The diaspora, an essential ally in building bridges

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Across borders and cultures: The unique impact of the diaspora

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work in various regions of the world. Communicating with people from diverse cultures is often a challenge, and always an opportunity for growth. In my experience, this approach has often been facilitated thanks to the diaspora.

I will show you two real examples from my work, although without giving names for confidentiality reasons. In the first, I collaborated on a project to foster societal change in a country. In the second, an organization asked me to prepare a report for another country’s society on the benefits of their new regional policies.

In both cases, involving citizens of these countries in my work, even before travelling to the country, was beneficial. Not only to identify the most effective methods to approach communication but also to understand their needs.

But contact with the diaspora is not only useful at a professional level. Cultural diversity in our personal environment also promotes mutual understanding and a more inclusive social contract.

Migration and the diaspora represent much more than the simple movement of people from one place to another. These communities, maintaining connections with their homelands, integrate into another culture while helping that society understand theirs in their new homes. And this role of all these people who have had to move from their homeland for whatever reason is subtle but essential in diplomacy and public relations, even though they are not invited actors at the negotiation tables.

Their influence extends beyond borders, creating bridges between cultures and nations, transforming societies, economies, and policies.

Migration and diaspora: Definitions and dimensions

Migration, a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, refers to the movement of people driven by a variety of factors, including conflicts, search for opportunities, or environmental changes. The diaspora, however, represents a deeper and more nuanced concept. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the diaspora includes migrants or descendants of migrants whose identity and sense of belonging have been influenced by their migration experience. These communities, often formed by both voluntary and forced migrations, maintain a collective memory and a sense of group that persists over time.

In recent decades, there has been a growing recognition of the vital role diasporas play in global development. Many countries have initiated programmes to strengthen ties with their diaspora communities, recognising their capacity to improve social, economic, and cultural links between their countries of origin and destination. These policies range from consular services to specific programmes in areas such as health, education, and the economy.

The involvement of diasporas in the development of their countries of origin is diverse, extending from the passive reception of information to active participation in development initiatives. Beyond remittances, diasporas foster a variety of relationships that contribute to sustainable development.

Unofficial ambassadors

Diasporas act as cultural ambassadors, influencing perceptions and policies between their countries of origin and residence. In today’s social landscape, where globalization and interdependence are increasingly prominent, their role is fundamental to understanding and navigating the complex environment of global communication and public diplomacy.

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Diaspora and bilateral diplomacy: A vital link

Influence in bilateral diplomacy

Diasporas are key actors in bilateral diplomacy. Through their unique experiences and perspectives, they contribute significantly to strengthening relations between countries. A notable example is the Indian diaspora in the United States.

According to a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, this community maintains a deep connection with India, influencing policies and perceptions in both the U.S. and India. The survey reveals how Indian Americans view their homeland and their role in international diplomacy, highlighting their support for strengthening the relationship between Washington and New Delhi.

This role of diasporas in bilateral diplomacy is underlined in works like ‘The Public Relations Handbook’ by Alison Theaker, where the need to recognise the diverse needs of these communities in all public relations programmes is emphasised. Moreover, ‘The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacyhighlights the importance of diasporas in bilateral diplomacy, especially when they share nationality with the diplomat’s country of origin. These cultural links serve as valuable tools for strengthening bilateral ties.

Challenges and opportunities

  • Challenges: Xenophobia and racism

Despite their potential in enriching bilateral relations and public diplomacy, diasporas face significant challenges that can hinder their effectiveness and well-being. Xenophobia and racism are persistent issues affecting these communities globally.

  1. Personal and community impact. Xenophobia and racism can have a devastating impact at both personal and community levels. Individuals from the diaspora often find themselves in situations where they face discrimination and prejudice, leading to social and economic exclusion. This discrimination affects not only their quality of life but can also limit their ability to fully participate in the host society.
  2. Effects on diplomatic relations. These issues are not just matters of human rights but also have direct implications for diplomatic relations. Xenophobia and racism can hinder international cooperation efforts and damage a country’s image on the global stage. Racial tensions and discrimination can provoke diplomatic conflicts, especially when diaspora citizens are the target of discriminatory policies or acts of violence.
  3. Challenges in integration and cooperation. Xenophobia and racism also represent significant obstacles to the effective integration of diaspora communities. These challenges can prevent diasporas from acting as effective bridges between cultures and nations, limiting their ability to contribute to mutual understanding and international cooperation.
  4. The need for inclusive policies. To overcome these challenges, it is essential for governments and international organizations to implement policies that promote inclusion and respect for diversity. This includes combating xenophobia and racism through education, legislation, and the promotion of positive intercultural dialogue.

