KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Brand Jamaica & the Jamaican Diaspora

Dr. Hume Johnson - Chairman and Founder of the Re:Imagine Jamaica Project.

Dr. Hume Johnson – Chairman and Founder of the Re:Imagine Jamaica Project.

The following is the keynote address delivered by Chairman and Founder of the Re:Imagine Jamaica Project, Dr. Hume Johnson at the 4th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora UK Conference in Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom, June 13-15, 2014. In her conversation with Jamaicans living in the UK, Dr. Johnson showed the connection between the Jamaican Diaspora with Brand Jamaica, established how nations are becoming strategic in managing their national image and reputation, and mobilised members of the Diaspora  (and the Jamaican Government) to ‘reimagine Jamaica, produce and promote new narratives, particularly Jamaican credentials in business and entrepreneurship, the arts, science and technology, education and sports to tell a more complete, and a more complex story about Jamaica.

***Greetings and Salutations***

It takes extraordinary commitment to facilitate an ongoing connection among Jamaicans in the UK, and to strengthen that important connection between the Diaspora and the homeland –the Government, and people of Jamaica. Let us acknowledge the important work of this movement with a round of applause. Let me take this opportunity to also thank the Jamaica DiasporaUK organization, and the Jamaica High Commission, through Ambassador Aloun N’Dombet Assamba for inviting me to be a part of this important conversation.

I like the word Diaspora. I was first introduced to the concept as a student at the University of the West Indies. The professors spoke frequently of the Jamaican and West Indian Diaspora. It is a Greek word meaning ‘to ‘scatter’. Historically the word Diaspora was used to refer to the Jewish experience of dispersal, through persecution, a sense of loss but a vision of return. Today, it is more a reference to a sense of self-identification among peoples who migrate from one place to another. In this sense, the Jamaican Diaspora are persons who migrated from their homeland (Jamaica) to other countries, those working and studying in other countries, as well as second and third and 4th generation offspring born in the countries in which their parents have migrated. So having maintained a Jamaican identity, Jamaican values and Jamaican culture and Jamaican cultural practices, you are a member of the Jamaican Diaspora (in the UK).

I am a member of the Jamaican Diaspora in the United States. I am a Professor of Media and Public Relations at Roger Williams University, in a region called ‘New England’ (a collection of 6 states in the North East) – the place the British had first settled when they arrived in the United States in 1620. I was a member of the Jamaican/West Indian Diaspora in New Zealand. I migrated to New Zealand in my mid 20s on a scholarship from the New Zealand Government. I lived there for 5 years. I was one of only 2 Jamaicans in the city of Hamilton. But in the neighbouring city of Auckland, I encountered a small community (up to 30) West Indians. I was also a member of the Jamaican Diaspora in Australia having acquired permanent residence there, lived there for a few years and taught at one of their fine Universities.

As part of the Jamaican Diaspora, we are inescapably a part of Brand Jamaica, and this is what I want to share with you to day. If you’ve been thinking about Jamaica, missing the walk about; that place your grandmother or mother talked about. If you are in your kitchen – and you look in the cupboard and you have Jamaican seasoning in there, water crackers, Levi Roots Reggae Reggae Sauce, or any other Jamaican product, you are contributing to Brand Jamaica.

Today – You are in a room with people who are connected to brand Jamaica. Some people – 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation Jamaicans have never been home to Jamaica, but live in a household where the Jamaican language is spoken; Jamaican products are used, Jamaican culture, values are kept alive. You are a part of what Brand Jamaica is. You may be having a conversation at the barbershop, or at Church, and whether you know each other personally or not, you connect to each other – we have a sense of connectedness – because we have and know somewhere (a homeland) that knows us. So today you come here not just to listen to the speakers, but also to be part of a conversation in which you are individually and collectively integral players.

Long before Excellencies, Aloun Assamba, Anthony Johnson and Burchell Whiteman came to the UK as formal ambassadors of Jamaica, you have been ambassadors. Jamaicans have been migrating to the United Kingdom since the 1950s, during the so-called “Wind Rush’, and played a fundamental role in building British society. Jamaicans fought in the two Great Wars for Britain. There are pockets of Jamaican professionals – nurses, social workers – as well as semi-skilled labourers and blue collar workers – bus drivers, mechanics – who have been contributing to industry in the UK. Jamaican students come here to further their education; many of them are taking those skills and currently making invaluable contributions to the workforce in the UK. A number of Jamaican academics, most notably the late Stuart Hall, have helped to position the Jamaican/Caribbean perspective in important national discussions taking place in Britain for decades; Jamaican businessmen and women – both large and small entrepreneurs – also extend a positive image of Jamaica in the UK, and elsewhere.

