St. George’s, August 5, 2010 (GIS) – Prime Minister Hon. Tillman Thomas has thanked Grenadians living overseas for their contributions to nation building. He has also outlined opportunities available to them for investing in their homeland.
The Prime Minister made the remarks while delivering the keynote address at Thursday’s opening of the Preparatory Diaspora Conference. Here is the text of the Prime Minister’s address.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to welcome you to this seminal conference. I want to especially welcome those of you who have returned particularly for this occasion which our government regards as ground breaking. As nationals, I do not have to advise of our authentic generic hospitality and all of the wonderful things that you can and will do while you are here. I know that many Grenadians who reside here are prepared to stand back and allow you the freedom to eat as much Oil Down, drink bush, suck mango – and the list can go on – until the next plane ride for those who make it to the airport on time.
Today’s conference is yet another manifestation of our government’s fulfilment of our articulated policy of engaging and enhancing the socio-economic well being of all Grenadians where ever they are located. In the pursuit of the transformation, growth and development of our beloved country, it is our view that all Grenadians should be embraced and offered the opportunity to participate and contribute to the process.
Over the last century, many Grenadians have migrated in pursuit of their dreams, educational and economic advancement, the adequate provision for their families and even survival. Popular destinations such as Panama, Cuba, Venezuela, Trinidad, UK, USA and Canada have resulted in the establishment of notable communities of Grenadians.
In a few cases, links to Grenada have been lost; however, the umbilical cord for most remains connected. This bond is generic and extends to subsequent generations as the yearning for identity and connectedness is powerful. In fact, over the last two years, our Home Affairs Department has seen an increase in the number of Grenadian descendants from around the world requesting Grenadian citizenship.
The true size of the Grenadian Diaspora varies. However, I have seen recent estimates that point to an approximate total of 236,000 with 120,000 in the USA; 30,000 in the UK; 40,000 in Canada; and 50,000 in Trinidad. This estimate includes second and third generation descendants. When this is compared to our resident population of 104,000, we begin to appreciate the full dimension and concept of the Grenadian citizenry, and the importance of the Diaspora.
The implications for engaging and treating with this populace are indeed significant.
This Diaspora reality has been recognized by many countries. In fact, the inaugural Barbados Diaspora conference is also taking place today in Bridgetown, Barbados. The country of China benefitted considerably from its Diaspora during the period 1985 to 2000. Seventy percent of the Foreign Direct Investment into China emanated from Chinese nationals outside the country. Their contributions fuelled China’s rapid economic growth during that period.
In the case of India, it is well known that its Diaspora played a key role in the growth of the ICT sector during the 1990s. This was so, as Indian nationals held senior managerial positions in US companies. They utilized their influence and leverage to assist in the socio- economic development of their homeland.
The importance of our Diaspora, particularly those returning to Grenada, has been long recognized and some policies to facilitate their return to Grenada currently exist. The role of remittances in our development process is also well known and acknowledged. In our case, it contributes at minimum, about ten percent to GDP. However, meaningful Diaspora engagement can and should be more structured and more all-encompassing.
There are many areas where our Diaspora can become more involved. These include participation in:
- Diaspora Bonds
- Philanthropic projects
- Alumni activities
- Skills exchange
- Investing and saving in local Banks and credit unions in Grenada
- Community projects
- Diaspora foundations
- Government incentives and facilitation
- Diaspora database on skills, knowledge, expertise
- Marketing and accessing of Grenadian products
- Facilitating Foreign Direct Investment
- And enabling external Links to resources
Already, activities in some of these areas are ongoing. There are many active community organizations such as the Crochu, St Patrick and Carriacou groups in New York and the UK. Similarly, there are many active alumni associations.
At the same time, there are many local opportunities for the Diaspora in Grenada. For example, better financial investment opportunities exist here at this time. For example, our tried and tested credit unions are currently paying much higher interest rates averaging 6% on deposits compared to the less than 1% that is being paid in North America. Investing in such organizations not only yields lucrative returns but also contributes significantly to the local pool of financing and the ultimate development of our country.
This information may be new to you but it further demonstrates and justifies the need for a structured framework to facilitate initiatives like these.
As a government, we have spent much time and resources in the past attempting to attract foreign investment and investors. In many cases, these companies and persons are new to Grenada and need to become familiar with our environment and culture. This takes time. We are of the view, that if we focus on our Diaspora who already understands our country and the way we function, much more can be achieved.
Our Diaspora is quite familiar with quality products and services, new ideas and international standards and regulations that generally characterize the developed world. This knowledge and familiarity can be easily translated into our local scenario at a much faster rate. This can serve as a major boost to the development of local entrepreneurship and to expose locals to numerous possibilities and opportunities.
In the same vein, our Diaspora is also familiar with our products and services that they consumed while growing up. They can constitute a ready market for our traditional products such as jams and jellies, teas, fruits, fish and other agro-products in various parts of the world. All that is required is the appropriate structures, mechanisms, incentives, a commitment to action and patriotism.
Many developed countries have pursued and continue to attract specialized skills, talent and resources as a deliberate development strategy. In fact that’s one of the reasons why many of you are not resident here in Grenada. This obviously confirms that skills, expertise and talent are absolutely critical for any country’s growth and development.
If it is working for developed countries, then the obvious question is why it cannot work us. While we may not be able to compete for the attraction of foreign skills, they exist in our Diaspora. A Diaspora that is patriotic, nationalistic, nostalgic and willing to contribute. So the time is opportune against the backdrop of the deepest recession that the world is experiencing for many decades. It is clearer now than ever, that we must begin to focus more on our own resources.
A primary objective of this Preparatory Conference is to consider an integrated policy and framework for involving our Diaspora in Grenada’s national development. There is a need for building relationships, improving communication, setting up consultative mechanisms and providing a facilitating environment.
Your role here today is to assist us in defining and shaping the process. We are happy that you have taken the time to be with us, to discuss, to exchange ideas and perspectives. We look forward to your active participation and contributions and ultimately a seamless incorporation of all Grenadians in our national development.
I thank you and wish this conference every success.