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The Sustainable Edit

Dispatch #3: The Conscious Citizen

What does it mean to be a conscious citizen? In her new monthly column, senior strategic leader in sustainable and international development, Natasha Hafez, explores and expounds on precisely that. Join in her journey towards humanity with purpose.

‘Out of Office’ has a whole new meaning these days.

For the vast majority, work and life have become completely integrated into one entity this past year. The pandemic has accelerated and reinvented the ‘remote-worker’ trend that had been developing over the last decade and as more and more employers are encouraging employees to work from home for safety measures, remote working is opening more doors to exciting and new opportunities. As employers try to adapt and innovate to support employee well-being, and increase productivity when overall morale is low, it seems remote working is here to stay.

Thanks to effective technologies for videoconferencing and other forms of digital collaboration, work, school, childcare, social engagements, and vacation have all been experienced in the same location: home.

According to a McKinsey & Company study, 80% of its questioned population reported that they enjoyed working from home, and 41% said they are more productive than before. Many organisations think they can access new pools of talent with fewer locational constraints, adopt innovative processes to boost productivity and morale, create an even stronger culture, and significantly reduce real-estate costs.  Following the events of this past year, quality of life is an increasingly important priority that will impact our future decisions on where we live and whom we work for.

A new trend is emerging that may allow us to now rethink the place we call ‘home.’

As one of the world’s most picturesque regions, the Caribbean – sun-kissed islands with untouched white-sand beaches – offers many alluring incentives that may attract workers from highly skilled industries to relocate to a paradise with warm, sunny temperatures year-round and a slower, more conducive pace of life.

With these evolving trends, let us first take a deep dive into the countries’ economic (deep)water before we consider how a move (or for some natives, a return) to the Caribbean may help support our island communities.

Due to their economic climate and insufficient labour market opportunities, Caribbean countries and economies have been affected by large-scale, high-skilled emigration as the most productive workforce (well-educated youth in their mid-20s) departs from their native countries in order to find a new home. This leaves the islands vulnerable to what is called ‘brain drain’ – the substantial emigration or migration of individuals as a result of favourable professional opportunities and a higher standard of living in other countries. What are the impacts of this brain drain on the Caribbean countries themselves?

Highly educated expatriates that have emigrated to places like the US, Canada, or the UK generate a massive quadruply compounded loss for the origin country. A decreasing average qualification level in the country of origin then hinders educational training and knowledge sharing for lower-skilled workers within the country, which further represents another loss as governments, like the Dominican Republic or Jamaica for instance, invest considerably large amounts of funding on educating their emigrants prior to them settling permanently in another country, which then equates to an assumed, measurable tax loss for origin countries that lose the highly educated population in the highest tax brackets.

As island natives leave their country of origin to settle permanently in another for greater access and opportunity, there is a tremendous economic impact left on the countries involved, including their workforce and consumer spending.

This negative impact is offset in part by remittances. According to the United Nations, about one in nine people globally are supported by funds, known as remittances, sent home by migrant workers. Over recent years, the international community has recognised that remittances are a vital source of support for hundreds of millions of people across the globe. Although the money sent home represents only 15% of the salary earned by migrants in the host countries, it is often a major part of a household’s total income in the countries of origin and, as such, represents a critical lifeline for millions of families worldwide. For countries like those in the Caribbean, with highly skilled emigrants, the negative impact on growth from emigration and brain drain is not fully compensated by the money migrants send home.

How are industries and communities adapting to the changes they face within the workplace and in our world?

In order to reduce the negative impacts of disruptive migratory flows, island countries have begun working towards developing new incentives and policies that can create and sustain a better balance that may entice expatriates’ returns, or even engage a new, highly skilled community of remote workers who now have flexibility to work or live anywhere.

Incentives that countries in the Caribbean are beginning to offer in order to attract remote workers, help alleviate their social and economic challenges, and drive sustainable change include:

As COVID vaccinations become readily available and safety protocols become more streamlined, we can invest in new locations and make impactful contributions to support the social and economic development of communities in greater need of diversification.

In my experience, long-term travel assignments and remote work have been integral components of best practice in humanitarian operations and sustainable development. By extending our reach and diversifying staffing and service areas we mitigate risk and improve our cultural awareness, which in turn improves our products and services. All the while, we become more compassionate and understanding of the differing needs of our local communities. Additionally, by having more boots on the ground globally instead of one centralised location, organisations are readily available and spread out to monitor, track, and evaluate their programs and services.

If we can eliminate the geographical limitations that the job market once consisted of (and which some may even argue helped cause emigration challenges in the first place), then remote work could very well provide new solutions and benefits to the Caribbean islands by encouraging natives to return to their country of origin, ultimately reducing brain drain, building new opportunities for locals, easing the economic pressures, and helping to stem environmental degradation as transient road traffic and travel is reduced.

While remote work brings a lot of opportunities that could invite other island nations to replicate or adapt similar incentive models, it is also vital that we consider the flip side. If not implemented correctly, it may also bring problems both for the island destinations (such as impact to biodiversity) as well as the communities that those taxpayers and workers live in today. For example, considering that migrants send back home only 15% of what they earn, what about the other 85% that gets re-ingested into the economy where they work? Should we also be conscious of how leveraging this idea may tip the scale in the opposite direction?

Yours,

The Conscious Citizen

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