African and Global Diaspora Engagement: Creating a Movement for Impact

January 2016 marked a historic moment within Africa’s dynamic story of growth. From January 29–30, leaders and entrepreneurs from The world has gone through a turbulent time over the past 24 months. This pandemic has exacerbated forces of disconnection and discord that were already chipping away at the foundations of commonality needed to sustain progress toward making our world a fairer place. 

We must not lament this fact, but seize the opportunity to implement a better future across the globe. This will require global and relevant engagement opportunities. Not many of those are available to us! I would like to propose that global diaspora engagement provides one such engagement opportunity and that African diaspora engagement can be primed to emerge as the epicenter of leadership in global diaspora engagement.

Global Diaspora Engagement: Why Now?

The numbers do not necessarily need rehashing here as I am sure many of you are up to speed on them. The increasing number of international migrants (approximately 281 million in UN estimates), the omnipresence of remittances, and the capital that the diaspora contributes to economic development worldwide have resulted in the growing professionalization of the diaspora engagement sector.

Governments are increasingly putting in place strategies or policies to engage diasporas. Researchers and practitioners are incorporating diaspora capital in the Sustainable Development Goals. Other signature global policy frameworks such as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration also convey the developmental impact of diaspora engagement. 

So, here’s the first point of this short post. Let’s not focus too much on the “why now?” of global diaspora engagement! It is clear that diaspora engagement is relevant and timely. 

With that foundation built, the question on the horizon now is ‘so what’? Answering this will take courageous and visionary leadership. Leaders are needed to advocate for the importance of diaspora engagement. When the diaspora is invited to the table, lasting impact is created which benefits not only Africa but the adopted homelands of the diaspora.

African and Global Diaspora Engagement: Answering the “So What” Question

In answering this question, let’s be a little provocative! In assessing where diaspora engagement is and where it should go next, we are forced to ask ourselves some tough questions. Let’s not shy away from these as they help us achieve a behavioural and mindset shift that can contribute to getting global diaspora engagement to where it can legitimately act as one of the global points of connection and relevance noted earlier.

We have a duty now to be in the business of impact. We need to assess whether the frameworks, ideas, and solutions we are bringing to market are fit for purpose. That is not offered as a criticism of the sector but as a challenge for us all to ensure our collective endeavours meet the moment in front of us. The pace of change in the networked 21st century means that these questions can never be too far from our thinking. Failures will happen. That is ok as it means we are embracing risk where real successes can emerge. 

If we truly want to elevate African and global diaspora engagement to be a central conduit of developmental impact, then the road ahead must be one of discovery and experimentation. By adopting such an approach, we can nurture a new generation of leaders and diversify the institutional players acting across the sector. A couple of exciting points amplify the importance of this to African diaspora engagement and global diaspora engagement.

Diasporizing Impact: New Forms of Diaspora Work

Diaspora engagement begins with belonging. Done well, it is all about authenticity. This is a powerful calling card in today’s values-led world. This opens interesting ways to ‘diasporize’ impactful change through new forms of diaspora work. 

For example, the role of the private sector in diaspora engagement can be elevated through reframing how we envision our diaspora work. As companies now begin to face tough challenges in employee engagement/retention – just think of “The Great Resignation” – and in their commitments to stakeholders and not just shareholders in a changing climate, diaspora engagement is a powerful lens through which they can nurture organizational value. 

The increasing commitments on diversity, inclusion, and belonging across the private sector can be greatly enriched by diaspora engagement. A simple starting point in this journey is convincing others that such work is diaspora work. Organizations such as ADN and Omek are leading the way here. Let’s invest in those exemplars to inspire more private sector involvement in diaspora engagement through the fact that successful companies in today’s world and their C-Suites are filled with diaspora stories (and that they need more!). 

Similarly, our ability to ‘diasporize’ other social and political movements is something we must embrace. The road to racial equality and wider agendas for progress all have components that can be enriched by diaspora involvement. Whether it is through advocacy, education, philanthropy, or other forms of support, the road ahead for such movements requires the ingenuity of diasporas. Many are already, in essence, diaspora movements but we rarely hear the term diaspora associated with such movements. We can all help to change that.

My personal passion in this area has come from academic and applied work where I have witnessed the transformative impact of diaspora philanthropy and diaspora diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy. That is where I would like to end this post in terms of the future of African diaspora engagement.

African Diaspora Engagement: Building the Future on Your Terms

It is no coincidence that the current U.S. administration is embracing diaspora diplomacy as a key dynamic of its domestic and foreign policy portfolios. They astutely understand that the ability of diaspora communities to occupy the nuanced space of multiple belongings is a competitive advantage for the future wellbeing of the U.S. at home and abroad. Diaspora diplomacy is a must-have now for any country wanting to build prosperous and participatory communities at home. It is also a must-have if you want to extend global influence through foreign policy in our networked geopolitical landscape. For the relationship between Africa, the African diaspora, and the U.S., this is a remarkable opportunity.

That said, the discovery and experimentalist mindset offered earlier pinpoints diaspora philanthropy as pivotal in being the developer of development for Africa and African diaspora engagement. This further supports the role of traditional diaspora engagement in international development. However, diaspora philanthropy’s greatest duty will be to create new ways of linking the diaspora to leaders on the continent.

One of the most important moves the African diaspora can take is to invest strategically in the development of diaspora engagement and Africa’s well-being. This will require brokers through academia, civil society, foundations, government, industry, and others to nurture trust in the philanthropic process. ADN is living proof of this.In this light, African diaspora philanthropy can be the source for a global movement for impact for the continent. This now comes down to diaspora leadership. With strong leadership, Africa will emerge as the epicenter of excellence in diaspora engagement. What an opportunity that is to have in front of everyone who is passionate about Africa.

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