What Is Diaspora? (Diaspora Series, Part 1)

Yesterday we launched the first large-scale survey of the economic engagement (investment, philanthropic, volunteer, and remittance activity) of Copts living abroad. In the next week or so, look for a series of posts here based on a white paper I authored with Nermien Riad at the request of His Grace Bishop Bakhomious in 2008 called “Aligning the Diaspora for Development.” Today is Part I of this series. 

 

How Diasporas are Changing the World, and International Development, too.

You hear it so often these days is almost cliché: the world is becoming increasingly globalized and interconnected. But it’s true. The world is becoming so global that even national borders are blurring. India and Mexico today receive between 10-20% of their national income from citizens living abroad. Seeing where the money comes from, both India and Mexico have extended citizenship as far as the fourth and fifth generations after a family is naturalized in other countries. An Indian nowadays is not defined by the place where he or she lives or was born, but by an economic commitment to the Indian homeland.

The power of immigrant “Diasporas” is becoming an increasingly hot topic today in the West as western governments and nonprofit organizations are realizing just how important Diaspora income and influence is becoming for developing nations. The word “diaspora” literally means “those who are scattered” from their homeland throughout the nations of the world.

Diasporas are non-hierarchical and spontaneous. There is no way to plan or control a Diaspora. Diasporas organize themselves organically as enough immigrants gather from many different walks of life. Once they adapt to their new lands and establish themselves and their families in their various trades and professions, they turn to look for ways to make a difference for their homeland. The collective difference that diasporas make in today’s world is profound.

Diaspora: Bigger than U.S. Government Aid

According to the USAID, in 2005 the total U.S. flow to the developing world was $164 billion.  Of that, less than 10% came from the official development assistance. $41 billion went home as “remittances” by members of various immigrant Diasporas. That same year, the World Bank estimated that immigrant remittances around the world totaled $200 billion in all.[1] We saw how much of this India and Mexico are drawing. But countries other than India and Mexico are raking in even more Diaspora dollars. For instance, 25% of the GNP of Lebanon comes from these Diaspora remittances.

The proportion of US government aid in the total amount of money flowing to other countries has gone down dramatically even since 2005, and the proportion of money from the diaspora has increased.  In response, the U.S. Government has taken notice and established an entire department in USAID to monitor Diaspora economic activity and find out how to use this untapped resource with government activities: the Diaspora Network Alliance.” The goal of this new department is to “amplify the development impact of remittances.”

Diaspora And Brain, Business Drain

Diasporas have far more potential to uplift their homeland than simply sending remittances home and are already making a development impact. In India, reports are mounting that brain-drain is beginning to reverse as Indians return and put skills and expertise learned abroad to work. They also serve as go-betweens for potential investors and business partners abroad, becoming “honest brokers who can facilitate trust” between “homegrown multinational enterprises” and actors in other countries.[2]

Diaspora Made U.S. Act Against Old Interests

Another example of how diasporas do things for the homeland besides sending money is from the Armenian Diaspora. In 1915, the Ottoman Empirebegan executing a plan to exterminate the Armenian Christian minority in their land. Armenians were systematically harassed, deprived of their land, and rounded up for death marches. In the wake of the genocide, Armenians scattered throughout the world. Unlike other immigrant groups in the past, the Armenians did not fully integrate into their host cultures. They brought their distinctive faith with them wherever they went, and it bonded them together. They spoke out wherever they went, and formed political advocacy groups to redress the injustice that much of the world had passed over in silence. They succeeded remarkably. By this decade, 22 nations came to recognize the Armenian tragedy as genocide thanks to Armenian Diaspora efforts. Just this past year, these efforts bore further fruit in the Unites States. The US Congress officially recognized the Armenian Genocide in late 2007 over the very vocal opposition of Turkish government representatives in the U.S.. With Turkey as a strong U.S.-ally, the U.S. acted against its purely strategic interests in the world when it listened to the Armenian diaspora and made their plight part of official U.S. policy.

So what exactly defines a diaspora? And how do the Copts fit in? Come back tomorrow to find out!

 


[1] Nonprofit Times,May 15, 2008 p. 14

[2]  “Partnering to Beckon Them Home: Public-Sector Innovation for Diaspora Foreign Investment Promotion” Riddle, Liesl, Brinkerhoff, Jennifer M, and Nielsen, Tjai M; Public Administration and Development, Issue 28, 54-66

About Nathan Hollenbeck

Nathan joined Coptic Orphans in 2006. It was his response to a call to help return Egypt’s hospitality to the Holy Family on behalf of Christ Emmanuel and the Theotokos, after they changed his own life as a youth. He has a passion to fulfill God’s command to “bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17, ESV)