On June 18 -19, I attended the Diaspora Ministerial Conference on the theme “Diasporas and Development: Bridging between Societies and States” organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Geneva. The conference was the first of its kind to serve as an international platform for diaspora ministries and representatives to discuss the role and contribution of diaspora in development policy. The event brought together some 55 high level government officials from 115 countries with about 500 participants in total. The event has therefore sent a clear signal of governments’ interest in increasing collaboration with diaspora communities to capitalize on their potential for development.
The impetus for convening a conference that would specifically focus on diasporas came as the result of the interest generated during the discussions at the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), the 2006 UN High-Level Dialogue, as well as a growing recognition by the governments and international community at large of the important, and often underutilized, contribution of diasporas to economic growth, poverty reduction, and trade. And it comes as no surprise given the growing magnitude of international migration, with some countries like Sierra Leone anecdotally equating diaspora to the fifth region of the country. But the main reason for convening such a conference stems from the fact that since 2001 a growing number of developing countries have established ministry- and sub-ministry level diaspora institutions for their (ex-) nationals abroad, yet they have not had an opportunity to share their experiences at a high-level forum.1
There were four sessions exploring linkages between diasporas and societies, states, development, and crises. The diaspora and development segment was the most extensive one and generated lively discussion among participants.
Some of the main takeaways from the event include the following:
- Diasporas are viewed as important agents of economic and social development in countries of origin, but governments often lack knowledge or capacity of engaging them effectively at scale;
- The enabling environment in both countries of origin and destination is essential to maximize the benefits of migration;
- Strategic partnerships between states, international organizations, civil society and private sector are important to create a framework for diaspora engagement to facilitate transfer of resources and know-how sharing.
- Acknowledgement of the critical role of remittances in economic development and broad support for reducing the cost of remittance transfers;
- Proper incentives and guarantees must be created by governments to attract financial (capital) non-financial (i.e. skills and expertise) diaspora resources;
- Communication and strategic outreach are central to effective implementation of programs and policies for diaspora engagement;
- Recurrent request from policymakers for an effective mechanism to share best practices, such as a global database with up-to-date information on diaspora policies and programs and relevant evaluation guidelines;
- Recognition of diaspora’s role in crisis situations, specifically their role in supporting post-crisis recovery processes.
- Wide recognition of a need to apply human rights approach to migration.
IOM has hoped that the conference will help strengthen collaboration between countries, improve cross-fertilization of ideas and practices and help foster esprit de corps among diaspora ministers. And the seeds have indeed been planted in fertile soil, setting the pace for the upcoming UN High Level Dialogue scheduled to take place in New York in October. Now is the time to “engage, enable, and empower” governments to deliver on their good intentions.
1IOM and Migration Policy Institute have found that some 400 institutions in 56 countries directly engage diasporas through various programs and policies, of which 77 have been created specifically to engage diasporas on a formal basis. International Organization for Migration/Migration Policy Institute, Developing a Road Map for Engaging Diasporas in Development: A Handbook for Policy‐makers and Practitioners in Home and Host Countries (2012).