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Diversity: A Driver of Progress?

March 30 2015 - by Carole Houlihan, CLP's Gender & Diversity Specialist

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of visiting Suriname for the first time to attend the Cohort 4 workshop of the Leadership Development Programme (LDP).

I was struck by the energy and the diversity in Paramaribo, and also had the opportunity to visit two Maroon communities.  Despite its small population, Suriname is one of the most ethnically diverse societies in South America, with groups of East Indians, Maroons, Indonesians, Chinese, Europeans, Amerindians, Creoles and Maroons. This diversity is the result of successive waves of migration, and that migration continues today, as newly arrived immigrants make their mark. 

My visit to Suriname, and to the Maroon communities of Nieuw Lombe and Klaasekreek in Borokopondo where we were welcomed like family, sparked me to reflect on the issue of  diversity. 

Diversity can be defined as “variety, miscellany, assortment, mixture mélange, array”, “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.”  In more applied terms it is defined as “understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences”. 

This led me to ask: What are the benefits of diversity? 

Well known urban theorist, Richard Florida, (author of The Rise of the Creative Class) notes that although economic growth and development  are seen to depend on natural resources, technological innovation and human capital,  a growing number of studies suggest that geographic proximity and cultural diversity- openness to different cultures, religions, sexual orientations - also play key roles in economic growth. 

The evidence is mounting that geographical openness and cultural diversity and tolerance are not by-products but key drivers of economic progress. Proximity, openness and diversity operate alongside technological innovation and human capital as the key engines of economic prosperity. Indeed, one might even go so far as to suggest that they provide the motive force of intellectual, technological, and artistic evolution.

Global Trends in Migration 

According to the OECD (2013), 232 million international migrants are living in the world today. Since 1990, the number of international migrants in the global North increased by around 53 million, while the migrant population in the global South grew by around 24 million.  The Caribbean in certainly contributing to this number! 

The highest emigration rates to OECD countries are recorded for small countries and island states: Tonga, Guyana, Jamaica, Albania, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Fiji, El Salvador, and Malta are the ten countries with the highest emigration rates to OECD countries.

The “brain drain” is particularly acute in small countries and island states in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2010, close to 90% of highly skilled persons born in Guyana lived in OECD countries. Similarly, more tertiary educated persons were living outside Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago than in these countries.

Through migration, Caribbean people are contributing to diversity in other nations.  How are Caribbean countries addressing issues of diversity at home?  In an increasingly globalized world, what are the challenges, benefits and drawbacks of diversity? 

In the context of the CSME  to what extent have regional policy makers made provisions for embracing diversity and harnessing its economic power?

How does your country view diversity? What diversity challenges do you face?  

Can your country and the region harness the power of diversity to support economic development? 

How can countries ensure that migrants are welcomed and diversity is embraced by all citizens? 

Can immigrants fill the “brain drain” gap in the Caribbean?