The Caribbean is a natural magnet for some of the world’s wealthiest and most well-heeled people. From Oprah to one or two ex-presidents of the United States or prime ministers of the United Kingdom, a princess, and stars of stage and screen and sport, they have all used the Caribbean, and this island especially, as a tropical background for their frolics.
Our finance and tourism ministers rub their hands with glee, hoping that enough of their wealth and influence rub off on this land so that more of them can find paradise as they take refuge from the cold frosty North.
And some, ever so often, lend their face and voice to our own national activities and we feel ever grateful for their involvement. Sigourney Weaver graced us with her presence at the fledgling Barbados Independent Film Festival. Sir Richard Branson has not only visited Barbados but has involved himself in promotional activities for his Virgin brand while taking part in an entrepreneurial conference and sharing secrets of his success.
There are many others, but now, at this critical juncture of our development, when we call on the combined resources of all Barbadians, there comes a need to reach out to some other stars – Bajan stars – who have innovated and created and invented outside our own shores and whom we need to embrace in the way we do the non-Barbadian celebs who sun themselves on our sunny shores.
Introspection? Hardly. We need to look outward to the stars of Artificial Intelligence, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, biomedicine, robotics, telecommunications and more who have translated their own endowments and education here into a ticket to fame and fortune around the world. The phrase, ‘you can find a Bajan anywhere’, should have renewed meaning for our challenging times.
We have endured an incalculable brain drain in the last half-century, as the fruits of our free education system ripened on external vines, whether by choice or chance.
Is it too late to ask them, please come home, bring some friends and help rebuild our nation?
We hope not. And yes, we here have to take a long hard look at how we look at our fellow Barbadians and their descendants who have made good abroad and wish to contribute to national development.
So many of them, whether ‘returning nationals’ or first- and second-generation Barbadian immigrants in the North America, Europe, Asia and elsewhere, have met scorn, derision and suspicion of a most unseemly ‘little Barbados’ variety. Civil servants have cried ‘supersession!’ Contractors have robbed them of hard-earned pounds and dollars. Fellow villagers have decried their attitudes as much as they have scorned their accents.
And some, sadly, for these and other reasons, have stayed away. It is these individuals who, by virtue of their qualifications, expertise, connections and contacts, hold keys to unlocking doors to wealth creation at home. Together, they have a purchasing power, brain power and social capital power worthy of a Twelfth Parish, at the very least.
And even if we ever clean up our act at home, what policies and programmes exist to make them feel at home should they wish to return and join a national recovery effort?
We take note that the Prime Minister has called for Barbadians abroad to invest at home. They can be forgiven for looking at that particular offer with jaundiced eyes, considering the incredible haircut domestic investors have taken in government paper and the promise of reduced fortunes for overseas holders of Barbados sovereign debt.
Yet, there are so many other ways to involve Barbadians and descendants in our economic and social transformation.
We are aware of ongoing efforts by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reach out to the Barbadian Diaspora through the annual Barbados Network Consultation. We expect this event to take on added significance this year as we call on Barbadians abroad and their descendants to bring their vast intellectual, physical and fiscal resources to our shores.
We think the Government of Barbados should go further, and create a multi-agency policy dedicated to integrating a Barbadian brains trust into our national economic, scientific, technological and cultural high councils. We guarantee that their social capital alone, far less their knowledge and expertise, will be worth billions in retained foreign exchange earnings, and be as valuable in the future as remittances have been in the past and present. Just imagine, some Bajan somewhere rubs shoulders daily with Elon Musk and the masters of Apple, Google and Microsoft. Some Bajan somewhere is no less bright, inventive, capable and active in transforming the world.
Let’s check our egos, prejudices and parochialism at the door, drape them in the refreshing cool of the ultramarine and the embracing warmth of the gold, and ask them to help put us all back in the black and transform our 166-square-mile world.