The Jamaican Diaspora UK – A Particular Historical Engagement As A Public Policy Initiative
This article offer insight into the historical connection between a specific policy initiative formulated by the Government of Jamaica for engagement with Jamaicans who reside outside Jamaica, and the efforts of one organisation – The Jamaican Diaspora UK (JDUK), to make a positive and active contribution to the implementation of that policy with specific measurable outcomes.
In 2002, the Government of Jamaica responded to requests from Jamaicans abroad, to raise its ‘outreach’ activities with the Jamaican Diaspora from mere “engagement”, to the level of policy. In response to these requests the Government created an operational framework – from the appointment of a Junior Minister with responsibility for Diaspora affairs, to the creation of a Department for Diaspora Affairs within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade – to facilitate the development of a policy for the Diaspora. Additionally, and post the first Diaspora conference in 2004, a Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board (DAB) was established to which Advisory Board Members (ABMs) from the international regions of the United States of America, Canada, and the United Kingdom, can refer issues and concerns for effective solutions by the Government of Jamaica.
In essence, therefore, the history of JDUK is the history of the Jamaican Diaspora policy initiative; and JDUK is encapsulated in, and is an extension of, the Jamaican Diaspora initiative; and this historical connection is important. The absence, to date, of a policy document containing the original thinking and early arguments for the formulation of a Diaspora policy, make this article important for giving this historical account of the role of JDUK.
Incident of History
Public policy can begin with a simple incident of history, and for JDUK that incident occurred in 2002 when I undertook consultancy to investigate why, after one year, no Community College student in Jamaica had been able to acquire visas to take up the offer of 30 scholarships offered to Jamaicans from 3 further education colleges in Birmingham; and after not receiving any assistance from the British High Commission in Kingston with respect of how to resolve the matter, I approached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade for its intervention.
At a that meeting the then Junior Minister who occupied the newly created portfolio of Minister with responsibility for Diaspora Affairs explained that since his appointment and the news of his portfolio began to spread, he was inundated with similar complaints, from Jamaicans in the international regions about similar obstacles hindering philanthropic activities toward Jamaica.
The creation of a Ministerial portfolio for Diaspora affairs initiated a consultative process by planning 2 main events – the Symposium for Diaspora Affairs (2003) and the Diaspora Conference (2004) to which Jamaicans from outside Jamaica were invited to facilitate consensus and inputs into the formulation stage of a Diaspora policy.
The consensus from the 2003 symposium was that the A Diaspora policy was to be based on reciprocal support between Jamaica and its Diaspora; and from the 2004 Diaspora conference motions were passed which, in effect, were the embodiment or key activities around which this reciprocity of support could begin:
- A Diaspora bond.
- An all-party lobby group of Parliamentarians to represent Jamaica’s interests in each international region.
- A Diaspora Advisory Board (DAB) to which issues, concerns, and proposals can be referred via elected Advisory Board Members.
- National or regional organisations (in the case of the USA) to identify distinct Diaspora issues and concerns for which solutions can only be found in Jamaica by the Diaspora Advisory Board. In the UK that national organisation is JDUK.
Policy Implementation and the Historical Role of JDUK
The above illustrates the adoption of a participatory approach to the formulation process of a public policy for the Jamaican Diaspora; however, what was to be more challenging is the retention of the participatory approach in the implementation stage of the policy.
Returning delegates and ABMs from the 2004 Diaspora Conference which was held in Jamaica, wasted no time creating the organisational structure for participation in the referral activity of issues from the ‘natural’ Diaspora to the Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board; and by 2005, JDUK was launched with the following features:
- Membership from individuals and existing Jamaican community organisations.
- Six JDUK regions, each with two Regional Coordinators (RCs).
- A Management Board consisting of RCs, Officers elected at JDUK’s Annual General Meeting; two Youth Representatives, and three ABMs.
- Biennial Conferences to convene to discuss prioritized issues, reach consensus/decisions, and write a conference report.
The above structure is maintained by a Constitution which ensure effective governance of JDUK. However, the absence of a specific diaspora policy document from the Government of Jamaica has been a hindrance for Diaspora engagement. As a consequence, successive and wide variations in interpretations about what should be the Diaspora initiative, has hindered consensus for the implementation of the original Diaspora policy initiative- ‘to facilitate reciprocal support between the Government of Jamaica and the estimated three million Jamaicans abroad.’
The absence of a Diaspora policy document has facilitated an unhelpful mix of competing interpretations and perceptions, as opposed to the actual needs initially identified in 2003 and 2004.
Positive and Successful Outcomes
But history is not solely or always a tale of tragedy. It is also full of goodwill-activities, cognitively sourced out of moral deservedness consideration that something must be done to remove a problem or nuisance. In the case of JDUK, it is satisfying to observe and be part of a team of Jamaicans across the age range, and from various regions of the UK, working voluntarily to organise Biennial Diaspora Conferences; out of which will be a report of decisions and recommendations about issues which will be referred to the Disapora Advisory Board in Jamaica for prescriptive solutions.
The motto: ‘Unleashing the potential’ was adopted by JDUK from the 2003
symposium. It is as relevant now as it was then. The unleashing of potential goes on!
Submitted by Bentley Cunningham, Chair of the Jamaican Diaspora UK
30th May, 2016