which such engagement could become operational. The mechanism must include major components such as effective follow-up, monitoring, and feedback.
The authors suggest that Guyana should weigh the differences between a stand-alone ministry as seen in India and some formal structure such as a “diaspora advisory council” as seen in the Dominican Republic.
They argue that the model presented in the case of the Indian Diaspora by the non-profit The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE) would appear to be a potentially-promising model to inspire closer engagement by the Guyanese Diaspora communities with Guyana.
The key recommendation presented in the report which was directed at both the Public and Private Sectors and at Guyanese Diaspora communities around the world, is to work collectively and deliberately to establish broader communication, engagement, and collaboration between Guyana and the Diaspora through a “Guyana Global” initiative.
On this basis, given the global dispersion of the Diaspora and the current landscape brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, this initiative should be based on “a comprehensive digital strategy to harness the human capital within the Guyanese Diaspora as a resource to be tapped in Guyana’s development”. As such, the authors suggest a cloud-based “portal”, including an online “community/platform” of Diaspora experts, to serve as a framework and a formal means of communication between Guyana and the Diaspora community.
Certainly, with Guyana now being an oil-producing nation and one filled with enormous opportunities, there is a renewed interest here by the Diaspora. Successive PPP Administrations had started to lure the Diaspora with house lots in the new remigrant housing scheme. Also, other incentives such as duty-free concessions, etc, have been offered. This was seen as a good start. However, other forms of engagement and support must be explored to ensure that those who are willing to return can do so with little or no hassle.
President Irfaan Ali, on several occasions since taking office, has reaffirmed his administration’s desire to meaningfully engage the Diaspora as part of efforts to build a modern and prosperous country. The Diaspora must be encouraged to return and participate in this transformation and similarly to take advantage of the opportunities available. It’s now time for action.