Migration and Development: Can Diaspora contribute to the effective development of the country of origin?

Andrew Milner

Andrew Milner

Fondazioni4Africa – Migration and Development: Can Diaspora contribute to the effective development of the country of origin?

The answer to this, decided the panel of six presenters, is yes, with some caveats. However, they took such a long time to say to say so and did it in such a roundabout way, that a combined presentation and discussion session that was scheduled to end at 5.30 was still in presentation mode at 5.45. By the time the last presenter had said his last word, there was neither the time nor the energy to embark on an open discussion.

At the core of the session was an exploration of the work of Fondazioni4Africa, a collaboration of four Italian banking foundations. As Aichatoo Sarr President of one the Italian Sengalese migrant associations involved in the project, Fondazioni4Africa is an unusual collaboration between the foundations (Cariplo, Cariparma, Compagnia di San Paola and Monte dei Peschi di Siena), NGOs and a number of migrant associations. The donors work with and through the migrant associations in a number of areas of Senegal and Northern Uganda on specific sectors of development – fruit production, animal husbandry, fishing, responsible tourism and microfinance.  Through the associations, the foundations get better, more reliable access to beneficiary communities, while the migrant associations, on their side, often benefit from access to resources and learn project and organisational management skills. There are challenges, she admitted: the associations and their home communities often lack the skills required for certain projects. There are often tensions in the relations between the implementing partners, and between the migrant associations and the beneficiary communities and available resources are seldom proportionate to the size of the task.  Massively positive, however, was the fact that Fondazioni4Africa had recognised the key potential role of the diaspora in development and the need for trust in them and their associations as partners.

Philippe Darmuzey of the EC’s DG for Development argued that the question should not be whether the diaspora could contribute to development – it was clear that they did – but how they could do so to best effect. He suggested a number of steps: the formalization of a diaspora summit which had taken place in Africa last year; the establishment through the medium of the EU and African Union of an institution to study remittances in Africa under AU auspices which would collate and produce information, analysis, policy advice and training on what was an important but not fully understood area; and the launch of a new action plan at the joint EU/AU summit in Tripoli in November this year to deal specifically with diaspora-related matters.

Aida Balamaci of the joint EC/UNDP programme Migration for Development and El Hadji Ka of the French Senegalese Migrant Association followed with presentations of their own organisations’ work. All the presenters had good things to say but nearly all of them fell into the temptation of saying too much about what they were doing and not enough to advance a discussion. An honourable exception to the general, excessive prolixity was TrustAfrica’s Akwasi Aidoo. He spoke intelligently and briefly, offering three challenges and three responses. The challenges, he said, were to find out what works; scale – most diaspora initiative were important but remained small-scale; and to find organizations – this was where Africa was often weak. As to responses, he suggested the need to pilot projects at community level – find out if it works by doing it; find ways of delivering organisational ‘punch’ – getting African organisations to move under their own steam; and push for changes at policy level which was crucial to answer the question of scale. He also warned donors against what he called ‘projectitis’. A bunch of trees, he said, didn’t make forest. What was needed were ecosystems of mutually supporting and sustaining initiatives.

Overall, concluded the session, members of the diaspora can and do make an important contribution to the development of their home countries, forming a bridge between their host countries and communities in their home countries, and channelling resources and expertise to those communities.  At a time when public opinion in many European countries is at best ambivalent towards migration, diaspora initiatives can help to give a positive face to the phenomenon.

So far, so good. The trouble with the session was that there was far too much presentation and not enough discussion. By the time the presentations had finished, not only had the session overrun, but roughly half the audience had left. The energy had drained out of the room and only one point was made from the floor – though it was a good one. Jean-Jacques Schul of IDAY, a European organisation which works, largely through the African diaspora, on access to education for African youth, cautioned diaspora associations against a kind of neo-colonial approach and thus making the same mistakes that European donors had done – don’t, he said, go in and assume you know what needs to be done. Try to do what they’re doing, he said, and ask how you can help.

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2 responses to “Migration and Development: Can Diaspora contribute to the effective development of the country of origin?

  1. I’ve been reading the Alliance Foundation Week blog and feel that I must be at a different meeting than a number of the bloggers. I realize that we are all passionate proponents of the causes and issues we hold dear and in that regard there is never enough coverage at a conference targeted on what we care about. But, there are so many interests to serve that some balance needs to be put in place. So the lament that the global financial crisis is not getting enough attention seems a bit self-serving. Also, the notion that there is little open debate doesn’t square with the dynamics in the sessions I’ve been at. Finally, that it took too long to get to the point of what a complex partnership is all about is a bit ironic. We all know that partnerships take time and patience to build. Certainly one can be patient about the time it takes panelists to explain the partnership. Let’s restrict the blog to the important and not the trivial complaining.

  2. I have to take issue with my very dear friend Barry on a few points. We have invited a group of people from different parts of the world to blog with us. What we are particularly hoping for is diverse perspectives on European philanthropy. And it seems to me entirely natural that people will come with expectations that major global issues will be covered. In his first blog post, Steve Gunderson expresses a hope that he will find out how European philanthropy is responding to the current debt crisis in Europe. I don’t know whether his expectations will be met or not, but it seems to me reasonable to have them and to express them.

    As regards the ‘trivial complaining’ about a session taking two hours to get through the presentation and leaving no time for questions, I didn’t go to the session in question so can’t comment, but as someone who’s been to more conferences than anyone should have been to (though probably fewer than Barry!), I think what should be inspiring topics are too often badly let down by overlong presentations and poor session structures.

    Most of our blog comments so far seem to me to be pretty positive, and rightly so, but the value of the positive is completely undermined if there is no room for constructive criticism and suggestions.

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