THE diaspora community has long been an important group supporting Guyana’s economic growth. Remittances, which have reached as high as US$400 million per year in the past few years, contribute directly to economic stimulus and Guyana’s highly educated and economically active diaspora plays a key role in drawing investment for the country’s future. As the oil and gas sector continues to rapidly expand, the diaspora’s role is set to be even more vital.
Guyana’s diaspora, especially those with unique skills in the oil and gas space have the opportunity to boost investment, create job opportunities, and launch new homegrown industries that will be important for sustained economic growth. Oil and gas also provide the opportunity to finally reverse the brain drain that has plagued Guyana over the last half century.
Since oil production started in late 2019, the government has been working to boost engagement with its diaspora. This year’s first ever Virtual Diaspora Conference brought together hundreds of diaspora members from across the globe to engage in plans and ideas to create new opportunities and increase prosperity in the country.
Looking forward, Foreign Minister Hugh Todd stated, “the diaspora played a critical role shoring up the Guyana economy and supporting its vulnerable communities…, but it can contribute in other ways, like philanthropy, investments, and skills transfers.” With advanced technology, diaspora can engage more from abroad, by advocating for Guyana’s industry and supporting new investment opportunities.
In addition to virtual events, the government is working to engage with diaspora in other ways. Much like neighbouring oil and gas producing countries, including Brazil and Mexico, the restructured Diaspora Affairs Unit now sits under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and aims to engage with diaspora members to bring expertise home. The government is also working to formalise a Diaspora Engagement Strategy and Action Plan that will establish relationships with relevant communities to harness available skills and expertise to bolster development.
After about 18 months of oil production, Guyana has announced 20 commercial oil finds and close to nine billion barrels of oil equivalent in reserve. This is no small market, and diaspora has the opportunity to revert its attention to the homeland and drive new investment in the energy industry, as well as other service-based sectors like law and accounting for the influx of new companies setting up offices here.
On top of these initiatives and as part of a major strategy by the government, President Irfaan Ali is calling on diaspora communities to assist the government in the crafting of its multi-sectoral development plan. Increased interaction with experienced diaspora members can fill gaps in institutions and provide more skilled labour for specialised industries. This can also help support efforts to increase local content.
This is what increased diaspora engagement could look like – positive development that could provide Guyana with sustained growth long term. However, diaspora members could be looking for additional incentives to return. Now that the country has the economic and financial opportunities to recapture attention, it must encourage the return of diaspora in other ways as well. Guyana’s growing oil and gas industry means that the era of educated Guyanese leaving for better opportunities abroad may finally be coming to end.