Facebook and Twitter have revolutionized global communication over the past decade, but there is a case to be made that diaspora communities are the original social networks.
An estimated 240 million people around the world live outside their country of birth. The ties that bind those emigrant groups can run strong and deep, making the positions they adopt and the messages they promote easily disseminated and potentially powerful.
While diaspora communities are often seen as benefactors of global development — for example, emigrant groups, often in more prosperous Western countries, who remit capital and innovations back to their native lands — there is also value in the networks that diaspora communities form in their adopted homes. It is value that is potentially worth investing in.
Social entrepreneurs who are part of diaspora communities have picked up on this opportunity and formed businesses that leverage the power of these networks. Like any social enterprise, they are creative and driven by a desire to pursue social good. And among crowded fields of start-up enterprises, they have a unique angle to pitch to potential partners, clients or investors.
To get a sense of how social innovators use the diaspora hook to pitch their businesses, Devex Impact caught up with a few business leaders at the recent Diaspora for Development forum hosted by the U.S. Agency for International Development. We asked them how they get diaspora communities to appeal to potential partners in unique ways from other start-up businesses.
1. Transitioning from diaspora to mainstream needs new language
Pitching to the mainstream could require a slight tweak in terminology. Even though the business model hinges on the concept of diaspora communities, the term “diaspora” itself can come off as a bit abstract, said Laila Alawa, founder of The Tempest, a social media website. “Diverse is generally more palatable,” she told Devex Impact. “When you think diverse it’s an easier definition than diaspora, because [diaspora] comes with a lot of baggage. Same thing with underrepresented,” she added.
The site that Alawa runs publishes news stories and social media content from contributors — mainly millennial women — of diverse, underrepresented or diaspora community backgrounds. “The social impact component is developing these voices and perspective that otherwise are not being heard,” she said.
Promoting the diversity of the site’s readership to clients is a powerful tool, Alawa noted, and content contributions, website profiles, site hits and story shares can quantify the appeal of that diversity. “Clients are really interested in what we are doing because we can specifically pinpoint diverse and diaspora groups within our readership,” she noted.
2. Diasporas can help products or brands go global
Diaspora groups can have just the right appeal for products, brands or businesses that are looking to go more global.
“We are looking at very specific investors that are looking at niche media platforms and investing in that,” said Ryan Letada, chief executive of Next Day Better, another social media platform. The platform specifically targets the Filipino diaspora around the world — a population of around 10 million — by sharing information about a range of social initiatives and encouraging them to take action.
The site, for example, partnered with international relief agency Médecins Sans Frontières on an advocacy campaign that urged large pharmaceutical companies to lower the price they charge for pneumonia vaccines in developing countries. The Filipino diaspora contributes an estimated 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product through foreign remittances, with doctors and nurses being among the top positions held by Filipinos overseas.
In turn, the audience-specific engagement that sites such as Next Day Better conducts can appeal strongly to global brands, according to Letada. In a way, the audience has already assembled, and the marketing tool is practically in place. Letada noted that companies such as Jollibee, a giant in the Filipino food industry, have expressed interest in partnering with platforms such as Next Day Better as a way to spread their brand overseas.
“We are a platform for emerging markets,” Letada noted. “A lot of brands typically don’t know how to have a conversation with and engage diaspora communities.”
3. Diaspora communities are a valuable and connected target market
Marketing to many diaspora communities is likely to produce healthy returns because of the social profile of their populations, another entrepreneur noted. Diaspora communities — perhaps by the nature of their experiences moving to new environments — have creative and innovative skills that can translate into stable incomes and livelihoods.
“We are one of the most highly educated immigrant populations in the U.S.,” said Tseday Alehegn, founder and editor-in-chief of Tadias Magazine, which tailors to the Ethiopian-American community. “If you want to advertise, it’s a viable opportunity that is usually missed because we are not featured in mainstream media so much — you are targeting a wealthy, highly educated community,” she noted.
The networking effect among any consumer base, including diaspora communities, is now much more visible through statistical computations of social networks and website traffic. “We’ve growth hacked [our business] and found that every writer or contributor that shares an article has a network effect of 685 people,” said Alawa, referring to new models to diagnose marketing and outreach.
“A lot of people think you have to create the value for investors to see it,” Alawa added. “But if [you] present the data, there are a number of studies that show just how much consumer potential these diverse individuals have. Some brands are not able to reach them — that’s how we specifically market ourselves.”
Naki is a reporter for Devex Impact based in Washington, D.C., where he covers the intersection of business and international development. Prior to Devex he was a Latin America reporter for Energy Intelligence covering corporate investments and political risks in the region’s energy sector. His previous assignments abroad have posted him throughout Europe, South America and Australia.
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