My life experience has shown me that very little happens by chance. A seemingly chance encounter with a young Jamaican woman during a senior leadership seminar in Malaysia last year, led me to being asked to speak at the 8th Bi-annual Jamaican Diaspora Conference in Kingston last month. The conference was organised by the Diaspora Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The conference theme: ‘Building Pathways for Sustainable Development’ offered 500 Jamaica Diaspora delegates, primarily residing in Canada, UK and USA, four full days of seminars and networking opportunities as well as targeted information on property, investments, immigration, health care provision and social development projects. There are more than 3 million Jamaicans living in the Diaspora, a figure which surpasses the 2.8 million people currently living in Jamaica.
I contributed to the panel session on ‘Social Business Enterprises – Key Contributors to Sustained Social Development’, which consisted of representatives from the recently launched Jamaica Social Stock Exchange (which includes 5 social businesses), social investment companies, social business development programmes in communities and schools and an industrial strategist.
The conference invitation gave me a platform to share some of the current developments within the UK social business sector more generally as well as strategic and practical lessons learnt from building Ubele. I was also able to share ways in which we have made an impact on the BME communities locally, nationally and internationally.
I explained how Ubele has accessed community business support from Power to Change to design and deliver our Mali Enterprising Leaders (MEL) pilot project. MEL offered infrastructure support to help create sustainable community spaces to five BME led organisations in London and Manchester and we produced the first ever BME Community Business Toolkit. We also recently secured Bright Ideas funding to help develop our 3.5 acre community enterprise centre at Wolves Lane Horticultural Centre in Wood Green, London. Our consortium model includes Crop Drop and Organiclea and together we collaborate as ‘stewards’ of the site.
Other seminars and discussions covered key domestic issues such as education and training, health, agriculture and food security, crime and the creative industries, alongside the development of a global Jamaican Diaspora Youth Forum and the endorsement of the draft Diaspora Policy Framework.
I was rather worried about how the UK experience would be received. I am acutely aware of the need to explore challenges as well as the opportunities that the social business sector offers for BME communities in the UK and that not everything is easily transferable or even desirable in other countries and contexts. Fortunately, the presentation was very well received – many people came up to me afterwards and during the following day asking to connect with what we are creating through Ubele.
Of course, it was not all work and no play – how could one visit Jamaica and not eagerly embrace the food, culture, beaches and mountains? I stayed with friends in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios and visited family in Portland. If you get an opportunity, visit Jamaica, as it really does offer something for everyone and is a special ‘small island’ in our world.