So everybody here impacts what is Brand Jamaica. You therefore have an ambassadorship and have a commissioning from the island home to this foreign place with your individual skills and capacities. Whether you came here and you became a mason, a barber, a bus driver, an architect or an engineer, or a businessman; even as you pursue your own ambitions, one must never forget that you represent a little place out in the Caribbean, and you carry the hopes and aspirations and the dreams of a people in your small way in which you are contributing – to make a difference.

You are a part of Jamaica’s identity overseas, and you are articulating a positive image of Brand Jamaica abroad. Indeed, your reputation and that of Jamaica are joined. Your accomplishments are Jamaica’s accomplishments. And whatever Jamaica achieves in the world is part of your own assets. We are therefore forever connected to the homeland – to Jamaica. You will never stop contributing – consciously and subconsciously to your homeland. You stand on the backs of those who came to this country before you, and others from the homeland will join you for generations to come.

Three things I want you to appreciate and take away from my talk today are:

1). You are a part of this thing called Brand Jamaica.

2). Brand Jamaica is the responsibility of all of us, and

3). A better understanding of how you can play your part “in advancing the welfare” of that beautiful island we call home – Jamaica.

The first thing you have done already to illustrate this is to show up here. The fact that you showed up here today is worth more than the cost it took to bring you here because it reflects the dedication and commitment of the individuals in this room, and collective capacities of all of us to make a difference. In other words, you are invested. A significant number of you leave dependent relatives or other financial obligations behind in Jamaica, and so naturally you retain a strong interest in the social, political and economic affairs back home. We want to build on this investment. Despite social class and status, how can you influence what brand Jamaica is? And I am not just taking about finances (not just you sending remittances) but through collective thought, action, and will of a community here in the UK.

I believe we have to begin, FIRST, to engage in a process of what I prefer to call re-imagining Jamaica. For some people, Jamaica is only relevant at particular times. But Jamaica is relevant all the time because you are always an ambassador of Jamaica. You are always representing, even when you are not conscious of it- the way you speak, the food you eat, the way you wear clothes – clothes with plenty colours – is about a representation of a place, a place that is part of who you are. I am saying this to say – Although you are here in the UK, you are a continued representation of what is Brand Jamaica – so we all have to take stock of the quality of our brand, our reputation in the global arena.

BRAND JAMAICA

At the moment, Jamaica’s reputation is taking a beating in Britain, and elsewhere. Many of you may have seen Channel 4’s documentary on Jamaica’s so called homophobic violence and treatment of gays aired on May 23. This highly negative perception of Jamaica is quite common, and you have seen it many times in the global media – crime, economic instability, corruption, and human rights abuses. One of the young Americans I teach at the University said to me recently: “I can’t imagine being from a place and being surrounded by people who think wrongly about it”. I resented his pity, albeit a well-meaning pity for Jamaica. But encounters such as these forced me to become more alert to, and take stock of Jamaica’s international reputation and brand image.

I have had a varied, interesting and very international life. Within the last decade or so, I have lived and worked in three countries – New Zealand, Australia and the United States. I have also visited myriad countries and cities around the world.  Many times, I was the only Jamaican in the room, so I was also painfully aware of people’s own perceptions (versus real knowledge and understanding) of Jamaica. But living abroad – in different countries – also gave me the opportunity to see Jamaica through the lens and prisms of other people; from the vantage point of these other cultures .

I learned that how you perceive a place determines your interaction with that place, and the people of that place. For example, each time I would land in New Zealand or Australia, my luggage was specially selected for ‘random searches” at the airport. Every time cannot be random; it’s deliberate. What the customs officials were searching for, I could not pretend that I don’t know! The perception of Jamaicans at ‘drug mules’ and traffickers has unfortunately been embedded and so our people are treated accordingly. So the Jamaican authorities and people have got to now ‘re:imagine Jamaica’. Frame Jamaica in new ways, using new narratives. Push back against the negative stereotypes.

Many countries have caught on to the idea of nation brand and begun to think more strategically about how their nation is viewed and are taking steps to manage their national brand by focusing on their ‘soft power’ – the appeal of their culture.

 

WHAT IS NATION BRAND & HOW DO NATIONS BUILD THEIR IMAGE

A nation’s brand is essentially the sum of beliefs and impressions people hold about places. So when we talk about nation brand, we are talking about the ideas the outside world holds about a particular country. Due to the fierce competition among countries in the global economy for investment, trade, tourism, students etc., (and the fact that everything about each country is now fully exposed on the internet, the reputation or brand of a country is even more important than ever before. Countries and cities are therefore obliged to call upon their history, geography and culture, national symbols etc. to construct a distinctive image, to form their identity in the world.

