Jamaica Diaspora Foundation Closer to Reality

The establishment of the proposed Jamaican Diaspora Foundation is a step closer to reality, as the Articles of Incorporation to form the Foundation have been drawn up and is being reviewed by the government.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Delano Franklyn, tells JIS News that once this exercise is completed, the Ministry will seek the approval of Cabinet to establish the Foundation as a limited liability non-profit organization, with a board of directors comprised of well-placed Jamaicans at home and abroad, as well as representatives from the public and private sectors and community-based organizations.
He notes that the process should be completed for the Foundation to be established by year end or early next year.
One of the recommendations coming out of the June 2006 Jamaican Diaspora Conference, the formation of the Foundation will strengthen the links and support systems between Jamaicans residing abroad and those at home and deepen the collaboration among the stakeholder groups that serve them. In addition, it will facilitate and increase the scope and impact of the contribution of the Diaspora to the development of Jamaica.
“Jamaicans living abroad have always played a critical role in the development of their homeland. It is very difficult to quantify the contributions that they have made on an annual basis, whether it is to education, health or communities. The government recognizes and appreciates these contributions and has deliberately pursued a policy of treating Jamaicans living overseas no differently than Jamaicans, who are living here,” Mr. Franklyn states.
He tells JIS News that the Foundation will serve as a liaison with the Jamaican Diaspora, the government, the private sector and community-based organizations in Jamaica.
“The government in and by itself, cannot provide the kind of service and interaction that the Jamaican community overseas deserves, neither can the government finance all the activities, which we would wish to promote to ensure that there is a deepened and strengthened relationship with Jamaicans overseas.
“The Foundation will therefore undertake such pertinent issues and deal with matters on behalf of the Jamaican overseas community,” he explains.
The State Minister, who has responsibility for the Jamaican Diaspora, informs that one of the principal functions of the Foundation will be to conduct studies and serve as a central repository and clearing house for research and data relating to the Diaspora.
“One of the tasks of the Foundation is to find out precisely how many Jamaicans are living abroad. The Foundation will have to develop a database to categorize these Jamaicans,” he says, noting that “the Ministry has been trying to come up with this database for a long time. The private sector has also attempted to do that but they have not been able to come up with a comprehensive one, so the Foundation is charged with this responsibility”.
In addition, the Jamaica Diaspora Foundation will seek to facilitate projects both locally and overseas, including those serving the needs of the Diaspora and projects in which the Diaspora can invest.
The Foundation will be located on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, and will have the Jamaica Diaspora Institute as an operating arm. The Institute will, among other things, function as a secretariat for the Foundation and it is envisaged that it will have a collaborative working relationship with stakeholder groups and task forces in major centres where Jamaicans reside.
Another initiative by the government to involve overseas nationals in the country’s affairs is the biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference, which was first held in June 2004.
The conference, which is organized by the Foreign Affairs Ministry in collaboration with other stakeholders, is designed to provide a platform for Jamaicans abroad to air their views and put forward suggestions as to how the Diaspora movement could become stronger, as well as assist in the country’s development.
“We have instituted a policy whereby we host a conference here in Jamaica every two years, to give Jamaicans, who are living abroad, an opportunity to come and meet with their colleagues, who are living elsewhere in the world. They also get an opportunity to interface with representatives of the state and other stakeholders here in Jamaica, be it private or public sector or academia,” Senator Franklyn elaborates.
Citing the success of the last conference in June 2006, he notes that a number of resolutions were passed including placing education as a priority item on the agenda of the next conference; the establishment of a Diaspora Fund; and the inclusion of more young people in the process. He says that preparations are now underway for the next year’s conference, which will be held in Kingston from June 16 to 17.
In addition, as part of the thrust to strengthen the relationship between the government and the Jamaican overseas community and to recognize the significant contribution that the Diaspora community has made to Jamaica, June 16 is celebrated annually as Jamaican Diaspora Day.
According to Senator Franklyn, “the day is dedicated to the life and the development of Jamaicans, who are living abroad. On this day, we initiate activities here and they (overseas nationals) would initiate activities over there to celebrate and commemorate the fact that there is a Jamaican Diasporic community.” These initiatives, while relatively new, will build on the work being done through the overseas missions since 1962, to strengthen ties with the Diaspora community. “It is through these missions that we have been interfacing with Jamaicans, who have been living overseas and leaders, who travel from Jamaica on official business would also engage Jamaicans whenever they get the opportunity to do so,” Mr. Franklyn points out.
He notes that this relationship deepened in the 1990s when a large number of Jamaicans were returning home especially from the United Kingdom and the government moved to establish the Returning Resident Unit in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
With the need to cater to the expanding needs of Jamaicans living abroad, who were not returning home, the government later restructured the Unit to addresses more effectively, the concerns of both returning residents and foreign nationals. The Unit is now called the Jamaican Diaspora Department.
The contributions of the Jamaica Diasporic community to Jamaica cannot be overestimated particularly in the areas of the economy, with annual remittances to the island being about US$1.6 billion. The government is doing its part to ensure that this relationship is beneficial not only for Jamaicans in Jamaica but also for Jamaicans in the Diaspora.
“I shudder to think where Jamaica would be without the input of Jamaicans overseas, who are making really serious investments in this country. That kind of contribution is phenomenal. In fact, it puts Jamaica in the top rank as it relates to the contribution by Jamaicans, who are living overseas,” Senator Franklyn points out.

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