May 10, 2022
Future Forum: Centring diaspora human capital

Over the next two days, the second European Union Global Diaspora Facility Future Forum takes place. This year we focus on the theme of human capital through the lens of skills, youth and green transitions…

When looking at diaspora capital we still too often focus on financial capital (remittances, investment…) but the diaspora has much more to offer in terms of skills, knowledge, ideas and networks. In this edition of the Future Forum we will try to answer the following key questions: What can governments and development actors do to effectively integrate and leverage the potential of diaspora skills? How can diaspora skills enhance youth employability? How can the diaspora drive a greener and more sustainable future? What skills will need to be developed to stay relevant in the future of work?

The Future Forum brings together a global and diverse audience composed of diaspora individuals and organisations, government representatives, development practitioners, private sector representatives and the EU. The conference features 10 sessions and three practical workshops during which over 50 speakers will discuss the intricacies of diaspora engagement, human capital and access to (green) jobs for the younger generation today and solutions to build the skills of tomorrow.

Human capital: an evolving definition

The definition of Human capital has evolved a lot since the term was first coined. Initially, economists used the concept to designate characteristics considered useful in the production process, such as employee knowledge, skills, education and health. The definition has been broadened over time to encompass more personal or “soft” skills, such as specific talents, creativity, capacity to innovate and digital literacy. This expanded notion also includes interpersonal skills such as the ability motivate and lead teams, empathy, communication, the capacity to build partnerships, create networks etc. It also includes social capital, the relationships and contacts of an individual, as well as perceived prestige or reputation. The understanding of ‘human capital’ will inevitably continue to evolve alongside the global technological transformation. Consequently, there are many discussions already underway about the skills of the future. During the Future Forum we take up this discussion, looking at what future skills will look like and where diaspora engagement can fit into the picture. For example, the high level panel (11 May, 9:30, all times CEST) will look at current and future global skills trends and reflect upon pathways to harness the human capital of diaspora to advance transnational skills initiatives that target young people.

In today’s broader concept, human capital is the backbone of human development and economic development. Indeed, accumulating human capital improves productivity, facilitates technological innovations and makes growth more sustainable. When looking at diaspora engagement trends we see a shift from a simple focus on economic capital to a more comprehensive interest in diaspora human capital as a way to increase engagement, drive innovation and fight against brain drain. Governments and other actors in Europe and countries of heritage heritage are increasingly active in developing and managing human capital in line with national and international development goals.

Managing human capital means nurturing talents (skills development for younger generations), deploying talents (skillsets identified and/or adjusted market needs), and attracting talent (brain gain and diaspora skills transfers).  In the session “Short-term schemes to transfer diaspora human capital: building blocks and success factors” (11 May, 15:30) we will share lessons learned from existing schemes, including our own: Diaspora Professionals 4 Development (DP4D), and drill down on how to design effective mechanisms that create effective long-term partnerships between diaspora and institutions in the country of heritage.

Developing the skills of the future

Investing in education and skills development is fundamental for sustainable development as it affects all sectors of society. In today’s fast paced world, the generation of decent jobs for young people is critical, as is the need to continuously upgrade skills to meet employers’ changing demands. Skills mobility schemes can include a variety of methods and pathways such as technical and vocational training through mobility, promoting skills and knowledge transfer between countries of origin and destination, mentoring, internships, work placements, entrepreneurship, business development…All viable options in solution-building to develop youth skills the private sector needs now and in the future.

The EU has already taken important steps in recognising the need for dedicated frameworks for youth employment, mobility and skills development with the launch of the European Skills Agenda & Youth Employment Support and making 2022 the European Year of Youth. The discussions held during the Future Forum will allow us to understand what role the diaspora can take in existing schemes in order to support youth employability, including greener jobs, in countries of heritage.

Features of diaspora human capital

Brokers and economic agents

Diaspora members act as brokers to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, market-building and networking for businesses based in the country of heritage. Thanks to their connection to home and cultural sensitivity, they often have an insider advantage in terms of languages, affinities and networks and can support entrepreneurial activity at multiple stages. Diaspora can act as brokers informing on market structures and entry points, as promoters opening opportunities for business relationships, as lobbyists for better investment and entrepreneurial climates in both countries. Diaspora can also influence local policy makers to develop policies in line with sustainable growth, including creating green jobs. These points were highlighted in our last case study on the role of the diaspora in the green economy and several sessions at the Future Forum will allow us to delve deeper into these questions. In particular, during “Diaspora as brokers: Business intelligence for domestic SMEs” (12 May, 9:45) we explore the value of cross-border exchanges and multi-stakeholders partnerships for entrepreneurs and innovators, at the micro and macro scales, especially for youth in the home country, whilst in “Enhancing diaspora investment skills: government and diaspora perspectives” (12 May, 11:30) we look into the role of each actor in the diaspora ecosystem and the specific set of kills that are required to make diaspora investment attractive.

Ideas and influence

Networks can take multiple forms going beyond mere “transactional” ones. During “In conversation with diaspora: Channels of youth diasporic knowledge diffusion” (11 May, 14:30) we will look at how the mobility of diaspora influences the diffusion of ideas and knowledge in the EU and partner countries. By putting the spotlight on two young members of diaspora academic networks, this session will discuss how such structures can support more cohesive diffusion of knowledge and ideas and how to better operate such structures in a sustainable manner. Similarly, “Green innovation through diaspora knowledge networks” (11 May, 15:30) builds on two recommendations from the first Future Forum in June 2021 which highlighted the importance of institutionalising sustainable green actions and empowering local community leaders. This year, we explore how diaspora knowledge networks serve as specialised spaces for green innovation. Understanding and leveraging the benefit of diaspora knowledge in green transitions is a nascent area of diaspora engagement, but one with far-reaching potential.

Diaspora youth capital

European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen said: “The pandemic has robbed young people of many opportunities”. In reaction, 2022 has been designated as the European Year of Youth. The Future Forum similarly prioritises how diaspora engagement can create more and better opportunities for young people through entrepreneurship, skills development and green innovation. Moreover, we want to hear from the youth, rather than talk about them. With this in mind, Diaspora Youth Rapporteurs will join each session. They will pose youth-oriented questions to the speakers and take over EUDiF’s Twitter to share their highlights, before presenting youth diaspora takeaways to the European Commission and ICMPD to  close the conference.

Join the discussion on 11-12 May for more insights about the multitude of possibilities that diaspora human capital brings to countries of heritage and how to make the most of its potential  to shape a more sustainable future for all.

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