Welcoming Home the Barbadian Diaspora

A viable future for Barbados that embraces sustainability, preservation of its natural beauty, and commits to a knowledge economy is dependent on its citizens.

By Philip L. McKenzie

July 26, 2020

A viable future for Barbados that embraces sustainability, preservation of its natural beauty, and commits to a knowledge economy is dependent on its citizens.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its spread worldwide, all of us have been dealing with adjusting ourselves to a new normal. Few countries have been unscathed in light of this pandemic, but some have managed the crisis better than others. Regardless of the specific number of cases and deaths, the level of disruption to our lives has been significant. Travel has been particularly hit hard as both business and general tourism has ground to a halt. Distributed working once primarily the domain of digital nomads and entrepreneurs has become a necessary mandate as organizations build new habits for their workforce.

Against this backdrop, Barbados has dominated the international press with the announcement from Prime Minister Motley that they are exploring instituting a new 12-month work visa that would allow Barbados to welcome those who can work remotely to the island. Headlines that promise an island oasis to both work remotely while riding out the worst of COVID-19 far from danger have graced numerous business and travel publications. The idea has many benefits, but I feel the resources allocated toward its implementation would be better served by welcoming home the global Barbadian diasporas. In my estimation, Barbados should focus on a Right to Return for its “Bajan Intelligence Diaspora.”

Almost two years ago, I wrote on a potential future for Barbados that would center on stewardship values. I concentrated on at least four pillars:

  1. The Right to Return;
  2. Tourism;
  3. Sustainable Energy; and
  4. a focus on the Knowledge Economy.

Those themes are even more important since the publication of that piece.

COVID-19 is not a black swan event as it is often described. COVID-19 has served to accelerate trends that have long existed due to the inherent weaknesses within the outdated industrial age, thinking that still drives our discourse. In short, cracks become fissures, and we see the intrinsic precarity of the system lay bare.  It is wise for Barbados’ leadership to think about how to position the country to thrive in these uncertain times. Maintaining a vibrant ecosystem for tourists is part of that equation, but there is a substantial opportunity to be uncovered by tapping into the Bajan Intelligence Diaspora. Over 100K Barbadians live throughout the diaspora, primarily in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. An initiative focused on their right to return would allow Barbados to link itself culturally, economically, and intellectually to its sisters and brothers regardless of where they currently reside. A Barbadian Right to Return could model itself off of Israel’s longstanding Law of Return that offers anyone of Jewish descent the opportunity to make Israel home. Providing the Bajan diaspora a path to citizenship would incentivize a long-term relationship rooted in shared culture and co-dependence.

This doesn’t imply that those seeking to visit Barbados don’t have a role to play in the island’s economic development. What I do offer is that the diaspora represents a unique opportunity and requires a different operating system—visiting a country, even for as long as a year is not the same as putting down roots and living there. The former, despite the length of time, is transitory; the latter requires a substantial commitment. Barbados should seek to establish deep-rooted relationships with its most natural audience –those with Barbadian ancestry that are starving for more engagement. The Bajan Intelligence Diaspora is an unparalleled market opportunity. They are a highly skilled labor pool that is motivated to play a role in Barbados’ evolutions. This isn’t solely about building businesses. This is about amplifying our talent to educate and develop solidarity between multiple generations of Barbadians. We can co-create a viable future that weaves together the histories of both those throughout the diaspora and those who are native to the island. Citizenship is about accountability and cultural resonance. It is a commitment to a shared vision of what type of nation we want Barbados to be. It is hard, messy, and high stakes work, and it is not what tourists, even those who are there for up to 12 months, are best positioned to do.

In contrast, a healthy, vibrant, and future-facing Barbados should be the mission of every Barbadian regardless of where they reside. Designing a prosperous long-term future for the island is a goal that all of us should be working toward. A path to citizenship via the Right to Return is essentially a rallying cry for Barbadians everywhere to come home.

A viable future for Barbados that embraces sustainability, preservation of its natural beauty, and commits to a knowledge economy is dependent on its citizens. Its people are its most powerful resource. That resource is widely dispersed, but if it can be reclaimed, it will be a dynamic driver of innovation. The ability to make a new model of success based on stewardship’s transformational properties rather than the corrosive nature of extraction is well within our grasp. The leadership and imagination to envision new models have been impressive, but there is more work to do. Let’s endeavor to bring more of us home and collectively work together for an even stronger Barbados.

Philip L. McKenzie

Philip L. McKenzie is an anthropologist who is focused on culture, strategy and humanity centered design. He uses his expertise to advise organizations on how best to thrive in an increasingly challenging and uncertain environment. He writes a regular column for MediaVillage and is the host of the podcast The Deep Dive You can reach him via LinkedIn or his website www.philipmckenzie.com.