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The business environment is more globalized, interconnected and interdependent than ever before. Globalization has fostered greater rates of mobility and an increasing reliance on networks for commerce and economic interaction.
The global economic crisis of 2008 as well as the European currency and sovereign debt crisis of 2009 demonstrated that it is no longer possible for any nation state to consider itself an ‘island’, nor is it possible to be immune from the vicissitudes and mutability of global economics.
The term “diaspora” is not a pretty one, but the dividend potential of the concept of “diaspora capital” is huge and promising. Diaspora networks can serve as a potent economic force for re-engaging disconnected citizens and driving national change. Thus, engagement with the Saint Lucian Diaspora offers a strategic advantage in multiple areas. Given the growing magnitude of international migration, there is now both an opportunity and a tremendous need to fully utilize the skills, experiences, insights and connections of the Saint Lucian Diaspora in fostering economic growth, reducing poverty and increasing trade.
Increasingly the economic and foreign policy of several developed and developing nations reflect the rise of truly transnational populations, and many of these governments have made pandering to diasporas a foreign policy priority. In fact, Canada openly boasts of adopting a full-on diaspora-driven foreign policy shaped out of a combination of its interest and values, and its attentiveness to the sensitivities of the country’s diverse and sundry ethnic and immigrant communities.
The global zeitgeist demands that Saint Lucia engages its diaspora population and astutely recognizes the role its foreign nationals can play in nation building and transnational business networking. Not only should the diaspora be seen as a source of finance through remittances and financial transfers, but critically also as true development partners who can help transfer technology and skills back to the homeland.
Having studied, lived and worked in developed and progressive societies over the years, our emigrant compatriots would have been able to observe, practise and see what it takes organizationally and ideologically to fashion a society and economy from parochialism into the mainstream. We will all agree that there is an urgent need for Saint Lucia to improve its balance of payments and fiscal positions by attracting more foreign direct investment and by searching for new trading opportunities both regionally and internationally. I believe this is where the diaspora network can help position Saint Lucia strategically and facilitate exporters in accessing new markets.
I was indeed delighted to read that the Government of Saint Lucia has recognized the need to make more use of its global citizens by developing a diaspora policy with a view to promoting business opportunities abroad and creating a framework for nation branding. In the same vein, I must commend the Saint Lucia Tourist Board for realizing through its “Se Sannou” programme the valuable resource that is the diaspora community in helping to showcase the island’s tourism product and promote vital cultural linkages. This is a clear signal of the Government’s interest in increasing collaboration with the diaspora community to capitalize on their potential for development.
Having lived overseas myself, I have no doubt that diaspora networks are in a good position to influence people’s perception and image of a country. Connections do help perceptibility and flexibility. Essentially, the idea is that through global diasporal conferences and through our diplomatic missions abroad, we can reach out to our people who have migrated and empower them to build our nation and sell our consumer and investment products “wheresoever they may roam”.
Since the attainment of national independence in 1979, thousands of our compatriots have migrated to the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Appreciably through the years, they would have acquired the appropriate mindset, skill-set and tool-set; established links and developed an understanding of the internal dynamics of these nations. Invariably, such tapping of human resources would have the potential to reverse the brain drain by facilitating knowledge sharing and technology. The opportunity presents itself where the idea of the brain drain is transformed into a kind of brain circulation or brain exchange sustained through information and communications technology. We can even think of this approach as the new “foreign exchange”.
Crucially, I would suggest that a special government unit or department be established to deal exclusively with the business and corporate diaspora (perhaps Invest Saint Lucia already deals with that). Alternatively this can take the form of a sub-ministry committed to sourcing talent and equipping both nationals and ex-nationals abroad with the collaborative tools necessary to sell the island and attract investors. By now it should be clear to the more discerning amongst us that the road to economic development in the 21st century is paved with concrete notions of strategic collaboration, joint ventures and foreign partnerships.
At the launch of the Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit which coincided with the Hillary Clinton Global Diaspora Forum in 2011, Kingsley Aikins of the Diaspora Forum provided the following invaluable advice to governments:
“There is growing awareness now that there is such a concept as ‘diaspora capital’ to go alongside financial, human and social capital. Countries are coming to the realization that this is a resource to be researched, cultivated, solicited and stewarded. Many see this as a way of addressing tough domestic economic challenges and as a key piece of their economic recovery. They also see it as more than just economic remittances as there are also social remittances in the form of ideas, values, beliefs and practices.”
Considering the diaspora as a national asset is certainly not a new phenomenon and countries such as Israel, India, Ireland and China have led the field for some time. Even the continent of Africa has launched creative business ventures engineered by its ever active Diaspora Marketplace initiative. We can take a leaf from the book of the African Diasporas since they are at the forefront of economic reform and change, and are one of the most active communities of citizens outside of their countries.
Owing to their great success stories entailing strategic partnerships, entrepreneurial ventures and foreign direct investment, a host of different institutions and African nations are calling them on more and more, particularly in the attempt of gathering forces to foster human development in Africa. Additionally, through the important efforts of the diasporas, the continent has acknowledged the critical role of remittances in economic development and has taken steps to reduce the cost of remittance transfers.
Finally, research confirms that diasporas themselves invest back at home and spread money, too. Migrants into rich countries not only send cash to their families; they also help companies in their host country operate in their home country. In some cases, they may be instrumental in identifying investors for their countries. For instance, a lot of foreign direct investment in China still passes through the Chinese Diaspora, and modern communications make these networks an even more powerful tool of business and economic development.
For comments, write to [email protected] – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a former university lecturer, business economist and author.