A fortnight ago, 22-24 June, we held our first global, multi-stakeholder conference on diaspora engaagement: The Future Forum. Over the course of three days we aimed to take stock of where we stand on diaspora engagement globally and consider the future potential of diaspora engagement in terms of green transitions and youth-targeted engagement. Here, Dr Fanny Tittel-Mosser, EUDiF Research and Knowledge Management Officer, picks out the highlights of the first day, 22 June, when we looked at the future of the diaspora-development ecosystem, from a variety of angles.
Day one of the Future Forum shed light on the past, present and future of the diaspora-development ecosystem through seven sessions that brought together over 30 speakers. EU and government officials, academics, diaspora members and practitioners discussed successes and challenges and highlighted new trends in diaspora-engagement from the perspective of partner countries, EU Member States as well as diasporas themselves.
In the opening ceremony, Ralph Genetzke, Director at ICMPD Brussels, reiterated EUDiF’s inclusive position as a facility for diasporas, homelands, EU Member States and other players. Whilst the role of diasporas to advance development goals and build more inclusive and resilient societies has been unanimously recognised, there remains a need to support their activities. 15 comprehensive and forward-looking recommendations generated by diaspora during Diaspora Consultations held over the past 18 months were presented and provided food for thought for future action. Speakers agreed that more interventions were necessary when it comes to building confidence, empowering diasporas, strengthening institutional capacities and policies and – ultimately – creating common spaces of reflection and exchange. At EUDiF, we hope that the Future Forum can be one of these spaces to collectively advance diaspora engagement around the world.
Homeland diaspora policies: measuring & scaling impact
In this session, speakers reiterated that knowing your diaspora is an essential first step to developing impactful diaspora engagement strategies and policies. The discussions revolved around the do’s and don’ts of diaspora engagement policy drafting, the key purpose of which needs to be clearly stated from the start. Oleg Chirita, Head of Global Initiatives at ICMPD, emphasised that to be impactful, policies must be practical, relevant and flexible. Additionally, speakers agreed that in the drafting process, the main mistake to avoid is inadequate consultation, stressing the need to listen to all segments of a diaspora. It is essential to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and diaspora engagement policies need to be carefully adapted to each country’s context and needs; copy and pasting policies from other countries is not a valid solution.
Destination diaspora: Host country support models
This session mirrored the session on homeland diaspora policies and looked into the role played by EU Member States in diaspora engagement. An enabling environment in the country of destination is as important as in the country of origin. We can highlight some similarities when it comes to the essential tenets of successful diaspora engagement on both sides: get to know the diasporas, build trust, learn from failures, be consistent, be patient and set realistic expectations regarding what diaspora can and wish to achieve. Recently many efforts on integration were made in Europe, which is often considered as a prerequisite to development work. An interesting point that came out of the discussion relates to the need for diaspora-related programmes led by countries of destination to be embedded in national and local development frameworks in countries of origin, underlining once more the need to bridge both sides of the diaspora spectrum. Finally, speakers reminded us that there is no one entry point, nor a silver bullet in terms of diaspora support. Herein, coordination and peer-learning between EU Member States play an important role in optimising and accelerating knowledge and practices – something EUDiF encourages during its biannual EU Member States exchanges.
Mapping & profiling – a digital future
The previous sessions have all underlined the importance to know your diaspora. In this session, we looked at how this can be done. Data collection exercises can be challenging and the question of trust is central. Embassies and diaspora organisations can play a key role as gatekeepers in such exercises. It is important to note that no one data set can answer it all and that there is not a single way to know one diaspora. A multitude of methodologies can be used in a complementary manner. Big data, for example, has a huge potential over national data: it has a global coverage, can help highlighting patterns and is richer as it is based on content analysis. However, as Ljubica Nedelkoska, senior research fellow at the Growth Lab at Harvard University, and a research scientist at the Complexity Science Hub Vienna pointed out, it is when big data is complemented with other data from surveys and interviews, which are irreplaceable, that it can be very useful. The most effective ways to learn what is relevant to the diaspora are surveys and interviews because this is when you start having a conversation. Listening to the diaspora is key, therefore, data collection exercises are not sufficient, countries of origin need to open a communication channel with the diaspora and reach out to them. All speakers agreed that the most policy relevant information for governments go beyond mappings or data sets and are linked to the diaspora’s interests and how to involve them.
CDL & DP4D: technical support explainer
The contributions of speakers and attendees throughout the day demonstrated that both diaspora organisations and homeland governments are trying to enhance their engagement, but that they could benefit from additional support, as had come up during our Diaspora Consultations and Regional Thematic meetings. We therefore dedicated a session, to the technical support services available via our Capacity Development Lab and Diaspora Professionals 4 Development, with a presentation from the team and open Q&A. The discussions during session showed that diaspora professionals are eager to connect with public national and local institutions in their country of heritage to provide them with their skills, and initiatives. We look forward to seeing what ideas from day 1 discussions can be put into action in the next round of the CDL and DP4D; the deadline to apply is 16 July.
Voting matters: diaspora parliamentary representation
In diaspora-focused research including our global mapping, we have found that access to greater political rights, such as the right to vote and to be elected, is a key concern for diaspora engagement. These political rights give nationals abroad the possibility to enjoy full citizenship of the country of heritage. Good practices in this regard, come from countries such as Cabo Verde, Tunisia and Senegal. However diaspora representation is not only important in the country of origin, it is also essential in countries of destination. Diversity and representation in political bodies, including at EU level, is critical to building more inclusive societies and particularly important for second and third generation diasporans. However, diaspora representation is not yet widespread and there is still a low level visibility of the diaspora in countries of origin and destination alike. We need to collectively fight such challenges and international organisations, such as the Council of Europe (co-host of the session) and European Parliament, can play an important role in this regard.
Diaspora networks: Hows and whys
The first point to keep in mind, as mentioned by Kingsley Aikins, Founder and CEO of The Networking Institute, is that all networks start from nothing. Therefore, it is important to understand the process of network building. According to the speakers, there are four key steps to keep in mind when creating your network: assess the motivations, understand expectations to avoid disappointment and disillusionment, do not rush – patience is a virtue! – and show your commitment. Kingsley also underlined that diaspora network building is a non-competitive industry; we should proactively share with each other for mutual benefits.
The discussions showed that one of the key issues when it comes to a network’s success or failure, is the way they are able to deal with trust issues. For a network such as ADEPT, two ingredients are key to preserve trust and the unity of its member organisations: the network needs to provide services tailored to the specific needs of its diverse members and it should provide visibility into the work and the projects of the network. Freedanz Ferdinandz, Co-Founder Comdu.it Deutschland and Board Member Comdu.it Global, added that trust building is very context specific but all sides need to make efforts and continuous communication is key. In post-conflict contexts, network building within the diaspora and between the diaspora and local partners hinges on a genuine interest in empowering local partners, cultivating clear, multidirectional communication and enabling local ownership of joint project. While networks can sometimes be challenging to establish and maintain, they can enhance the impact of diaspora individuals and groups as professional development actors.
The first day of the Future Forum was jam-packed and the above is just a taste. We will soon publish a full report of the different sessions from each day, so stay tuned! Until then, you can browse the highlights captured by our graphic recorder in the visual summary, and explore all the EUDiF publications in the library.
Words: Dr Fanny Tittel-Mosser