Diaspora engagement has too long been neglected by international development and peacebuilding literature and programming. Policies that empower diaspora members, activists, organizations and networks to invest in home countries beside the remittances can be considered as sustainable development aid.
The international development and peace-building efforts still today largely neglect diaspora engagement, despite the clear indications based on academic research, that the migrant communities from conflict-affected regions play a crucial role both in the economic development of the home countries and territories as well as in the conflict dynamics (see e.g. Maria Koinova). Diaspora activists can both be spoilers of peace processes as well as constructive partners in conflict transformation. Simply they cannot be ignored.
One major change needed in the mind-sets both of international organizations as well as national authorities relates to the diasporas’ role as source of remittances. Many societies could not survive without the constant flow of remittances from family members working abroad to those who have stayed behind. However, encouraging solely money transfers from diaspora will not change the status quo of families living from hand to mouth. Policies should be put in place to encourage diaspora to contribute in other ways, too, that impact directly the economic development of the country. These ways include direct investments in business, donations and CSO funding, the development of the international business connections, as well as the transfer of knowledge and experiences obtained abroad.
Brain gain, instead of brain drain, is a process which can have a major impact on the successful economic and political development of a country. Brain gain does not necessitate physical return. It can be supported by empowering diaspora members, activists, organizations and networks to imagine cooperation with home countries beside the remittances, which promotes transfer of knowledge. Such engagement can range inter alia from advising business start-ups to visiting lectures, CSO support, youth exchanges, sports coaching, as well as political engagement.
I have been doing Balkan related research since my Master’s thesis on Albania and my first field research in Albania in 2001. Since years I have been advocating support to diaspora investments a more sustainable way of development aid, than traditional funding instruments. I have also been analyzing the situation in Kosovo, where important steps have been achieved to rise greater awareness of the potential benefits of engaging diaspora. To my great joy, the Finnish Embassy in Prishtina funded The Diaspora Engagement for Economic Development (DEED) project implemented by UNDP and IOM around 2012-2015. A number of important objectives have been achieved such as a Diaspora Strategy.
State policies are important, but so are the vital efforts of the non-governmental sector, Civil Society actors as well as businesses. Since its establishing in 2015, I have followed the expansion of the Global Albanian Diaspora Business Network, which has offices in Prishtina and in New York and branches in 25 different states around the world. The network supports Albanian owned businesses in host countries to find sustainable ways to enlarge business networks and to invest in Kosovo and the neighboring countries.
Taking into account diaspora’s contributions to the independence process of Kosovo, its contribution through remittances, and now its more structured investment efforts in the home country ensuring sustainable economic development, Albanian diaspora example provides a number of lessons identified and good practices that can serve for improving international and national policies of diaspora engagement.
Currently as a pastime activity I am collecting those good practices of diaspora engagement to provide more accurate and relevant policy advice to authorities in the future – possible in a form of a book. Also I keep a close eye on the findings of the EU Global Diaspora Facility findings, which unfortunately does not cover the Balkans.
In my current project, I hope to engage also diaspora members to support conflict transformation and sustainable development.