Diaspora meeting hears… Use innovation, creativity

Vice-President and Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge addressing the Diaspora Engagement Consultation Forum in New York

–to get young people on board the engagement process

By Svetlana Marshall in New York
A CONSULTATIVE meeting on Guyana’s draft Diaspora Engagement Strategy and Action Plan was held in New York on Saturday with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)’s Consultant, Mr Arnon Mantver, underscoring the importance of having a sustainable diasporic relationship.

IOM Consultant, Mr Arnon Mantver

The consultative forum, which was supported and funded in part by the IOM, was attended by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Carl Greenidge; Guyana’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), Ambassador Michael Rudolph Ten-Pow; Guyana’s Consul General in New York, Ms Barbara Atherly; the IOM Regional Coordination Officer for the Caribbean Chief of Mission in Guyana; Head of the Diaspora Unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Michael Brotherson; and members of the diaspora in New York.

In his presentation on the draft strategy at York College in Queens, Mr Mantver detailed key aspects of the strategy, pointing out that the 26 suggestions therein were divided into three operational areas, namely: Diaspora Communities, Home Country, and IT Social Media.

Describing the strategy as very practical, Mantver, who travelled from Israel for the forum, said there are four key aspects of the strategy that ought to be implemented.
The first of those key aspects, he said, is the strengthening and expansion of the Diaspora Unit in Guyana, which was established in 2011. “You have to build the centre; a professional centre,” he said.

“Four people alone cannot deal with the diaspora, and to put policies and to analyse realities, and to come up with solutions… So, you need a strong centre.”
Having a strong centre, on the other hand, Mantver said, calls for immediate implementation, which will allow the unit to communicate and collaborate effectively with the diaspora.

Turning his attention to the second critical area for the strategy, this being Short and Long-Term Youth Programmes, Mantver said this aspect is not so difficult to implement.
This aspect, he posited, should include an exchange programme for youths, which would allow them to build international ties from an early age, while gaining a wealth of experience.

“You had programmes,look at what worked and what didn’t work,” he said, adding:
“It is also important to learn from failures and try to build a programme for young people, who, maybe, are interested in the gas industry, so they can be exposed to it and become engineers.”

He also underscored the importance of bringing innovation and creativity to the table that would attract young people into becoming a part of the process.
Remittances, in the form of philanthropy, is another area of significant interest, the IOM Consultant noted. “Remittance is private money,” he said, and there are two elements: How you spend the private money; you can either waste it or you can use it for self-development of the family, education, improving infrastructure or supplementing basic needs, but remittances also can be allocated for the public good.” While he noted that this has been the trend in places such as Israel and Mexico. He, however, warned against abuse and mismanagement.

In general, he believes that the government, through the unit, should focus on critical areas before branching off to other areas of concern.
“Don’t spread yourself thin all over the place,” Mantver said. “Focus on your area of success; focus on the areas where you feel you have strength.
“In order to mobilise diaspora, you have to strengthen diaspora. It isn’t always money; sometimes it is recognition.”

Minister Greenidge, in his remarks, said he is cognisant of the concerns some members of the diaspora have with respect to the draft strategy, and as such, the consultation that will continue in Canada would allow additional views to be incorporated into the draft report compiled by the IOM.

“The exercise we are undertaking today is intended, in fact, to deal with the challenges of trying to ensure that between the homeland and the diaspora, there is the synergy; the level of communication; the level of interchanging of ideas that would allow us to get financial benefit from having a dynamic diaspora which is outside of Guyana’s borders,” the Foreign Minister said.

He, however, conceded that while he is aware of some of the concerns being expressed, he is also aware of the misinformation being peddled by some with regard to the draft strategy.

Currently, the IOM and the Foreign Affairs Ministry are still finalising the draft as it receives additional inputs from members of the diaspora participating in the consultative process.
“The point where consultations took place between the consultants and the various representative groups of the diaspora clearly could have benefited through wider participation,” Minister Greenidge said.

“And let me say, it is not my understanding that there was inadequate consultation,” he added.
Noting that governance is clearly an issue for the diaspora, the minister explained that there are different bodies representing the diaspora on different levels, whther culturally, geographically or politically.

“No one grouping overseas can speak comprehensively on behalf of all the others. And I want you to understand that, because when a lot of the contentious materials; a lot of the noises are being made, it is a view that this is the diaspora; this is the diaspora’s view,” Minister Greenidge said, while noting that it is often the view of a single person or group with a particular interest.
He said, too, that the process of formulating and finalising the draft strategy and action plan is not a simple task.

“We have to understand that this is not an easy exercise,” he said. “But on reflecting on the work that is being produced, it was decided that the IOM would fund an additional set of consultations, because it was recognised that the first round needed to be supplemented and that is the purpose of this exercise.”

Cabinet has had a preliminary examination of the draft strategy, and has mandated a number of ministers, including the Ministers of Citizenship, Business and Public Security, to review the proposals with the intention of providing recommendations, in addition to the ongoing consultation.

Mr Brotherson, in his capacity as Head of the Diaspora Unit, told journalists following the meeting that once the consultations are completed, the report will be returned to Cabinet for an analysis of the recommendations and whatever changes are to be made before pronouncing on it.
Brotherson said the unit is hoping to have the document finalised within the next few months.