By Dr Hemant R Ojha
The value of remittance from diaspora is already three times higher than international development aid from the developed countries. Yet, diaspora still remains outside the domain of international development cooperation. Some even argue that diaspora are side-lined development agents.
It is now time to link the two and harness the combined power to remove deprivation and injustices in the developing world. But the question that emerges is: why isn’t there enough attempt to link these two domains?
My attention to diaspora
Let me share what made me think about this question this time.
The Australasian Aid Conference in February this year was a platform that triggered this thought in my mind. The conference exposed me to the actors, mindsets, networks, and the business operation sides of the Australasian landscape.
When I attended dozens of panels and plenaries – on topics ranging from civil society, program management, evaluation, gender, to engaging with emerging economies – I always looked for moments when people could talk about the link between diaspora and development cooperation. But I never came across this.
At last, I decided to raise the point myself. In one of the panels which I thought was closely associated with the topic of diaspora, I made a comment, “In addition to inter-state interactions and financial flows, perhaps we need to recognise the enormous growth of diasporic communities and the resources and commitments they bring to the development of the countries of their origin.” An Australian government official who was among the panel members responded, “Yes, diaspora is important element in our international development cooperation. If you look at the Foreign Policy White Paper, you will find some explanation of how that could happen.”
This prompted me to read the White Paper carefully (and to be honest, I had not reviewed that carefully until that time).
Australia: The 2017 White Paper
The federal government of Australia has clearly foregrounded the White Paper, whose premise is that we are living “more interconnected and interdependent than at any other time.” It stipulates various foundations for success which include: democratic institutions, strong and consistently growing economy, Australian values supporting freedoms, dynamic commercial sector, and recognising Australia’s location in one of the most important and dynamic regions of the world.
Although not listed as one of the ‘foundations from success’, the White Paper does recognise diasporas as foreign policy partners. The White Paper states, “The Government will continue to work closely with a broad range of partners to advance our security and prosperity”, and diasporas are explicitly identified as one category of partners. In the box below, I have reproduced excerpts on diaspora from the White Paper.
|Australia’s recognition of Diaspora in international development cooperation
These communities often have the connections, language skills and cultural understanding to assist Australia to deepen ties with other countries. They help to facilitate trade and investment, including by sharing information on overseas markets and customs. Diaspora communities can also influence how Australia is perceived internationally. Our diaspora communities often contribute to developing countries through remittances. They also have the knowledge and networks to help improve our understanding of development and humanitarian issues in other countries. The Government is committed to working with diaspora communities to promote Australia’s image and reputation, to encourage trade and investment and, where appropriate, to support our development assistance program.
Source: The white paper 2017, p 109
The continuing disconnect
The Australian White Paper recognizes diasporas as contributing remittance as well as knowledge to their countries of origin. This is an important but still a basic level of recognition – we need to develop fuller understanding of the nuances of diasporic engagement and contributions. The lack of understanding and appreciation of the entire spectrum of diasporic engagement is perhaps the reason why it does not get fully recognised in the policy framework of almost all the developed countries.
Let me present a story I have seen in Nepal on the state of disconnect between government led cooperation and the diaspora engagement. There is still a tendency to see Nepal as a poor country requiring foreign aid for basic services like primary education and healthcare.
I haven’t come across any discussions, in Nepal or Australia, on how Australian aid, diasporic investment, and educational exports to Nepal are interlinked, or at least how the three flows could be harmonized for better development cooperation impact. The official aid from Australia to Nepal in 2017-18 is estimated as 31.9 million. In the same period, Nepalese students in Australia are likely to bring about $ 1 billion to Australian economy, according to an estimate by a Sydney based data scientist Shree Napit. No wonder a single but prominent Nepalese Australian is investing more than $100 million in various projects in Nepal. And on to of these, there are numerous smaller investments made on projects related to hydropower, education, agriculture, film industry, real state, constriction industry, and the likes.
On the humanitarian side, the Non-Resident Nepalese Association (NRNA) is rebuilding homes for earthquake affected families in the epicenter district of Gorkha. The transfer of knowledge and technology is also on the rise, partly due to some organised efforts made by NRNA. The second-generation Nepalese diaspora in Australia have increased their frequencies of travel back to their country, thus contributing to the tourism industry of Nepal.
Yet, the gravity and significance of these diasporic contributions continue to go unnoticed inter-state cooperation between Australia and Nepal.
Embracing the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’, the SDGs have for the first time acknowledged the contributions of the diaspora in achieving the universally agreed goals of international development by 2030.
IOM, the UN migration agency in an attempt to foster the culture of learning and critical inquiry along with the sharing of the best practices has launched an online platform called ‘IDiaspora Forum”. Read the full news here.
The migration data portal in the official site of the IOM calls stresses on the need of reliable and timely data. To read more about this. Click Here
The International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA) has launched a Sustainable diaspora goals challenge to foster diaspora driven partnerships in achieving the ambitious SDGs by 2030.The IdEA challenge aims to smoothen the process of technology transfer in realizing these goals. Read more on this here.
The case of Nepalese diaspora in Australia is just an example. Remittance to families and close relatives has been a major contribution to development across the developing world. A World Bank study shows that migrant remittances to Africa exceeded US$40 billion in 2010, improving lives in many African countries. A United Nations source says that $575 billion in global remittances transferred by international migrants to their families in 20163 – of which $429 billion were remitted to developing countries – are one of the most tangible economic contributions to achieve sustainable development goals in their country of origin. The Somali community in Australia, for example, remits approximately $10 million to Somalia each year, supporting more than 40% of Somali families for the purchase of basics such as food, and education and healthcare services3. Some countries like Israel and India have issued diaspora bonds to raise investment capital. These bonds rest on the continuing psychological affinity of the diaspora to their homeland. A study of African diaspora association in Denmark revealed a number of development activities conducted in Africa (as shown in the figure below). Recognising diaspora’s contributions, some developed countries have made attempts to link these community efforts with official development cooperation. In 2007/2008, Norway assisted Pakistani diaspora to support their communities in Pakistan. However, it was revealed that a small diaspora was found to limit further achievements in socio-economic development. But in many situations, diaspora size has grown sufficiently to make significant impact.
Improving the diaspora role in development cooperation
If the diaspora is making such diverse and complementary contributions to their countries of origin which are often in the developing world, why not pay attention to exploring the possibility of synergy and cooperation between official development assistance and such community led initiatives? A new configuration of cooperation – involving the government, industry and the community with the diaspora being a critical link between them – is crucial to enhance the development impact on developing countries and accentuate trade and other forms exchanges in the age of globalisation.
Ranging from the challenges of poverty reduction to reconstruction and development of the country of origin, the diaspora has an important role to play in attaining the ambitious SDGs. The expertise and network of this community needs to be leveraged for realizing the goals of international development. By providing alternative platforms for innovative contributions to the country of origin , the diaspora can offer unconventional development solutions to reconstruct the aid based economy.
Notes:  Harnessing Diaspora Resources for Africa, Sonia Plaza and Dilip Ratha, P1, in the book “Diaspora for Development in Africa”  African Diaspora Associations in Denmark: A Study of Their Development Activities and Potentials Lars Ove Trans and Ida Marie Vammen, p 132