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New MPI Book Shows Diasporas Play Prominent Role in International Development Policy

Press Release
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New MPI Book Shows Diasporas Play Prominent Role in International Development Policy

WASHINGTON – The impact diasporas have on their countries of origin is hard to measure but impossible to miss: a $25 million diaspora-funded Coca-Cola bottling plant built in Afghanistan, a Somali-American appointed as Somalia’s prime minister and human rights in Vietnam surfacing as a 2010 congressional campaign issue in California.

A new book published by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and produced in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, Diasporas: New Partners in Global Development Policy, finds that immigrants and their descendants occupy an increasingly prominent place in discussions of development policy and the effectiveness of foreign assistance programs. Many diaspora groups take independent action to reduce poverty, improve quality of life and promote sustainable growth in their ancestral countries across the developing world – and because of such work they have garnered growing attention from policymakers.

The volume discusses ways that governments of migrant-sending countries can attract both the talents and resources of emigrants and their descendants, while governments of aid-sending countries can improve the outcomes of development assistance by engaging the talents and expertise of diasporas.

Because practice has developed faster than policy, the book offers a number of strategies and recommendations for both receiving and sending countries to create more effective partnerships with diaspora groups for development, humanitarian, political and economic gain. It answers questions such as: How are diasporas similar to and different from other development actors? Where do the interests and capabilities of diasporas, donor governments and developing countries overlap or contradict each other? And what are the challenges of partnering with diasporas on specific development initiatives?

“For years, most of the thinking about the linkages between migration and development centered almost exclusively on remittances – the money that migrants send home to their families and communities – and sometimes on the ‘brain drain’,” said Kathleen Newland, the book’s editor and director of MPI’s Migrants, Migration and Development Program. “But many policymakers have begun to realize that immigrant communities have much more to contribute to development than their hard-earned money. They also have experience, local knowledge, linguistic skills, personal relationships and, often, a confidence in investment opportunities that others fail to see in their countries of origin.”

“The intangible but extremely valuable benefits of diaspora engagement include the greater integration of the ancestral country into the global economy as well as access to talent concentrations abroad that the home market cannot sustain,” she added.

The book analyzes the development impact of diasporas in six critical areas of engagement:

  • Entrepreneurship: Reviewing how diasporas invest directly in enterprises in their countries of origin, and help to train, mentor, fund and partner with domestic entrepreneurs.
  • Capital markets: Addressing the role of diasporas as creators of and investors in stock and bond markets and investment funds in their countries of origin.
  • “Heritage” tourism and “nostalgia” trade: Examining diasporas as ‘first movers” into markets for new tourism destinations as well as for goods that reflect the ancestral country’s culture.
  • Philanthropy: Looking at diasporas’ role as charitable donors, social innovators and agents of change.
  • Volunteerism: Illustrating a wide range of opportunities through which diasporas help to meet the human capital needs of their countries of origin while solidifying their personal and cultural ties with the homeland.
  • Advocacy: Addressing how diaspora communities influence policy choices both in countries of origin and countries of settlement, based on their skills, unity, commitment and focus.

The book also includes an introductory chapter that identifies common challenges and policy options across all six areas, and presents a strategic road map for governments of origin or destination countries that want to engage diasporas more fully.

The book is based on research supported by USAID and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. With their research supplemented by consultations with a wide array of public officials, private investors, diaspora leaders, scholars and non-profit practitioners from around the world, the authors have produced thoughtful, in-depth analyses and a menu of key policy options.

Review copies are available for reporters, who should contact Michelle Mittelstadt at mmittelstadt@migrationpolicy.org. For national or international purchases of Diasporas: New Partners in Global Development Policy, please click here.

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The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.