According to Simon Anholt, the scholar who invented the notion nation brand: “The brand powerfully affects the way people inside and outside the place think about it, the way they behave towards it, and the way they respond to everything with regard to the place, for instance its products, sporting and cultural events, it affects relationships with other countries, impacts tourism and, investment and business potential etc. The brand image of a country plays a major role in its economic, social and political progress” (Anholt, 2006; 2001).

Having a good name is the formula for success in the marketplace. Smart states are building their nation brand around reputations and attitudes in the same way that smart companies do. In the interest of time, I will give you an example of the smart, strategic thinking of countries such as Australia who have fully joined the ‘brand wagon’ and are reaping the benefits of nation branding.

Australia undertook a major rebranding a few years ago, based on research on which they learned that Australia’s global reputation was based on its physical attributes – beaches etc., and not its intellectual ones. Australia’s goal was therefore to move beyond their traditional image as a land of beach, surfing & rugby to being perceived as a progressive society, a place for high quality education, a leader in conservation, and an economic force in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia also undertook nation brand initiatives that were designed to show that Australia was rich in cultural, scientific and business talent. They staged events to showcase Australian food, wine, tourism, entertainment and business. They leveraged these assets to move beyond tourism and to reinvent Australia as a nation of knowledge and innovation. According to the Head of Brand Australia ‘the more others trust, admire and respect Australia, the more they are likely to invest in our people, ideas and products and to send their children to study in our Universities’.

South Africa – from apartheid to progressive politics and society via Nelson Mandela. Established a formal National Brand Strategy – Packaging culture, its workforce, creative industries- hosting 2010 WorldCup = reap trade partnerships with China and Europe. All this represents a positive aspect of a nation’s identity and image abroad. It is not accidental; its deliberately designed and implemented. This is what nation brand and soft power is about.

As Jamaicans, we must seek to understand, manage and nurture the good name of our country in such a way that people want to purchase our products, invest in Jamaica, see it as a destination to which to travel. We are a popular and famous nation but we have poor reputation in crucial areas of governance. And a bad reputation is bad for business. But as the Governor General, His Excellency SirPatrick Allen remarked recently ‘what is wrong with Jamaica can be fixed with what is right with Jamaica’.

JAMAICA’S SOFT POWER – BRAND JAMAICA

How can Jamaica deploy its soft power – its nation brand to achieve economic and social progress? :

Build a Cultural economy – Based on the arts and culture. The arts are Jamaica’s calling card abroad – music, dance, theatre and film. Way before the arrival of Usain Bolt, The Film Cool Runnings – about the triumph of the Jamaican bobsled team at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Canada – took Jamaica and Jamaican values to cinema screens on every continent.

Jamaica possesses numerous cultural symbols, products and people. We must claim ownership of these symbols, establish effective intellectual property governance; educate our artisans and entrepreneurs about intellectual property; and how to monetize their innovations and creative expressions for economic growth. This is what is meant by cultural economy.

Sports Economy: Aside from reggae, sport is Jamaica’s greatest asset.
Our athletes are a ready-made corps of soft power, promotional ambassadors for the nation. Their brand images – if well positioned – can help to further shape the nation’s image abroad and mobilise returns in the areas of sports marketing and sports tourism.

Jamaican food, our export products articulate a story about Jamaica. Blue Mountain Coffee, Jamaican Jerk, Red Stripe, Ginger Beer are now global export commodities. Jamaican Patty is slowly making its way into the global marketplace. I heard that Levi Roots ‘Reggae Reggae sauce’ outsold the popular Heinz ketchup in Sainsbury supermarket across the UK. “Products produced by a country are powerful ambassadors of each country’s image. If they are good quality products, consumers will have positive responses to them because of their emotional with Jamaica. We have to begin to exploit this ‘country of origin’ effect by leveraging the ‘Made in Jamaica’ label.

Tell a more complete story of Jamaica:People do not see a society for what it is. They see the stories they are told. The narratives that show up in the information circulating on the Internet are how nations are being judged. While our people are generally well-respected, hardworking and affable, this is not always the story of us out there. One day the top story is success of another Jamaican sprinter. But on many other days – the stories circulating about Jamaica is poverty, economic instability, violent crime, corruption, homophobia and violent crime –which tells visitors and investors to stay away we remain an unsafe society.

