BY: JELANI GRANT
The Jamaican Canadian Association held the Canadian Launch of the Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference 2017 hosted by the Consulate General of Jamaica.
This year’s conference is scheduled to take place at the Jamaica Pegasus and Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston. Though activities surrounding the conference are scheduled from July 22-27, the approximately 1,200 attendees, including 600 members of the Jamaican diaspora, are expected to attend and contribute their opinions while celebrating 55 years of Jamaica’s independence.
The launch, held inside of the Rosetta Room at the Eaton Chelsea Hotel, was filled with Jamaican diaspora and organizations that support Jamaica, including host for the evening Denise Jones. Sitting next to Jones, at the front of the room, were High Commissioner for Jamaica to Canada Janice Miller and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith. Hon. Smith was the Keynote Speaker for the launch. Consul General of Jamaica in Toronto Lloyd Wilks was in attendance to welcome the audience to the launch and reassert the importance of the annual conferences.
Jamaica National Canada Chief Representative Officer Gerald Johnson was also in attendance for the launch. “Since the inception of our conference, pure lines of communication have been established by the ministry of foreign affairs and foreign trade,” said Johnson.
Johnson also spoke about the numerous milestones and historic records held by Jamaican people, solidifying the reputation of Jamaica on the global stage, such as Usain Bolt and Violet Brown, a Jamaican woman who was recently confirmed to be the oldest living person on Earth at 117 years old. These accolades stand as examples of the theme for this year’s conference, ‘Partnering for Growth’. Hon. Smith explained during her speech that the idea is meant to acknowledge the importance of working collaboratively to build Jamaica up even further. “The process of strengthening the institutional mechanisms to engage the Diaspora has begun in earnest. A Diaspora Engagement Task Force has been established by the Economic Growth Council with a focus on harnessing the skills, expertise, and knowledge of our Diaspora worldwide,” she said.
Jamaican Canadian Association President Adaoma Patterson spoke to attendees in support of the upcoming conference. “People associate anything Jamaica with the JCA, so we take that seriously. The JCA looks forward to participating in this year’s conference and more importantly we look forward to playing a role in advancing the recommendations and the initiatives that come out of this year’s conference,” she said.
The Task Force’s members were selected from various Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, as well as Diaspora representatives. Dr. David Panton, CEO of Panton Equity Partners and a well-known Diasporan, was assigned to lead the Task Force. Appointed by Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness, they would advise the Cabinet on various policies and reforms that would facilitate economic growth. The Task Force is currently pursuing recommended growth initiatives contained in Jamaica’s Economic Growth Council’s Call to Action, such as the establishment of a One-Stop Shop coordinating agency of all the major government agencies to address all Diaspora and investor requests and initiatives.
Jamaica was named among the ten most improved economies for doing business in the world in 2016. In the last year, they added fifteen community access points that allowed communities to use the Internet at minimal or no cost, for educational and social purposes. Public Wi-Fi networks have been established to facilitate greater and easier access to the Internet to Jamaican citizens who may not have been able to afford Wi-Fi, serving as another example of the steps being taken to achieve a better Jamaica.
The conferences began in 2004, becoming a platform for structured transnational engagement with Jamaicans and persons of Jamaican descent. Every two years the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade holds this conference as an important platform in Jamaica’s strategic effort to meaningfully engage with you, Jamaicans across the globe. The event brings together Jamaicans at home with Jamaicans and persons of Jamaican descent overseas. Over the scheduled time, there will be discussions and those in attendance would get their opportunity to have a say in what happens in Jamaica. Topics discussed throughout the conference may include the Government’s growth agenda, the opportunities in education, health, agriculture, research and innovation and the cultural and creative industries. The Government of Jamaica has identified Diaspora involvement as one of the eight priority areas of the country’s strategic plan towards sustained socio-economic growth.