Dublin to host new Diaspora Institute

    A view of Samuel Beckett Bridge in Ireland’s capital, Dublin. The city will be the home of a new Diaspora Institute. Photo by: Juergen Jauth / CC BY-NC-ND

    A new Diaspora Institute to help bridge the worlds of research, policy and practitioners on migration issues will soon be set up in Dublin, Devex learned at the recent Global Diaspora and Development Forum held in the Irish capital.

    Martin Russell, an associate director with Diaspora Matters who will be the director of the institute, said that while the concept was in its early stages, the still tentatively named Diaspora Institute will “develop a range of projects and products designed to engage the multiple actors in diaspora engagement.”

    It will “act as a key knowledge resource by functioning as an independent think tank along with supplying a detailed knowledge hub on all things diaspora — from academic work and media publications to policy reports and practitioner toolkits. It is being established to link and bridge the worlds of research, policy and practitioners for the advancement of evidence-based and coherent policy-practice in diaspora engagement,” Russell told Devex.

    The institute is now establishing a membership network base and developing a series of partners and chapters throughout the world to be active on diaspora initiatives. Founding collaborators include Diaspora Matters and the UCD Clinton Institute. The long-term aim is to have Dublin recognized as the world's leading center for diaspora knowledge, research and training.

    “We want the institute to become the world's ‘one-stop shop’ for diaspora knowledge,” Russell said.

    The announcement came at the end of two days of intense discussion informed by incisive presentations and revealing personal testimony, where Kingsley Aikins of Diaspora Matters set the tone when he noted in his speech: “We live in a world where a hyphen in your nationality is normal.”

    Remittances

    Jimmy Deenihan, Irish minister of state at the Department of Foreign Affairs with special responsibility for the diaspora, focused on remittances during his presentation.

    “The World Bank estimates that the global value of remittances could reach $680 billion by 2016, with a significant proportion of this going to developing countries. In fact, figures from 2013 show that remittances to developing countries were three times higher than total [official development assistance],” he said. “It goes without saying that, from a development perspective, the economic impact of remittances must be factored by governments and the business sector.”

    One challenge that we face, Deenihan pointed out, is to make the cost of sending remittances less onerous for diaspora communities. Costs are coming down, but sub-Saharan Africa remains the most expensive region in the world to send money to — and “this is something that Ireland, the European Union and the international community as a whole is determined to address.”

    The stand on remittances was echoed by other speakers, notably Ugandan social change activist Teddy Ruge, founder of money transfer platform remit.ug.

    Why, he asked, is Africa the most expensive continent to send remittances to?

    Social media

    Social media was another key theme, with Ruge asserting that it was “providing a new space for all Africans to belong” and helping to “kickback the single narrative of the continent.”

    “Everybody else was writing about us but we can now write about ourselves,” he said, adding that the diaspora is key to development in Africa. “It’s not about doing good, it’s about doing it right. And that can only be done by listening to the diaspora.”

    Semhar Araia subscribes very strongly to that concept. The founder and executive director of the Diaspora African Women’s Network believes that social media has opened up the diaspora networks. One of the major challenges, though, is that there is 54 countries and 54 different ways of looking at the world. What applies for West Africa may not apply for other parts of the continent.

    Araia, born in the United States to Eritrean parents, said that despite the “dramatic migrations and growth of the global African diaspora, limited opportunities exist for the diaspora to effectively shape and contribute to Africa’s development.”

    It was her mission, she said, to develop and support the next generation of African diaspora women leaders by creating opportunities for its members — and helping them to help their home countries.

    To advance discussion about research and policy in this field, the Global Diaspora and Development Forum was held in Dublin from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1. The forum brought together international policymakers, scholars and a diverse range of diaspora actors and representatives to address global examples of diaspora engagement, explore fresh trends and share best practices, provide opportunities to develop strategic collaborations, and act as a pivotal forum for moving beyond phases of dialogue to action-oriented platforms for diaspora engagement in the post-2015 agenda.

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    About the author

    • Joe Breen

      Joe Breen is a Dublin-based freelance journalist and media lecturer. He was formerly a senior journalist at the Irish Times. He has lectured in journalism at Dublin City University and University College Dublin. He has also worked as a consultant in Azerbaijan for BBC Media Action.