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Jamaican Diaspora, Social Media & Strengthening Ties that Bind

Jamaican Diaspora, Social Media & Strengthening Ties that Bind

Marcia Forbes PhD

Value of the Diaspora

While I acknowledge that all of us left back in Jamaica want a piece of our Diaspora and most times it comes with a dollar tag, it is true that the value of a country’s Diaspora goes far beyond remittances. Even if, like Jamaica, those remittances comprise the country’s top foreign exchange earner!! A 2011 World Bank study places Jamaica second in the WORLD for brain drain. A Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) report, from as far back as 2007, noted that almost 80% of our graduates emigrate. Although the verdict is still out as to whether Jamaica’s brain drain has caused irreparable damage to our country, what is inarguable is that many in the Diaspora are Jamaica’s brightest and best. About one million Jamaicans are said to be in the Diaspora.

If we follow the survey findings, many of our youth want to leave Jamaica and not return any time soon. Eighty-two per cent of street youth in Jamaica feel they’d be better off in the USA. That’s understandable because life on the streets of Jamaica is tough. However, close to 60% of those who live at home also feel that they’d be better off in the USA. I daresay, though, that this is not peculiar to Jamaica since the 2010 Caricom Youth Report highlighted many across the Caribbean region echoing similar sentiments.

Facebook

Given the growing embeddedness of social networks and their increasing stickiness, meaning some are quite addictive, this phenomenon is not going away but becoming more and more integrated in our lives. Facebook is now at about three quarter billion accounts worldwide. While Facebook may have fallen off in the USA over the past couple months, India, Brazil and Indonesia more than make up for that and overall this social network continues to grow.
With broadband access being rolled out across Jamaican schools and Government institutions, take-up of Facebook in Jamaica will grow exponentially, well beyond the present over 600,000. How then can we marry our Diaspora to social media to strengthen our ties of homeland? There are some success stories. The Jamaica Tourist Board does a great job at using Facebook and Twitter. Even with low household internet penetration levels, now at only about 16%, Jamaicans find a way to get on Facebook. As one inner city teenager told me, “If you not on Facebook, is like you don’t exist.” Compared to early last year, the number of Jamaicans on Facebook has doubled.

Nationalism via Social Media

Stephen Walt of Harvard’s, Kennedy School of Government, proclaimed in this July’s Foreign Policy Magazine, “Nationalism is the most powerful political force in the world and ignoring it will come at a price.” I’ve been watching this nationalism at work via Twitter. I notice how young Jamaicans living abroad fight to hold on to their homeland. We need to focus our energies on productively engaging the Jamaican Diaspora. Social networks can go a far way in helping with this. Your virtual friend can become your actual friend. I’ve learnt this via Twitter as close bonds are formed with my Jamaican overseas tweeps.

Hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora are on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. My call to action is for you to take just one simple act -- Leverage your participation in social networks to foster greater links with Jamaicans at home. Go beyond friends and family to talk with others, including organizations. See how and where you can make your contribution to your homeland without undue exposure or stress to you. The more connected you are beyond the remittances, the more you’ll truly understand on the ground happenings and the better you’ll be to decide where and how to invest/spend your money. Jamaica beckons.