IF immigration policy is a politcal tinderbox that could be set off by a small terrorist spark, then let’s refocus and talk about emigration policy. Needless to say that this new strategic focus, particularly as it relates to the role of diaspora communities in nation building and transnational business networking, is already an important consideration in a growing number of countries.
As the business environment becomes more globalized and interconnected, there is already an increasing reliance on diaspora engagement policies and networks for economic opportunities and foreign partnerships.
The dividend potential of “diaspora capital” is huge and promising, particularly as diaspora communities acquire new skills and technologies in their host countries, and often acquire middle-class status through hard work.
Not only should the diaspora be seen as a source of finance through remittances, financial transfers and diaspora bonds, but also critically as true development partners who help transfer technology and skills back to the homeland.
Alexander Dixon of the Alpen Institute observes: “One exciting opportunity to mobilize private resources for local economies is through the burgeoning diaspora investing market. Global remittances — transfers of money from individuals in a foreign country to their home communities — represent $414 billion in capital flow to the developing world, and are projected to rise to $534 billion by 2015. Diaspora communities from India, the Philippines, and Mexico alone represent $120 billion in remittances.”
Just as critical is the need for diaspora networks to serve as a potent economic force for re-engaging disconnected citizens and driving national change. Thus, engagement with the Saint Lucian diaspora offers strategic advantage in multiple areas. Given the growing magnitude of international migration, there is now both an opportunity and a need to fully utilize the skills, experiences, insights and connections of Saint Lucians abroad to foster economic growth, reduce poverty and increase trade.
Increasingly, the economic and foreign policies of several developed and developing nations reflect the rise of truly transnational populations, and many of these governments have made pandering to their diaspora communities a foreign policy priority. Canada openly boasts of adopting a full-on diaspora-driven foreign policy shaped out of a combination of its interest and values, and its attentiveness to the sensitivities of the country’s diverse and sundry ethnic and immigrant communities.
What is more, Canada has a special government unit that deals exclusively with the business and corporate diasporas — a form of a sub-ministry committed to sourcing talent and equipping both nationals and ex-nationals abroad with the collaborative tools necessary to sell the country and attract investors.
Having lived and worked abroad myself, I have no doubt that diaspora communities are in a good position to influence people’s perception and image of a country. Furthermore, through global diasporal conferences and diplomatic missions abroad, we can reach out to our people who have migrated and empower them to sell our consumer and investment products “wheresoever they may roam”.
Since the attainment of Independence in 1979, thousands of our compatriots have migrated to the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Appreciably through the years, they would have acquired the appropriate mindset, skill-set and tool-set; established links and developed an understanding of the internal dynamics of these developed nations.
The engagement of the diaspora has the potential to reverse the brain drain by facilitating knowledge sharing and technology. Importantly, the opportunity presents itself where the idea of the brain drain is transformed into a kind of brain circulation or brain exchange sustained through information and communications technology. We can even think of this approach as the new “foreign exchange”.
At the launch of the Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit, which coincided with the Hillary Clinton Global Diaspora Forum in 2011, Kingsley Aikins of the Diaspora Forum provided the following invaluable advice to governments: “There is growing awareness now that there is such a concept as ‘diaspora capital’ to go alongside financial, human and social capital. Countries are coming to the realization that this is a resource to be researched, cultivated, solicited and stewarded. Many see this as a way of addressing tough domestic economic challenges and as a key piece of their economic recovery. They also see it as more than just economic remittances as there are also social remittances in the form of ideas, values, beliefs and practices.”
To consider the diaspora as a national asset is certainly not a new phenomenon, and countries such as Israel, India, Ireland and China have led the field for some time. Even the continent of Africa has launched creative business ventures engineered by its ever active Diaspora Marketplace Initiative. We can take a leaf from the book of the African diasporas since they are at the forefront of economic reform and change on the continent, and are one of the most active communities of citizens outside of their countries.
Owing to their great success stories in attracting strategic partnerships, entrepreneurial ventures and foreign direct investment, a host of different institutions and African nations are calling them on more and more, particularly in the effort to foster human development in Africa. Additionally, through the important efforts of the diasporas, the continent has acknowledged the critical role of remittances in economic development and has taken steps to reduce the cost of remittance transfers.
Research confirms that diasporas themselves invest back home and spread money, too. Migrants into rich countries not only send cash to their families; they also help companies in their host country operate in their home country. In some cases, they may be instrumental in identifying investors for their countries. For instance, a lot of foreign direct investment in China still passes through the Chinese diaspora, and modern communications make these networks an even more powerful tool of business and economic development.
For comments, write to Clementsoulage@hotmail.de. Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.