Engaging Diaspora in Development & Diplomacy: The Power of Public-Private Partnerships

By Katie Wittingen, Marketing and Communications Fellow, International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA)

Diaspora means “to scatter” in Greek, but today we use the term to describe a community of people who live outside their shared country of origin or ancestry but maintain active connections with it. With the rise of globalization, the number of people leaving their home countries to seek education and employment opportunities has skyrocketed. At the same time, their ability to stay connected to their home countries has increased thanks to the ease of modern travel and widespread access to communications technology.

Many diaspora communities are working to improve the economic, political, and social conditions in their home countries and thus share similar goals to many governments, businesses, and NGOs. As a result, there is a growing interest among these institutions and organizations in leveraging the resources of diaspora.

Cross-sector partnerships are an important tactic for addressing the many challenges associated with harnessing the resources of diaspora groups as they allow for the pooling of resources, networks, and expertise. Through the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA), our partnerships with The Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships at U.S. Department of State and the Global Partnerships Team at the U.S. Agency for International Development have amplified our ability to reach diaspora groups in the U.S. and abroad through facilitating networking opportunities, mobilizing resources, implementing projects, and developing capacity.

The power of public-private partnerships to effectively engage diaspora was recently highlighted by the African Diaspora Investment Symposium (ADIS) in Silicon Valley. Held from January 29-30, ADIS was hosted by the African Diaspora Network in partnership with IdEA, our partners at U.S. Department of State and USAID, Homestrings, and numerous other private organizations. The Symposium brought together over 230 global members of the African Diaspora (and friends of Africa) to exchange ideas and strategies for investment and entrepreneurship across the African continent and to promote commitment to action.

Participants engaged in skill-building workshops, including Keys to a Successful Startup and Understanding Angel Investing in Africa. They also participated in panel discussions led by experts on topics like New Channels for Investment; Africa’s growing V.C. community and Tech industry; and The Role of the Diaspora as Catalyst Investors. The Symposium concluded with concrete opportunities for follow-up action based on the learnings of the conference.

The success of the ADIS highlights a few of the key lessons we’ve learned through IdEA’s work over the past three years:

  1. Support organic/local diaspora networks: To effectively leverage the vast resources of diaspora, we must support opportunities for dialogue and collaboration led by experts in the diaspora. ADIS was a success because of the dedication and vision of ADN founder Almaz Negash, whose expertise, relationships and roots within the community led ADIS to be responsive to the needs and desires of the African diaspora.

  2. Build infrastructure: There is a huge need for access to resources, knowledge and training. Diaspora are willing to contribute, but need concrete and accessible channels for investment of time, money and talent.

If you are a diaspora member or work with diaspora groups, we welcome you to connect with us. Our website offers a wealth of free resources, including an interactive Diaspora Map showcasing the work of over 450 diaspora organizations worldwide; a curated resource library of diaspora-related reports, research, and capacity-building tools; and an online mentoring platform connecting experienced business mentors with entrepreneurs in their countries of heritage.

When you apply for a free IdEA membership, you can post your organization and events on our Diaspora Map, publish blogs on our website, and build your network and capacity via access to special events and trainings. We also hope you will join us for the two free webinars we are hosting as part of Global Partnerships Week 2016: Capturing Your Audience through Storytelling today, March 10 at 1PM ET, and Making the Most of Skilled Volunteers tomorrow, March 11 at 1PM ET.

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Katie Wittingen (@katiewittingen) is a Marketing and Communications Fellow at the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA). She is a recent graduate of the Frontier Market Scouts program at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, which trains professionals for careers in social enterprise management and responsible investing.

Cover Photo Credit: Vicki Francis of the Department for International Development