My life experience has shown me that very little happens by chance. A seemingly chance encounter in Malaysia last year, mixed with unsuccessfully trying to resolve complex Jamaican paperwork led me to speaking at the 8th Bi-annual Jamaican Diaspora Conference in Kingston earlier this month.
The conference theme: Building Pathways for Sustainable Development (16th-20th June) offered 500 Jamaica Diaspora delegates, primarily residing in Canada, UK and USA, four full days of seminars and networking opportunities as well as targeted information on property, investments, immigration, health care provision and social development projects. I was fortunate to attend the conference with Yvonne Witter (an Ubele Associate) and met many delegates who had travelled from the UK.
The seminars and discussions covered key domestic issues such as education and training, health, agriculture and food security, crime and the creative industries, alongside the development of a global Jamaican Diaspora Youth Forum and the endorsement of the draft Diaspora Policy Framework. The draft policy incorporates ambitious actions for and with the more than 3 million Jamaicans in the Diaspora (this figure is more than the 2.8 million people currently living in Jamaica). The main thrust of the policy is to help facilitate closer collaboration in a number of key areas between Jamaica and its large Diaspora community.
I contributed to a panel session on Social Business Enterprises – key contributors to sustained Social Development which gave me a great platform to share some of key lessons learnt about building a social business through our work with the Ubele Initiative. On the panel were also representatives from the recently launched Jamaica Social Stock Exchange (which includes 5 social businesses), social investment companies, social business development programmes in communities and schools and an industrial strategist.
I was rather worried about how the UK experience would be received. I am acutely aware of the need to explore challenges as well as the opportunities that the social business sector offers socially for BME communities in the UK, and that not everything is easily transferable or even desirable in other countries and contexts. Fortunately for me the presentation was very well received – many people came up to me afterwards and during the following day asking to connect with what we are creating through Ubele.
I believe that being able to draw on some of my local family connections had something to do with it – as well as acknowledging that I had only recently connected back to Jamaica having been focused on the African continent for the past 25 years. I felt welcomed home and deeply connected as a Jamaican in the Diaspora.
Of course, it was not all work and no play – how could one visit Jamaica and not eagerly embrace the food, culture, beaches and mountains? I stayed with friends in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios and spent a few days, in which I believe(and others tend to agree with), is the most beautifully natural part of the island – Portland. Staying in Portland (which is in the east of the island) allowed me to see family and attend the Maroon festival in Charles Town, Buff Bay. If you are into eco-tourism, do visit Portland as it is a very special place in the world.
Now that I have reconnected, I will not stay away. I have begun the sometimes confusing and rather complex process of moving towards a deeper and richer awareness of myself as African Jamaican in the Diaspora. This was not overtly part of my life plan, but then again…..I don’t believe in coincidences.