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Saturday, August 27, 2011

IDEA: the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance

Now this is interesting. According to this article in New America Media, back in May of this year, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, "announced that the state department was adding a fourth “D” to its toolbox of Diplomacy, Development and Defense: Diaspora."

The IDEA (International Diaspora Engagement Alliance) is to harness the untapped potential of diaspora communities and networks to address global issues.  This is, as far as I am concerned, a very positive development.  "Diaspora" is a word with a lot of negative connotations:  loss and exile come to mind immediately.  Conflicted loyalty, unfair competition and refusal to integrate are others.  Some countries are very fearful of migrant populations in their midst that have strong connections to their country of origin and to global networks of fellow emigrants in other destination countries.  Many global conspiracy theories start with diasporas.  

Something about the idea of trans-national migrant groups organizing and forming networks causes nation-states to sweat even when their own countries have produced their own diasporas.  This is particularly true of countries of immigration who like to think of their emigrants as "expatriates" and "long-term adventure tourists," and not as immigrants.

What Clinton is pointing out is that diasporas can actually be useful.  Instead of fighting them or pretending they don't exist perhaps we could pro-actively harness their power to do some good.

What exactly is this "good" diasporas can do?  As a US immigrant to France and a proud member of the American Diaspora, I'll be happy to take that question.  Here is what I came up with in under 30 seconds:

  • Act as ambassadors.  Like it or not, when we are abroad, we represent our country in the eyes of the people we meet. Most of us are painfully aware of this and we genuinely try to do our very best to do our country proud.
  • Be mediators and interpreters. When tensions rise, we can do our best to encourage thoughtful discussions.  Those of us who have lived for long periods in our destination country know a lot about how each side views the other and we can translate between the two to reduce misunderstandings  
  • Create links between the country of origin and the destination country.  Friends, colleagues, business partners and family - these are the connections we make over time and these can be very strong.  No one in my family, on either side of the Atlantic, can be indifferent to the fates of the United States or France - we are bound by marriage and blood.   The circle of caring (interest and empathy) got a lot bigger because of this connection.  We think this is good for us, and good for our countries of origin too.
  • Vote.  Dear Republicans and Democrats, above and beyond the US military, there are millions of potential votes out there that I cannot believe you are not chasing.  In all fairness, we (the Diaspora) need to be a lot more aggressive about exerting our rights.  French emigrants are represented in their Senate, why can't we be represented in ours?
I was disappointed to see that IDEA seems to center around using the diasporas who have members living in the U.S (around 62 million people).  I concede that the American Diaspora's numbers are few (only 5 million) but I don't think it's all about sheer numbers.  It's about organization and influence.  I think we can do better.

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