Diaspora: Fix Barbados and we will come
A nonchalant work attitude, which leads to uncompetitive behaviour, may be the major force stopping nationals living abroad from investing in their homeland.
That emerged as a dominant theme as expatriate Barbadians spoke about what was needed for them to feel encouraged to either return and contribute to their country’s development by applying their skills, or invest in local projects.
A People’s Assembly session that the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) organized with the Diaspora Wednesday night at the Island Inn saw the discussion move from indifference in the workplace to an unwillingness to continue learning to suit the professional environment.
“I need to see value for my money. So why invest in a system or country that is not giving enough output, is not as efficient as it should be?” asked Cheri Pedersen, who has been resident in Denmark for the past 15 years.
Making it clear that she is not a supporter of the BLP but the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), she said: “I feel as though the country is slipping. I just want to have a fresh outlook as to where any party is taking this country.”
“You all are asking us to do a lot. Invest in Barbados. Why?” she continued.
“Have you ever gone to the banks and stood in the long lines? Have you called a business place in Barbados and actually gotten someone who wanted to engage and actually work for their money?”
Reflecting on her Scandinavian work experience where “you have to give your all”, she said that in Barbados, “we lack the maturity to recognize that this is where the world is moving to . . . People are demanding more of us and we are not meeting those demands”.
“I work extremely hard for my money, so why should I invest in the country when I come here and I see it run inefficiently? And, on top of that, the attitude of Barbadians is not such that I would want to invest in it.”
Philip Lewis, who recently returned here after living in Bermuda for 31 years, said “the pace of running business in Barbados is just atrocious”.
He shared his experience of seeking to use the duty-free provision for returning nationals purchasing vehicles locally. “It took me five weeks to get the application approved.”
Lewis reflected that in Bermuda he could go for a driver’s licence and in 45 minutes get it renewed for 10 years.
“I came here to get my licence and I had to spend a whole day, and go back a second day.”
But rather than just point out the problems, Lewis was willing to help fix what he saw wrong in Barbados.
“I am willing to change the mindset of Barbadians,” he said. “We are very uncompetitive in a competitive world because of the attitude of Barbadians.”
Athiel Greenidge, who lives in Nigeria, spoke of what he saw as the hostile attitude of Barbadian professionals towards persons returning from abroad, hoping to make a contribution.
“They would think that you are coming back here to criticize them, rather than suggest new ways of doing things. I think the majority of Bajans believe that what they are doing is set in stone and can’t change, and they’re not prepared to change.”
Drawing from what he saw while living in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, Lawson Clarke, said, “They have privatized many services that work much better than the government will ever do”, suggesting Barbados go that route.
He went on to speak about the island’s education system which he said had become an impediment to Barbados’ success.
Claiming that when many people graduate they just stop learning, he said this even applies to Barbadians who migrate.
“Many people who are abroad and are Bajan walk with Harrison College on their sleeve,” he said.
Clarke’s comments about elitism in Barbados’ school system were endorsed by BLP leader Mia Mottley, who said it began from the time Barbadians qualified to enter secondary school.
She said changing this outlook was “fundamental to the unlocking of creativity in this country”.
“Having spent seven years as Minister of Education, Barbados has cemented people into underperformance at the age of 11. It cannot continue,” Mottley declared.
“For Barbados to be good for the Diaspora, Barbados has to be good for Barbadians,” conceding that, “Barbados is currently not working for the vast majority of Barbadians”.
The Opposition Leader added: “If it’s not working for us, then it’s going to be difficult for us to attract people here. The one missing ingredient is confidence. If people don’t have confidence that things will work here, they are not going to take up their hard-earned money and come.”