Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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HomeOpinionCommentaryPromoting diaspora engagement for the oil and gas industry in Guyana

Promoting diaspora engagement for the oil and gas industry in Guyana

By Lear Matthews

Historically, forced or voluntary immigration has played a critical role in national development, and more recently the contributions of members of the diaspora. Immigration is vital in facilitating global economic change and immigrant labor unequivocally ensures desirable economic outcomes. Conversely, high levels of skilled emigration tend to slow economic growth. In the case of Guyana, it is therefore important to understand the foundation, purpose and potential contribution of diasporans.

An essential characteristic of diasporans’ transnational experience is that identity and economic wellbeing are intertwined. Particularly in North America, regardless of ethnicity or self-identification, Caribbean immigrants are likely to be placed within the host society’s stratified subcultural system as minorities or ‘Black’. The same stratification system does not generally exist in their home country where there is likely to be a more egalitarian, albeit racially tense system, particularly in Guyana.

These realities may influence the decision to sustain meaningful connections with the home community. However, the extent of diasporans’ integration (i.e) adopting both the dominant and home cultures, could also impact their decision to return or otherwise contribute to home countries.

There is a strong possibility that Guyanese now cherish the opportunity to share knowledge and technology at a time of social and economic transformation in their home country with some conviction to future generations. They left seeking opportunity, but return to provide them. Aieka Smith (2018) in her discussion of notions of belonging and identity among Caribbean immigrants argues that they are “physically separated, but psychologically inseparable”. This is a logical rationale for attention to the dynamics of diaspora engagement.

The longstanding material and service contributions of immigrants to development is at the core of understanding the importance of diaspora engagement. This transnational partnership is actualized by sending and receiving remittances and collaborating on projects. Immigrants who decide to return are once again seeking opportunities but at a different phase of their transnational journey. During their sojourn abroad, most returnees would have acquired valuable, marketable skills that may be tapped at this vital juncture in Guyana’s history.

The negative impact of skilled emigrants on various sectors and occupations is evident. Local expertise is invariably underrepresented in Guyana, partly because of the continuous high out-migration of skilled personnel. Expatriates have been seen as a measure of development. Social analysts note that much of the human capital necessary to cope successfully with the anticipated technological and environmental changes exist in the diaspora. Hopefully, motivation to engage the diaspora is not gauged by rewarding loyalty i.e. those who did not leave.

According to one diaspora resident, Guyana must purposely engage, utilize and bring home members of the diasporas who are skilled professionals in the oil and gas and energy industry. To meet and overcome the challenges which Guyana will encounter in building a modern economy, the nation must effectively seek to engage diasporans, many of whom are in senior management, other leadership, and lay positions.

Their expertise can be instrumental in the development of various sectors such as environmental technology, education, and healthcare.  Engaging diasporans is also a strategy of arresting the “brain drain.”  The anticipated economic windfall and optimism of a green economy can enhance the successful engagement of the diaspora. Furthermore, plans for social and economic transformation must consider the viability of both diasporan and local labor across generational and ethnic lines. Their combined skills and expertise is a collective force.

Immigrants have contributed to the revving and sustenance of nations’ economic engine. They can do the same for the land of their birth. Recognizing the human capital value of diasporans, the government of Guyana has attempted to recruit through overseas visits and employment recruitment programs. However, such initiatives have not constituted a concentrated effort and appear to have had minimum effect thus far.

Nevertheless, diasporans have expressed an interest in contributing or investing through their social capital and time; and should be encouraged to do so. This may be valuable with regards to the much-discussed local content policy while courting foreign investment and companies, Guyana may be able to move more quickly by offering opportunities to diasporans to fill gaps and capacity building.

Will the transformation emerging from newfound wealth affect these trends? Only time will tell. Enhancing cooperation across transnational boundaries can only enhance development. In light of the above-stated attributes and concerns, in the interest of nation-building, there should be an earnest attempt to implement an inclusive, pragmatic diaspora engagement plan.

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