Tapping Jamaica’s diasporic youth for development

Tapping Jamaica’s diasporic youth for development
Jenine Shepherd during her talk at the Global Global Diaspora Youth Forum at the 8th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference in Kingston, Jamaica.
Photo by Tangerine Clarke

Principal Company Director and Founder of Youths For Excellence Ltd., Jamaican-born, Jenine Shepherd, says it is important that the Jamaican government taps into its diaspora network to use young citizens as mentors for Jamaica’s future generations.

Highlighting the brain-drain crisis that saw skilled people migrating en-mass to countries with pull factors and more opportunities, Shepherd referred to a study conducted by the IMF in 2005, that found between 1995 and 2000 approximately 40 percent of the Jamaican workforce had immigrated to the US, many with tertiary education.

Shepherd, a junior at Amherst College, Mass., the top liberal arts college in the USA, where she is persuing a double major in Neuroscience and Economics on a full ride USA 80K a year, in her presentation said, “Jamaica is in the top 20 countries for the highest immigration rate of educated people. This means there is financial loss. The government is missing out on valuable revenue they could have gained from taxes, or other investments made in the country.”

During a Global Jamaica Diaspora Youth Forum plenary session at the recently concluded 8th Biennial Conference in Kingston, Jamaica, that brought together generations of young persons in the Diaspora to discuss the way forward for a sustainable movement, Shepherd, contended that Jamaica spends a lot of money subsidizing tertiary education, and when doctors, lawyers nurses, and engineers, for example, leave, very few return home.

She opined that even if there is an offset with remittances to the country, the IMF proposes “We try to minimize our losses by retaining highly skilled labor, or take a diaspora approach and tap into the knowledge and skills of diasporans, to better the economy, towards Jamaica’s development.”

Shepherd started the Youths For Excellence Ltd., a non-profit organization at 17, that tutors inner-city children in Jamaica, gives them free health checkups, school supplies and food courtesy 14 sponsors including Grace Foods, Seprod, Sangster’s Book Stores, KFC, and Delgado Health Services.

The Global Jamaica Youth Council seeks to engage young Jamaicans in the diaspora and empower them to take the initiative to give back to Jamaica, and at the same time, become connected to the country, said, Shepherd, a student of economics.

Shepherd addressed the issue that says it has become increasingly evident that the engagement of the second, third and fourth generation young persons in the Diaspora must, be a priority for the sustainability of the Diaspora movement. In this regard, the promotion of business and entrepreneurship, mechanisms and knowledge transfer, cultural connectivity and identity are key elements in galvanizing young Jamaicans between the ages of 18-35.

As such, Shepherd, who received the Prime Minister’s Award for Nation Building, and is in the process of expanding her company to the USA and the Netherlands where she will build schools for refugees and inner-city children with the support of their heads of government and the UN, noted that Jamaica needs these people to make a contribution, or it wouldn’t work, if they continue to leave.

“We seek the government’s backing on this initiative, because we need you (government) to recognize this network formally, so that we can have the administrative power to push certain policies,” said the informed college student.

“We could mobilize young people, but at the end of the day, we would hit a roadblock if we do not have your support,” she told the Jamaica government.

“I am proposing government’s backing through the council, so we can launch the Jamaica Youth Network initiative, which will be the transformative arm of the council. We hope this council serves to connect people in the diaspora with each other, and those on the mainland,” said Shepherd who has also gained media attention from national outlets and was recently featured in the Amherst Alumni Magazine, an honor usually reserved for alumni, as well as ‘Caraibetude,’ a French Caribbean publication for the work that her non-profit has done.

She caught the attention of the US Embassy in Kingston, prompting them to invite her to talk at their “Education USA Pre Departure Orientation” in July 2018.

The brilliant young lady has served on the team appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade that crafted the policy for the Global Jamaica Diaspora Youth Council. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and the Diaspora representatives of the USA, Canada and the UK have since endorsed the policy.

She has been working closely with the US Embassy, consulates and the ministry to ensure that the voices of approximately 800,000 Jamaicans residing in the USA are heard on issues of cultural estrangement, how they can get involved in policy making, and how they can contribute to businesses, education, national security, and other matters relating to restoring the confidence in Jamaica for Vision 2030 where Jamaica will be the place to live, work, raise families, and do business.

Jamaica Youth Ambassador to the United Sates, Santana Morris moderated the forum which heard from several speakers including Executive Director, Grace Kennedy Foundation, Caroline Mahfood, Youth Leader, Diaspora Advisory Board, United Kingdom, Tanesha Westcarr, and Post-Graduate Student, Harvard University, Stephen Snider.

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