 

  • Opportunities in international relations

Beyond the challenges they face, diasporas present unique opportunities in the field of international relations and public diplomacy. These communities can play vital roles in promoting cultural understanding, international cooperation, and strengthening a country’s image abroad.

  1. Promoting cultural understanding and cooperation. Diasporas can act as cultural bridges, facilitating understanding and mutual respect between different nations and cultures. By sharing their experiences and cultural knowledge, diasporas can help demystify stereotypes and promote a more nuanced and empathetic view of their countries of origin and host.
  2. Contribution to Soft Power and national image. Diasporas can also significantly contribute to a country’s soft power. By showcasing positive aspects of their culture and values in their countries of residence, they can enhance the perception and reputation of their nations of origin. This is particularly relevant in a world where image and perception play a crucial role in international relations.
  3. Lobbying and advocacy in international policies. Diaspora communities can exert influence on policy-making in both their countries of origin and residence. Through lobbying and advocacy activities, they can promote policies that benefit both nations, fostering bilateral cooperation and mutual understanding.
  4. Innovation and economic development. Diasporas often include highly skilled individuals with international experience, which can be a valuable resource for innovation and economic development. Their knowledge and skills can be crucial in creating new business opportunities and collaboration, as well as in the transfer of knowledge and technologies between countries.
  5. Promotion of peace and conflict resolution. In situations of international conflicts, diasporas can play a significant role in promoting peace and conflict resolution. Their unique understanding of the cultures and contexts involved allows them to act as effective mediators and advocates for peaceful solutions.
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Case study: EUDiF and its strategies for positive engagement

Fostering the active participation of the diaspora is crucial for leveraging their potential in building stronger and more effective international relations. Initiatives like the EU Global Diaspora Facility (EUDiF) represent a significant shift towards a more inclusive approach to development.

EU Global Diaspora Facility: A paradigm of inclusion

The EUDiF is an initiative of the European Union that aims to systematize and enhance the participation of the diaspora in global development. This project focuses on strengthening the capacity of diasporas to contribute to development in their countries of origin and residence.

Key features of the EUDiF

  • Connection and collaboration: The EUDiF facilitates the connection between diasporas, governments, and international organizations, creating a platform for collaboration and knowledge exchange.
  • Training and empowerment: It offers training and resources to empower diaspora members, enabling them to play a more active and effective role in decision-making and development.
  • Projects and programmes: It implements specific projects that leverage the unique skills and experiences of the diaspora, addressing issues such as entrepreneurship, education, and health.

 

Examples of EUDiF’s impact

A notable example of EUDiF’s work is its project in the Philippines, where it collaborated with the Filipino diaspora to develop vocational training and education programs. This project not only benefits Filipinos abroad but also contributes to skill and knowledge development in the Philippines.

Another example is the collaboration with the African diaspora in Europe to support health initiatives in several African countries. These projects have helped improve healthcare services in vulnerable communities and strengthened ties between Europe and Africa.

Conclusion

The diaspora teaches us a valuable lesson: in the diversity of our stories and experiences, we find bridges to deeper understanding and more effective communication. These communities have the capacity to foster more inclusive and resonant dialogue while allowing us to enrich our perspective and step out of our comfort zone through new cultures.

In my communication, I seek respect and recognition for diversity when sharing knowledge, fostering initiatives, and/or creating links.

Join the conversation

Your voice and experiences are essential to enriching this dialogue. Do you have any personal stories related to the diaspora or ideas on how we can improve the integration and impact of these communities in diplomacy and public relations?

I invite you to respond here; I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

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