By Carmen Glover
Heeding feedback that emerged from the Diaspora Conference held in Jamaica a year ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade has partnered with the International Organization for Migration, IOM, to compile a database of Jamaicans across the globe via mapping of their location through voluntary completion of an online survey. The extensive effort is described as the Mapping Jamaica’s Diaspora (MJD) Project and its objective is to determine, through responses to the survey, specific areas of interest expressed by Jamaicans across the globe and then harness the information to “create a borderless Jamaica.” The survey instrument is dual in nature, one to be completed by individuals and one by organizations and business entities.
The survey instrument was developed in December 2013 and the mapping project officially launched in June 2014. the minister of state, who is responsible for the project, recently visited the New York Tri-state area to launch the international version of the initiative and solicit support from the community in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Upon his return to Jamaica, the minister of state met with OnPointPress.net in Kingston at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade on Monday, August 18 for an interview brokered by Assistant Director in the Ministry of Diaspora and Consular Affairs Department Mr. Lincoln Downer. Hon. Arnaldo Brown, Mrs. Rukiya Brown of the IOM (no relation to the minister) and Ms. Ann-Margaret Lim, who spearheads media affairs regarding the initiative, provided an overview of the project and feedback generated to date.
“I think the response has been good” said the state minister, evaluating his week-long trip to the United States. “The mapping project is not a new idea. It’s been on the table since 2004. This particular project is the first in collaboration with the IOM.”
He explained that the project is funded by the IOM to the tune of US$100, 000. Rukiya Brown, who has provided insight on behalf of the IOM, explained that while the main thrust of the mapping project is to encourage brisk completion of the survey, the demographic tool experienced a myriad of growing pains initially.
“The survey is accessible on the IOM system and we had problems with the IP address at first but those issues were fixed,” she said. She further explained that with the survey now properly streamlined, “IOM gets updates from the IP specialist three times per week to tell us how many people have taken the survey and how many people have subscribed to the website to get more information and our newsletter.”
Despite the period of time that has elapsed since the launch in June, only 300 persons had completed the survey as of the interview date with OnPointPress.net. But State Minister Brown shrugged off concerns about the low numbers at this stage of the process.
“I’m optimistic that we will meet our target. There is a build up that is happening and we will continue to plug it,” he said, explaining that the survey “is online and can be downloaded wherever you have Internet access. The issue is not whether people are supportive of the idea but if people are taking the survey.” He explained that during his week-long trip to the New York Tri-state area between August 9 to 17, he was heartened by the interest and commitment espoused by members of the Diaspora there.
“We got the support of Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, who attended the Independence Ball in New York last weekend. In his statement he mentioned the mapping project and encouraged people to sign up.”
But why would a Jamaican who resides overseas complete such a survey in the first place and is there a risk of personal information being compromised? According to information provided by Ms. Brown, the survey can be completed by anyone of Jamaican heritage by birth, descent, marriage, naturalization or registration. Hon. Brown explained that the potential benefits to be derived from completing of the survey are far-reaching, with no discernible drawback since the information provided will be closely guarded and only used for the purpose outlined.
“There are two aspects to the project: reaching individuals and organizations, businesses etc,” the state minister explained. “This is an 18-month project. Between December 2013 to June 2014 it was the technical phase. The first six months was the construction of the website. The next twelve months is the promotion of the site. After June of next year people will still be able to take the survey,” he said, indicating that the process of survey completion will be ongoing. Once June 2015 rolls around, the database will be compiled of individuals who have taken the survey to that point. The advantages to participating, he said are immeasurable. Stating that Angel Investors will be developed, the state minister said:
“Once you know where the person you can use the information. We plan to plug this information into JAMPRO’s Global Business Connect which will launch later this year.”
Inclusion in the database that will be complied from the completed survey can make it easier for Jamaicans in the Diaspora who plan to return to Jamaica to live, work or to launch businesses, he said.
“The government of Jamaica has never ruled out the possibility of recruiting anywhere from across the Diaspora for positions available, example the commissioner of police,” he said. ”The idea is to create a database that is dynamic in access to intellectual ideas.”
The promotion efforts for the mapping project are being coordinated through the various missions and consulates across the globe. Among the notable Jamaicans who have pledged support to the effort are track icon Merlene Ottey as well as various civic leaders. Participation is key, the minister explained, urging Jamaicans to embrace the slogan: “You count, I count, we all count,” in completing the survey so that their voices can be heard.In an effort to maximize the survey completion process, Ms. Brown, from the IOM, said that social media tools are being utilized aggressively.
“Currently we have a Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter.” However, she acknowledged that there is no involvement on LinkedIn despite that medium being the main engine used by businesses and professionals. “We’ve been active on social media but not as active as we would like to be,” she explained, but she said that will change.
To take the mapping survey visit: www.mapjadiaspora.iom.int, Twitter:@MapJaDiaspora, Facebook: MapJADiaspora.iom.int, Instragram:MapJaDiaspora. (In September, we will share feedback from the Diaspora)-OnPointPress.net.