by Marlon Madden
Attempts by local authorities to get Barbadians living overseas to contribute more to the island’s economic development could prove to be more challenging than anticipated. Word of this has come from Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Sandra Husbands, who revealed that undocumented members of the Barbadian diaspora were more hesitant to become part of a system that would “track them”.
She said there was also a growing concern that the younger generation have little to no emotional connection with the country and was therefore not willing to take part. After forming the Government in 2018, the Mia Mottley led administration said it would be putting measures in place so that the Barbadian diaspora could invest more in the country’s economic development and become promoters of investment and marketers of the island.
In addition to being able to pitch different investment ideas, the diaspora will be able to invest more in property and business and expand jobs in several areas including the life sciences, the digital and creative economy and renewable energy.
For this to take place, Prime Minister Mia Mottley had indicated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade would be embarking on a mission to build out a database that would require individuals to register with the various embassies, high commissions or consulates at the appropriate time. This database is to allow local officials to know what service or contribution each Barbadian living overseas is able to provide.
However, Husbands reported that while investigations have started on how to build deeper connections within the diaspora “to be able to track them, to be able to make connection with them and then to be able to service them”, it was proving to be a challenge.
“They are an important source for tourism for example, they are an important source for investment, they are an important source for knowledge, for knowledge sharing, they are important for opportunities which they can present to their countries,” she said.
“Our challenge has been ‘how are we going to find them?’ Part of the challenge of that is that over the years you would have had a number of Caribbean people who went overseas but who were not necessarily legal, so they are uncomfortable stepping forward and putting their names in a database that we can track them, because they are afraid that somebody else will find them and they will suddenly find themselves on a plane and being deported,” she explained.
Husbands was responding to questions from students of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania during a recent interactive session, organised by Barbados Trek to explore areas of tourism and trade. Husbands said that the diaspora was “one of the most powerful weapons that we have in the Caribbean to help us build out our economy”.
Pointing to the practice of the overseas Asian community to contribute to the development of their economies, Husbands said this was something the Caribbean region should do more of.
“This is something we have to do here in the region, that Barbados and CARICOM is not just who lives on these rocks, but rather where our diaspora seeds have been scattered,” she said.
However, she said another challenge that officials have identified was the lack of emotional attachment to the region among third and fourth generation Caribbean nationals overseas. This, she explained, would make it difficult for them to promote Barbados and the rest of the region.
“So what we are now recognising is that we are having third and fourth generation Caribbean diaspora who are not emotionally connected and if we do not find you and connect you very quickly, we will lose you and all of the subsequent generations flowing from out of you,”
“So one of the most urgent things we have to do as Barbados and that we have to do as the Caribbean, is find our diaspora and engage them in a meaningful way to help build the economy, help build out demand for our products and services [and] provide us with the skills and opportunities that we need,” said Husbands.