Wed | Dec 6, 2023

Lack of funds, ‘difficulties’ stump diaspora council members

Four not seeking re-election in November polls

Published:Saturday | October 1, 2022 | 12:05 AMLester Hinds/Gleaner Writer
Dr Allan Cunningham
Dr Allan Cunningham


With just a month to go before the start of the voting cycle for the new Global Jamaica Diaspora Council (GJDC), four of its seven elected members have decided not to seek re-election, with at least one citing poor funding and limited support for the council’s work among reasons for the pull back.

Those not returning are Shawna Chin, who represents the US western region and is vice-chair of the council; Dr Karren Dunkley, who represents the US northeast region; Dr Allan Cunningham, who represents the Southern US region, and one member from Canada.

Dr Cunningham told The Gleaner that the role carried certain difficulties.

“The lack of funds made it difficult to travel to other states for deeper engagement. The lack of funds also made it almost impossible to attend events even in your area,” he said.

He cited minimal support from key state holders in the diaspora, the lack of communication and proper scheduling of meetings from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs among issues that also impacted the work of diaspora council members.

He said further that not enough introduction and purpose of the council was being conveyed to the wider diaspora.

Vice-chair Chin said that she believes that there are other avenues in which she can better serve the diaspora.

Dr Dunkley said she was not seeking re-election as she has to rebuild her consultancy business, but did see positives in the council.

“The role of a GJDC member requires a great sense of self-awareness, high emotional and social intelligence, courage, and the ability to manage complex environments and collaborate with various stakeholder groups. Noting these attributes, this council had to navigate the uncertain and ongoing demands of the COVID-19 pandemic without a playbook. However, this crisis provided us with an opportunity to attract a more global reach.”

However, she said that building consensus around competing and divergent interests in a fragmented, i.e., socially and politically divided, diaspora remains difficult.

But head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Diaspora Unit, Lloyd Wilks, reacting to the criticism that council members have had to use personal funds to carry out their functions, emphasised that, as outlined in the policy document, the post is a voluntary one with no monetary compensation attached. He said, while it may not have been as broadly outlined in the references, persons who have expressed an interest in becoming council members in the upcoming elections will be continually advised of this.

Wilks further acknowledged that the cost for face-to-face or on-line engagement of the community, a major responsibility, is borne by the council member.

“It is the case that, when one gets into a process, that person may not recognise that it is the case,” he said.

He said, as the council is new, lessons learned from the initial foray will be used to improve the council and its methods going forward.

The GJDC was set up in January 2020 as a ‘mechanism geared at facilitating more effective engagement between Jamaica and the Diaspora’.

“The concept of the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council evolved out of discussions with the existing Diaspora Advisory Board members and other stakeholders, including the Economic Growth Council, who agreed that there needed to be an expansion of the engagement within the Diaspora to include new and emerging regions where Jamaicans reside,” its website notes.Elections are scheduled for later this year, to elect new members to the council.

The nominating period to recommend candidates will be November 1 to 20, and the voting period will run from November 23 to December 16.

There are currently seven elected Diaspora Council members – three from the United States, two from Canada, and two from the United Kingdom.

The council comprises 29 members total – 22 of whom are selected and appointed. Members of the council serve for a period of three years.

This election cycle, apart from the seven Global Diaspora Council members who will be elected, the seven regional chairs of the Global Diaspora Youth Council will also be elected.

These members were previously selected and appointed to the Youth Council.