Even while this is happening, the Government fails to confront this negative narrative and continues to tell a story of Jamaica firmly rooted in tourism. The discourse about Jamaica promoted by the Jamaica Tourist Board has one strands – sun, sand, sea – a tourism-centric narrative which says, come to Jamaica and feel alright’. In a nation brand strategy for Jamaica, it is, of course, important to account for Jamaica’s vibrant lifestyle and cultural reputation. Yet the tourism-centric model of promoting Jamaica is unsustainable; the marketing of Jamaica as ‘sun sand and sea’ can no longer hold. A more progressive, diverse and enlightened view of Jamaica is available and this is the narrative that we have to begin to tell.

Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie writes of the danger of telling a single story about a people and a place. She argues that ‘a single story creates stereotypes. It’s not that stereotypes are untrue but that they are incomplete. Stereotypes make one story the only story’ (Adichie, TedTalk, 2009). Single stories of a people and a place flatten one’s experience of that place and overlooks multiple other stories that help to form that place and people.

Ours is a complicated story. Violence and conflict and slavery is part of the Jamaican story. But ours is also civilizational story of Maroons, freedom fighters, of cultural icons – of Marcus Garvey, Louise Bennett, Bob Marley and Usain Bolt.

It is crucial for Jamaica to diversify the nation’s image. To attract investment and grow the economy, it is vital to establish new discourses that promote Jamaican credentials in business and entrepreneurship, sports, the arts, science and technology, in education, food technology etc.

The first priority of such an exercise is not necessarily to form logos, trademarks, slogans, signage and posters. Rather, it is fundamental to identify the essence of the nation – how it is perceived, how the nation’s stakeholders (we the people) want Jamaica to be perceived, what we want Jamaica to stand for, and not stand for, and how to best communicate and promote a unified and consistent nation brand. Jamaican companies would be incentivized to harmonise the way they do business and promote products and services. So all stakeholders, including you here in the Diaspora should be able to tell the same powerful, believable story about Jamaica.

Conclusion

In the beginning of this presentation, I said I wished for you to understand that you are a part of Brand Jamaica, that Brand Jamaica is your responsibility and what role you need to play in it. I will end by suggesting the following: Much more than my voice, it must be your voice, the voice of this audience, who must speak long after the conference has ended. It must be your voice that must make a difference. So when you go back to your barbershop, your engineering space or your classroom, your home – you carry a message – beyond what the headlines say which is often negative, you carry a message that says that Brand Jamaica is alive. So I invite you, in the words of the organization I just started, to “re:imagine Jamaica’ – see your country through new lens.

We have the ability to start repositioning what the image is, and what is the context of that image. Everything in life happens in our consciousness first and then we manifest those things in our actions and our livity. I want all of you to leave this room becoming brand conscious. Some of us view Jamaica from the perspective of our lived experience there, or what is fed to us in the media, or what you heard from those who have visited the island.

The challenge is that you may not have re-informed yourself of any new perspectives on Jamaica, or any new perspectives that present itself may be challenged by the experiences that you had. Let us now engage ourselves in a new discourse. Regardless of the experience you have had, allow new perspectives to prevail. Allow for new ideas; you are even introducing these new ideas. When we leave here – a part of this experience today – is how do we re-engineer our own consciousness (a brand consciousness) with regard to Jamaica.

Membership in Brand Jamaica is free. Where else will you find such a deal? Show your pride in Jamaica whenever the opportunity arises. Let the world know that Jamaica is truly a special place. Become a part of groups such as the Jamaica Diaspora UK movement, and the myriad others that exist. The first generation folks must help to sustain the connection to the homeland by introducing and reinforcing Jamaican values and culture to the younger generation; you must do your part to assist those who have fallen on hard times, those who find themselves on the other side of the law; participate in the conversations taking place about Jamaica – not to complain that it all gone to the dogs but to re-engineer our consciousness – not to the difficulties but our capacities to overcome them.

This is the best way to illustrate your commitment to Jamaica. You – the people of Jamaica – are the ones who have underwritten Jamaica’s remarkable image on the global stage. It’s not the sun, sand and the sea. It is you the people that are/ought to be at the centre of Jamaica’s promotion of the nation abroad. You are the greatest source of continuity and stewardship for Jamaica. You will always have an essential role to play in the advance of our country. We must recommit to the powerful words embedded in our national pledge:

***

Before God and all mankind, I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart, the wisdom and courage of my mind, the strength and vigour of my body in the service of my fellow citizens; I promise to stand up for Justice, Brotherhood and Peace, to work diligently and creatively, to think generously and honestly, so that Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race.

 

Thank you. May God Bless You. May God Bless Jamaica.

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2 Comments on “KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Brand Jamaica & the Jamaican Diaspora

    • Thank you Dr. Bailey. We look forward to receiving and reviewing your abstract.

      Dr. Hume Johnson and Dr. Kamille Gentles Peart

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