In addition to expressing his gratitude to members of the Jamaican Diaspora for their consistent support to Jamaica during the COVID-19 crisis, GraceKennedy Group CEO, Senator Don Wehby has issued a passionate plea and has made several suggestions as to how the diaspora can engage with Jamaica to help the country emerge stronger and more resilient post COVID. Mr Wehby was speaking in his keynote address to the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council’s Virtual International Roundtable on Monday, June 15, held under the theme, “Reimagining Diaspora Engagement During and Beyond COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities”.

Positing that it often takes a crisis for one to reimagine the future both professionally and personally, Mr Wehby spoke to the impact of the COVD-19 virus on Jamaica, highlighting the fallout in the areas of food (security), tourism and education. Mr Wehby’s presentation focused on three key areas – Agriculture, Education and Tourism – where opportunities exist to strengthen diaspora engagement to create a better, post-COVID Jamaica.

“As the CEO of GraceKennedy, the panic buying in Jamaica led me to wonder what would happen if the borders were closed for a long time. We have a food import bill of US$1 billion. COVID-19 has highlighted the need for Jamaica to be self sufficient in terms of our food,” Mr Wehby said. The Group CEO then reiterated his call to cut Jamaica’s food import bill by 50% by 2030, noting the positive impact that reduction would have on Jamaica, and by extension its balance of payments and rate of exchange.

He continued, “I believe very sincerely that if we are to hit that target, our diaspora, our brothers and sisters would play a huge role.” He encouraged members of the diaspora to invest more in the agriculture and agro-processing sectors in Jamaica, and to liaise with JAMPRO for information on the different ways to do so, ranging from the identification of land, to the formation of linkage networks.

Mr Wehby also asked the diaspora to assist with closing the gaps in education highlighted by COVID-19. “I believe that education is a right, not a privilege. COVID has exposed some serious inequities in access to tools and connectivity in Jamaica. GK has started a programme to provide tablets and laptops to students and teachers, and I encourage the diaspora to do the same,” he said. Mr Wehby also mentioned youth mentorship as a viable way to reimagine diaspora engagement post COVID, noting, “What gets measured, gets done, so I am throwing out a challenge to members of the disapora to partner with mentorship programmes targeting 100 at-risk youth for next year. Sometimes it’s not about our dollars, it’s about our time.”

Meanwhile, on addressing Tourism, Mr Wehby encouraged Diaspora members to come home as tourists and pump some much needed foreign exchange into the Jamaican economy.

He closed by thanking the Diaspora for continuing to support Jamaica, particularly in the area of remittances, sharing that the Western Union Direct to Bank service had grown by 184% and was continuing to do very well. “Of every dollar that comes into Jamaica, 95% is spent on basics: food, medication and sending children to school. I thank you so much for taking care of your families in Jamaica, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

He added, “The Jamaican diaspora has always been a force of resilience and unity, and I know that together we will not only weather the storm, but come out stronger on the other side.”