News • LAC
June 11, 2021
Event takeaways: Latin America and the Caribbean

In 2021, as part of our regional thematic event series,EUDiF and the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA) joined forces to host a public webinar on 20 April and, subsequently, a government roundtable on 3 June for the Latin America & the Caribbean (LAC) region. As we prepare to launch two actions in the region, we look back at the discussions from the twinned events.

The theme of LAC regional meetings was digitalisation in diaspora engagement, a key trend in the region particularly with relation to remittances and consular services. This trend is also in line with the EU’s commitment to digitalisation in the region, demonstrated by the launch of the EU-LAC Digital Alliance.

The discussions in both the public and government-only events drew on the collection of digitalisation initiatives identified through the EUDiF global mapping of diaspora engagement policies, practices and priorities, as well as the presentations of the speakers. Read on for the highlights which speak of the ever-expanding potential for digitalisation of diaspora engagement in the LAC region and beyond…

Digitalisation meets diaspora engagement

Despite having no single definition, digitalisation can be understood as how many domains of social life are increasingly structured around digital services, digital communication and media infrastructures. More specifically, “digital development” – or ICT4D – describes the use and application of technology and digital tools in and for international development. With the rise of the Internet and expansion of new technologies, digital solutions and tools have permeated all aspects of our lives, not least in diaspora engagement and development.

Digitalisation in diaspora engagement can include a broad range of topics. One is that of e-governance, including digital consular service. In particular, how the governments from countries of heritage engage with their diaspora using digital means to ease administrative procedures and facilitate access to services, but also for enhanced outreach and dialogue.

 Another topic of interest is the digitalisation of diaspora, through the creation of online communities with the aim to keep strong ties with the country of origin and to contribute to its development. In fact, diaspora often act as pioneers in developing (and demanding) digital solutions and services across the board.

Seven sub-topics stood out as particularly important when thinking about ongoing and future diaspora engagement initiatives in the region, many of which have evolved rapidly and demonstrated their significant impact during the Covid-19 pandemic:

  1. Digital communication on the rise: All the speakers from diaspora organisations and civil society highlighted the importance of social media – especially Facebook and WhatsApp – as a tool in diaspora engagement. For instance, for Opportunities for My Community – a project linking remittances with economic development in Guatemala – WhatsApp became a pivotal tool to communicate and coordinate with diaspora organisations. The reliance on these digital tools became even greater with the Covid-19 pandemic which forced them to work via the internet. The value of digital communications was also highlighted by the government representatives. In Guyana and Jamaica, diaspora engagement related policies include the topic of ICT and digitalisation, in particular for outreach to second and subsequent generations of diaspora  who are  often tech savvy.
  2. Diaspora voices through digital media and advocacy: Several digital platforms have been created to give a voice to the diaspora. For example, the Venezuelan Diaspora Observatory organises a radio programme (which is broadcast through various digital channels) where various topics of interest to Venezuelan communities abroad are discussed. In particular, since the beginning of the pandemic, digital media and community-driven e-campaigns have proven to be powerful channels to address misinformation, hate speech and xenophobia.
  3. The power of consular and other government e-services: Foreign missions are at the frontline of diaspora engagement. Many administrative procedures have been simplified thanks to digitalisation. The creation of platforms provides easier access to services such as getting or renewing a passport, accessing documents such as birth certificates, or even just to book appointments at the embassy. However, the increasing digitalisation of government services requires careful work to ensure processes are secure, especially concerning personal data. In addition, e-services benefit from tailoring to the segment, for example diaspora youth often interact more comfortably with technology than older generations, whilst also having changing interests vis-à-vis their country of heritage, something which should be kept in mind when designing government services.
  4. Democratic participation through digital means: Most countries in LAC allow diaspora voting, and more and more countries are introducing electronic voting In Mexico two-thirds of the voting diaspora opt for this service. Mexican diaspora can also get credentials to vote though their digital consulate. Another interesting example is the partnership between the Democracy Earth Foundation and Colombia to use blockchain technology to involve the diaspora in a digital referendum during the discussions of the peace accords in 2016. Approximately 600 000 diaspora members participated.
  5. Digital money transfer and investment: During the pandemic, a large number of solutions have been developed to transfer remittances via electronic wallets. Governments agreed on the need to support remittances and financial schemes and to channel remittances more efficiently. Moreover, government officials highlighted the central role digitalisation plays for diaspora investment and business creation. As such, enabling environments can be improved digitally, for example by creating dedicated portals or websites to support entrepreneurs to register companies, get permits and deal with administrative procedures from abroad.
  6. Digital identity building and community-mobilisation: It seems that increasing digitalisation positively affects the concept of national identity. All speakers at the public webinar agreed that digital solutions move us to rethink the notions of home and self.  In different ways, digital tools bring diaspora closer to their communities of origin by breaking down physical distances. Community-building efforts, inclusion and cohesion are strengthened thanks to digital solutions.
  7. Education via digital solutions: During the pandemic, diaspora organisations have provided courses and distance learning opportunities to their communities thanks to digital tools. Digitalisation has allowed Casa da Gente to continue delivering their courses when people were not allowed to leave their homes. However, such initiatives have also clarified the scale of existing challenges in terms of digital exclusion and technical issues.

Digital challenges and the way ahead

Despite the plethora of positive initiatives in and around digitalising diaspora engagement in LAC, there remains a significant digital divide which affects all actors in the ecosystem (diasporas, governments, civil society, etc.). This is influenced by social and generational divides. Despite examples shared by speakers showing how digital solutions are crucial to sustain diaspora engagement, they all agree that such solutions must be inclusive. Vulnerable and marginalised diasporans in particular might need specific measures and technical support to access digital services.

Both the countries of origin and destination must be involved in creating, maintaining and innovating enabling environments that foster digitalisation within diaspora engagement. This requires public investment and careful prioritisation. Many homeland governments recognise the importance of generating favourable conditions and are already active in doing so, for example by supporting digitalising remittances and financial schemes to channel them more efficiently, or by supporting inclusive digital platforms that allow diaspora to connect and participate in the social, financial and economic life of their home countries. As global digitalisation continues apace, governments will need to evolve quickly and effective to match changing demands in order to maintain or build strong links with diasporas that are increasingly digitally-minded.

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