Diana and Gia interview
April 23, 2024
What the EU Year of Skills has meant to EUDiF

As the EU Year of Skills comes to a close, alumni network member Maria Regina (“Gia”) Tongson speaks to EUDiF’s resident Capacity Development Specialist, Diana Hincu about diaspora skills as a driver of development.

GT: Diana, thanks a lot for joining me today to talk about skills. The EU Year of Skills seeks to help people get the right skills for quality jobs and to help address market skill shortages. What was the significance of the EU Year of Skills for EUDiF’s capacity development work? 

DH: Skills and capacity development go hand in hand. Everything that deals with human capital, which evolves so rapidly, is very captivating to me. I worked for a long time as an expert on capacity development, and I was always very curious to witness how people transfer their skills, what motivates them to do so, how they feel about it after, and why and how diaspora and migrants often seek to reconnect with their country or region of heritage through skills transfer.

At EUDiF, we are really firm believers in harnessing the power of diaspora talent and resources. When we talk about diaspora human capital, it’s not just about skills. There is also access to networks, social connections, and their experiences. We are also strong advocates of lifelong learning – this concept is very relevant to the migration process and to diaspora engagement because this enables diaspora communities to adapt, acquire new skills and know-how, and tackle new challenges. 

The EU Year of Skills promotes lifelong learning and invites people and companies to innovate for the green transition and digitalisation. These are growth areas for diaspora to contribute their know-how, for instance through EUDiF’s mechanisms for diaspora skills transfer and capacity development, and we have had great success with diaspora-projects supporting green action, such as in the Philippines and Mexico. This Year of Skills has been an occasion for us to look back on how diaspora skills have supported development, including how EUDiF has facilitated this and how we can improve.

So the EU Year of Skills was an excellent opportunity for you to reflect on EUDiF’s purpose, work and achievements in terms of skills. I know you also do this as part of monitoring activities, with the sustainability of an intervention in mind at all times. You recently went on a mission to Moldova for this purpose. Could you tell me more about it, and share some initial insights about what you’ve learned so far about post-action sustainability?

Through our operational mechanisms at EUDiF, we have involved around 60 diaspora professionals to share their knowledge and skills in different sectors. In our action in Moldova, we even went beyond that because we not only offered space for them to share their skills in the education sector, but we also helped the Bureau of Relations with Diaspora (BRD) develop their very own short-term diaspora skills transfer mechanisms. While Moldova has advanced a lot in terms of diaspora skills transfer, it was still sporadic engagement. We helped them pilot a model that was more structured, which we called the Diaspora Co-Working Hub. When we created and piloted it, the Hub gathered 100 academia members from the diaspora who wanted to share their skills in the field of higher education.

In the context of the EU Year of Skills, the EU delegation in Moldova lauded the Diaspora Co-Working Hub as a model with significant impact and great potential for replicability. And it is true – our visit in February provided first hand insight into the hub’s functionality, which was gratifying to observe. Nearly half of the diaspora members of the hub met online in February to discuss concrete assignments. One assignment involves bolstering research excellence in collaboration with German universities in Leipzig, while another entails inviting a few Moldovan professionals to serve as guest lecturers at Ion Creangă Pedagogical University in Chișinău to introduce new teaching methods. 

I was so happy to witness such tangible results. The EU delegation also said that while EUDiF as a project is small in scale, it is quite big in terms of impact. Moldova is now taking the model we developed in the higher education sector and applying it in other sectors. As replicability and sustainability are closely linked, we are thrilled to see the skills share model growing.

It’s extremely inspiring to hear about the impact in Moldova and how sustainable the action is. What do you think are the main enabling factors that contributed to the sustainability of the action?

What enabled the scheme’s success in Moldova was, of course, the high commitment of the diaspora and the fact that there was a sense of co-ownership. But in addition to this, they also did a mapping that identified the diaspora’s skills, profiles and motivations, as well as sectoral needs. Afterwards, they matched the two together. When you do a very clear profiling and use a good methodology for it, you can understand what skills are out there and what your sectoral needs are, and then put in place a very tailor-made and long-term scheme. 

This is just one of the many lessons we have learned and compiled in a series of “Learning by doing” dossiers, one of which is specifically on short-term diaspora skills transfer schemes, such as the one we did in Moldova. The dossier offers very practical steps to consider when you want to scope a diaspora skills transfer mechanism, where to start, and what elements to consider. 

I’ve personally read that thematic dossier and I do think there’s a lot to learn from EUDiF skills transfer work. Thinking ahead, how do you think diaspora skills transfer could be innovated? What are you most excited about for the future of diaspora skills transfer?

Diaspora skills transfer schemes are not new, they have been around since the 1970s. They started out as a one-way scheme, where experts would give their skills and knowledge then that would be it. But recently they have evolved to focus on creating a mutually beneficial partnership, where experts can also learn something in return. Thinking about skills transfer as a partnership in which the diaspora can gain something as well can make it a longer-term and more sustainable journey.

If we want to innovate these schemes further and make them more effective, we have to include one thing which has been largely ignored so far: soft skills. Soft skills are crucial to ensuring effective diaspora skills transfer because you need a lot of empathy and sensitivity when it comes to the transfer of knowledge. It’s one thing to have hard skills and technical knowledge about a certain topic, and another thing to have the soft skills needed to effectively transfer that knowledge. It’s a cross cultural exchange, with people coming from different contexts or environments, and sometimes you can even face resistance. When you map skills and consider soft skills in the conceptualisation of a scheme, then you can create a very friendly and agile environment.

Now that the EU Year of Skill is coming to an end, something new and exciting is on the horizon: What can we expect in terms of skills transfer in the second phase of EUDiF?

We have learned so many lessons from the first phase, and we are reflecting on these whilst designing the second. One of the biggest challenges we have observed from the governments we worked with is monitoring. It’s very important that once you close a scheme or programme, you monitor and evaluate the impact. The monitoring and evaluation of such schemes is missing in many instances. 

What we did in EUDiF was to constantly offer feedback loops, such as through interviews with partners and participants. For the next phase, we are making sure that we systematically conduct monitoring and evaluation activities. We are also continuing peer exchanges between governments and stakeholders who would like to pilot similar schemes. We want to further leverage diaspora human capital, so we will have mechanisms which will offer diaspora knowledge transfer, either at the individual or diaspora organisation level.

Phase II will also be more of a celebration of diaspora knowledge transfer. When you are in the pilot phase, you are trying to understand what is working and what isn’t. But now that we already know that there is a high rate of success with these schemes, there is so much to replicate and celebrate. Personally, that is what I am looking forward to.

Thank you Diana, this little café chat has been an absolute delight! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for EUDiF’s next phase!

The European Year of Skills closing event will take place on 30 April in Brussels and online. For more information, visit the official event page here.

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