ADN Skoll World Forum Ecosystem Event

ADN Virtual Skoll World Forum Ecosystem Event, April 1, 2020

The Role of the African Diaspora to Help Develop the African Economy

Hosted by African Diaspora Network and Skoll Foundation

Featuring Almaz Negash, Founder and Executive Director of African Diaspora Network, and Professor Liesl Riddle, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs and Associate Professor of International Business and International Affairs, The George Washington University
Event Description:

This conversation aims to highlight the role that members of the African diaspora can play in ensuring the revitalization of the African continent. Specific emphasis is placed on members of the diaspora who migrated to the United States from the sixties to today and their role in fostering economic development in Africa. Dialogue on what are the means to harness the intellectual capacity of members of the African diaspora in order to promote economic development?

The underlying assumptions in this question, which will be further discussed, is that Africa is an emerging economy and the diaspora which remits more than $46 billion per year to the continent can play an important role in its emergence. Through participation in the continent’s economic development, the African diaspora can become an influential force both in growing regional economies and in supporting positive social change throughout the continent.



On April 1, African Diaspora Network partnered with the Skoll Foundation to host a virtual meeting convening Africans, Diasporans, and friends of Africa. The Skoll World Forum Ecosystem Event: The Role of Africans in the Diaspora to Help Develop the African Economy, received a record of 120 RSVPs, with about 62 participants in attendance. The session featured Almaz Negash, founder and executive director of African Diaspora Network, and Professor Liesl Riddle, associate dean of graduate programs and associate professor of international business and international affairs at The George Washington University.


The meeting began by welcoming our participants from around the world, who we invited to share their goals and questions for the session. Participants expressed interest in increased connections and insight on Africa’s future, how to leverage the power of diaspora and increase resilience in these uncertain times, and what collective action can be taken by Diasporans to move the economy of the continent. Almaz introduced the work of ADN and provided context on the widespread presence and contributions of the diaspora, particularly via remittances. Professor Liesl Riddle explored the role of diaspora beyond remittances, citing other means of investment including tourism, philanthropy, skills transfer, and direct investment. Both hosts cited the sustainable development goals as essential guides on shaping a development approach to Africa. The conversation concluded with an examination on the role of African governments and the need for meaningful partnerships with government leaders in order for the Diaspora to scale their contributions. Participants had the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the session, some of which included questions on COVID-19, youth unemployment, and internal resistance to investment.

What is one thing you hope to get out of today’s session?
  • Increased connections and insight on Africa’s future
  • I would like to learn more about your vision of how to leverage the power of the diaspora, especially to increase resilience in times like these
  • A unified perception of an action that can be taken collectively by those who are in the U.S. to move the economy of the African continent so that more people benefit from the discoveries of humanity
  • Concrete examples of how the African diaspora are having a positive impact on the continent, especially in relation to investment
  • I hope to be able to pinpoint actionable areas in the African space where diasporans can actively get involved with moving the continent forward
  • Leveraging the Diaspora for trade and investment linkages esp. where initiatives such as AGOA, DFC, etc.can be used
  • Interested in understanding and learning from experiences of diaspora playing from experiences of diaspora playing an important role in similar situations of crisis, and the opportunity to bring socio-economic activities online
Introduction to ADN
  • Response to lack of African representation at the table
  • Belief that people of common backgrounds can work on a common vision
  • ADIS: bringing 300-325 people to Silicon Valley; convening format – connect, talk, etc.
  • Bold idea: bridging together people of all backgrounds, even within the continent and its countries and regions
  • Diaspora: ambassadors of the continent – need to change the narrative of Africa; not a place to give aid, but a place to invest
  • Skoll Foundation: 8 am – 9 :30 am (willing to stay, Almaz available for additional 30 mins)
  • 4.2 Million Black immigrants in the U.S. (Pew Research 2016)
    • Does not count refugee or Africans brought to U.S. through slave trade
  • Tremendous contribution to economy: Education in ratio with other countries, Africans from Diaspora, one of the highest educated groups; many in health care sector
  • Health care workers from South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, immigrate for a better life and opportunity
  • Remittances: Diaspora gives money three times for than Africa gets from aid
  • Example: Liberian immigrants may not be at the highest economic status in the U.S., but are among the most generous givers of remittances to Liberia (25.9% share of GDP)
Role of Diaspora Beyond Remittances
  • Prof. Riddle trying to understand transnational phenomenon; began on the scholarly side (theories of giving to countries of origin); why immigrants and descendants give; switched how to take theories and experiences and apply them in a policy setting
    • Work for USAID, IOM, and various countries of origin to outreach to diaspora communities
  • Movement across borders have different causes and implications, but there are often common outcomes that groups are seeking to achieve
  • Investment Motivation: not just to make money, or to feel good; other reasons: depends on person and context (if it becomes a highly valued activity, social status benefits, political reasons, a mixture of these things)
    • The weight of financial, emotional, social status, political differs per person
  • Psychological drivers shows up in the business forms of that engagement: remittances, portfolio investment, direct investment, philanthropy, skills transfer, tourism
  • Remittances have limitations in terms of long-term development; creates a dependence on those remitting; pressure created
  • Moving beyond remittances: savings accounts in country of origin; access to credit
  • One area undervalued: tourism
    • Homeland tourism: choices of how to spend money has supply chain effects
    • Heritage tourism, have ancillary spillover effects in local economies
    • Diasporans can better leverage the time they spend at home
  • Philanthropy: i.e. directing supporting charities/international NGOs
  • From questions: what are some of the good models that have been created for a portfolio investment
  • How do we find the Diaspora? Directly market to them? Advantage: going beyond remittance services
  • Skills Transfer: All kinds of opportunities for Diaspora for engage: i.e. GIMPA: combines local talent that needs and wants an executive MBA program w/ Diasporan professors; half online, half face-to-face MBA program; recruited Diasporans with expertise
  • Philanthropy: i.e. Coptic Orphans: Virginia-based, focus on raising financial capital and honing human capital to help minority community in Egypt until tertiary education
  • Direct Investment: i.e. Boston Day Spa, Ethiopian founder: was a refugee in the U.S., learned all about salon services, dream to go back and create a spa
    • Began by going to a village where there was no employment; offered employment opportunities in exchange for building creation
Sustainable Development Goals
  • Previously, migrants painted as needing help bc of SDGs; however, there are actors in positions to have more agency and play a leading role in guiding all of us to have a more sustainable development approach on the Continent and around the world
  • Need government interaction at some level to help unlock the power of the Diaspora and allow them to be able to bring in new enterprises in supply chains, healthcare services, etc. etc.
The Role of African Governments
  • For Diaspora to really scale up remittances, there has to be a meaningful partnership with the government of Africa
    • Each country is different and operates differently; very critical to engage
  • Last 13-14 years, many African countries have started to create a diaspora engagement officer or cabinet level positions within government (i.e. Ethiopian, Nigeria, Ghana)
    • Ghanaian interested in all Diasporans, coming home campaign (contemporary and historical diaspora)
  • Challenge for the Diaspora is trust
  • Governments can create a conducive space to partner, share skills
  • Investment denotes that you are getting something in return: when we invest, can we get a return on investment — not mostly about money, but is what I invest helping my community to thrive?