Representatives of the Caribbean Diaspora say they were facing too much resistance from regional governments when they try to conduct business.
During the lively panel discussion at the annual Caribbean Diaspora Forum at the Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York, on the topic Optimizing the Economic Potential of Cultural and Heritage Tourism, some Caribbean nationals argued there was “a disconnect” between the governments of the region and their communities.
Concerns were also raised that when some Caribbean related events were taking place internationally, only some businesses benefited, and not those form the Diaspora.
St Lucian-born hospitality and tourism executive Wilson Baptiste said there was a level of mistrust in the Diaspora of regional governments, given their low track record of implementing projects and seeing them through.
Echoing the sentiments of some Caribbean nationals residing in the New York area, the Monroe College professor said he had tried several initiatives in the region, but has since “virtually given up” because of the resistance.
“I think there is an issue of trust that we have to overcome. There is also the absence of a historical legacy where we can say ‘for the last 20 years, Joe Brown started off a product and it has grown to this proportion’. We do not have that historical background on which we can rely. Secondly, there is a fear of failure,” said Baptiste.
Grenadian-born Managing Director of Hopkins Consulting Group, Gerry Hopkin blamed the level of resistance and lack of assistance from regional governments on the lack of education on the value of the Diaspora to the Caribbean.
“If we are nurturing our minds from an early age of the value of what we have and how we can use it without selling ourselves out, and maintaining control of it in a well-managed way, then there would be less fear. I think there are ways to deal with that but it would not happen overnight,” said Hopkin.
He added that when it came to opportunities and capitalizing on the cultural and heritage development of the region, it was important that each stakeholder realize they have a role to play and “not just leave it to government”.
“The private sector has its part to play and not just the folks back home. Yes, they can be exporters and manufacturers, they can be curators of what we have, but we here too must embrace that and import and distribute and sell. Target not just ourselves, but those who are non-Caribbean American as well,” said Hopkin.
Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Hugh Riley said it was up to the Diaspora to grab hold of opportunities when they were presented in various forms.
Pointing out that the Diaspora was “the nuclear of what the Caribbean is overseas”, he agreed that the community had a critical role to play in helping market the region.
He also urged the overseas Caribbean community to visit a country other than that of their birth or the birth of their parents.
Meanwhile, Shelley Worrell, founder of Caribbeing, a company which promotes Caribbean culture internationally, said the Diaspora should capitalize on any available opportunity when it came to the region’s culture and heritage.
“There is a huge opportunity to bridge the gap between generations and not only do we have a lot of cultural and heritage assets, we have a lot of human assets and there are a lot of experts working in a number of fields who are really committed to having that two-way dialogue between the [Diaspora] and back home. So, I think we need to leverage and capitalize on those opportunities,” she said.