The Diaspora Project
Last September, the Guyana Diaspora (GUYD) Project was launched. Initially it seeks to “map” Guyanese who have emigrated along with their children and other descendants, especially in regards to their skills. The Project is being initially funded through the International Organization for Migration Development (IOM), formed in 1951 in the wake of the massive transfer of populations precipitated by WWII.
Initially, emigration from third-world countries like ours was bemoaned a ‘brain drain’ to the more developed countries which were the destination of choice. There is obviously still much merit in this perspective, especially in view of the remarkable statistic that 89% of our tertiary graduates emigrate after graduation. Combined with our net migration rate of -9.5 per 1000 – one of the highest in the world – it is not surprising that not only has our population remained more or less stagnant – but also our development.
Especially in the modern globalised world, education is seen as key to improving the productivity of the workforce. If the most qualified workers keep on migrating, one can understand why the resulting image and reality is one of the country running on a treadmill. Unlike our fellow Caribbean neighbours, our migration did not take off right after WWII but in the 1960s, when political conflict spilled over in inter-ethnic riots.
The process accelerated exponentially in the 1970s and 1980s as the economy collapsed under the economic experiments of the PNC regimes. But as the emigrant Guyanese became settled in their new homelands, especially the USA and Canada, in the last decade a silver lining was discerned in dark clouds of depopulation: remittances. While it had long been known that overseas Guyanese had been sending monetary assistance to their relatives ‘back home’, more sophisticated central bank monitoring demonstrated that this had ballooned to as much as US$400 million annually. This was more than the revenues generated by the two largest employers in the country: the sugar and rice industries.
It was also seen that the largest number of tourists to the country were ‘overseas Guyanese’ and they also gave a large injection of foreign funds into the local economy. Emigration was not, therefore, totally a negative phenomenon. The Diaspora Project is an attempt to further transform the ‘lemon’ of emigration into the ‘lemonade’ of development. Other countries with a longer history of emigration had long seen other positive externalities of emigration and they paved the way to take advantage of these.
The two most obvious positives were the skills and capital that the émigrés had acquired in their new countries. Being the most highly educated and possessed of greater than average initiative than their peers who remained behind, it was not surprising a high percentage of Diaspora members rose to very responsible positions in corporations in the developed countries and in several instances, owned their own businesses.
China and India are two of the most successful examples of modern economies that have crafted strategies for capitalising of the strengths of their Diaspora. Belated or not, the government has now decided to go down that same road in its quest for sustainable development. In this first phase of ‘mapping’ skills, however, it appears that after the launching of the programme in New York, Toronto and London, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under which the Project falls, is depending passively on Guyanese in the Diaspora to sign up online.
This will not do. Those in charge of the Project must take a much more pro-active approach, as did China and India. Take the need for funding to initiate development projects: the government must coordinate the Project with Go-Invest to highlight investment projects it has identified in line with its strategic development plans such as the “Low Carbon Development Strategy” (LCDS) and the evidently shelved National Development Strategy (NDS).
Right now, the eleventh edition of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) Convention is being held in India. Guyana can replicate the PBD to provide a unique platform for overseas Guyanese to interact among themselves and where the Government can showcase investment opportunities .