Caribbean enterprise project struggles to involve diaspora
An initiative designed to boost innovation in the Caribbean, by linking local entrepreneurs with expatriate experts, has awarded four grants worth US$100,000 but is unlikely to continue past its first year.
Projects from Barbados, Guyana, Haiti and Jamaica were awarded the money, which they will use to help them develop their business proposals in economic sectors such as agriculture, technology, engineering and transport, at a ceremony in Jamaica earlier this year (26 February).
The four winners were chosen out of 12 finalists, each of which received US$10,000.
- Four projects have received US$100,000 each to develop business plans
- But a lack of data about the diaspora has hampered the initiative
- Such efforts could boost innovation, yet need data to tap into diaspora's expertise
But because the organisers found it hard to reach the Caribbean diaspora, they say that the competition is unlikely to be repeated — at least until there is a database of diaspora that would allow their expertise to be tapped more easily.
The Caribbean Idea Marketplace initiative was launched in March 2012 to forge partnerships on innovative projects with the potential to create jobs and economic opportunities in the region.
The competition was initiated by the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance and managed and funded by Compete Caribbean, a five-year US$40 million programme that seeks to improve competitiveness and economic growth in the region.
Sylvia Dohnert, executive director at Compete Caribbean, tells SciDev.Net that working with the diaspora brings innovation to their countries of origin.
"We liked the idea of entrepreneurs from the Caribbean having access to new technology and new markets through their partnerships with migrants abroad," she says. "We are very pleased with the results of the competition."
In all, 166 projects were entered, most of them from start-ups. Of these, 12 finalists included projects on novel technologies and ideas for farming, waste recycling and mobile banking.
But Dohnert says it was difficult to reach the Caribbean diaspora because of a lack of information about this group and because the marketing costs of targeting potential partners was high.
Dohnert says that countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and Suriname are working to improve their databases about their diasporas, which would, in theory, enable the competition to be repeated.
But she adds that Compete Caribbean is unlikely to focus again on trying to set up joint ventures between local and migrant entrepreneurs, although members of the diaspora are welcome to participate in the initiative's other regular competitions.
Melissa Siegel, who manages the Migration Studies Programme at the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, Netherlands, says that collaborations between developing countries and their diasporas can bring benefits such as knowledge transfer and transnational entrepreneurship if the right population abroad is targeted.
"We know that a high proportion of the population that has left the Caribbean is highly skilled, but not every one of them is an entrepreneur," she says.
For Siegel, initiatives looking to forge alliances have to target the most entrepreneurial segment of the migrant population, for example by approaching current business owners to ask whether they will get involved in something similar in their country of origin.