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Diaspora Matters

Diaspora Strategy: Role of Government

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ZBIN continues with Diaspora Strategy coverage.  Information covered on this website is helpful to countries in Southern Africa such as Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

We have already covered the importance of a Diaspora Strategy, the advantages that a country derives from having a strategy in place, how to engage the Diaspora and the various Diaspora Networks that exist. Today we look closely at the role of governments in the Diaspora Strategy Implementation. Should a government actively play a role in the implementation or they should just facilitate?


Successive Irish Governments have built a multi-layered relationship with the global Irish community, one that has marked us out as a role model for many other countries. The Government and the global Irish community have in the past worked closely together on issues such as the peace process in Northern Ireland and the rewards of such cooperation have been considerable. Now is the time to shape a more strategic relationship which will bring benefits both to Ireland and to our global community and which has a more developed economic focus. Our global Irish community constitutes one of the most powerful and far-reaching resources at our disposal and, using our worldwide network of Embassies and Consulates, we have identified some of the most successful individuals from that global community.’ Former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin TD April 2009, following his convening of the Global Irish Economic Forum in September 2009

The above statement captures the simultaneous simplicities and complexities associated with pursuing diaspora strategies. With these in mind, the precise role a government should play in a diaspora context can be highly contested. Given the plurality of approaches adopted by different countries, it is difficult to prescribe any single coherent policy program that a government might adopt in shaping its diaspora strategy. However, there is broad consensus that the role is usually located somewhere between two approaches. On the one hand, a government can adopt an implementer role. This locates the government as a central force in creating and accomplishing the strategy. On the other hand, a government can also adopt a facilitator role, encouraging and developing multi-layered networks with diaspora members and groups. Looking at the various countries, ‘government involvement tends to vary along a continuum from minimal involvement to heavy involvement. Most commentators feel that government’s role should be as facilitator rather than implementer and that government has an important role in giving its blessing, support and, in some cases, finance to diaspora initiatives. The most obvious issue here is establishing why this remains the dominant perspective.

Facilitator rather than implementer: why?

Diaspora engagement Diaspora strategies, like most other forms of engagement, are fundamentally based on networks. Given the volume of diaspora networks co-existing in terms of engagement with the home country, the optimum situation is for governments to create conditions conducive to the existence of a variety of organizations, facilitate collaboration and cooperation between the networks and home situations, provide access to the diaspora for dialogue with government representatives, and fast track promising ideas and/or work in partnership with private sector initiatives. Governments need to be aware that successful diaspora engagement is heavily reliant on dynamic and innovative individuals and organizations at home and abroad. It may be more difficult for a government to merge these objectives through an implementer role. If a government decides to adopt an implementer role then the engagement emphasis is shifted to the government in creating and sustaining suitable networks or policies. Meanwhile, a facilitator role is in itself a form of network. The government is drawn into a more consistent, coherent and communicable engagement with the diaspora. As such, the diaspora is given much more ‘face time’ with the government within the strategy. Therefore, the strategy obtains a larger capacity-building mechanism that works favourably in terms of the realisations and aims indicated above. This, if correctly utilised, can contribute to a growth of mutual trust and understanding between government and diaspora. Such strategies, in a practical sense, ‘do not need to be over-determined and can be quite light in conception and application, and are best thought of as an overarching framework for providing a level of coherence to the range of concrete diaspora policies devised and implemented by a variety of public, private, and voluntary agencies.’

Agency and sustainability One of the most obvious benefits a government can draw from a facilitator role is that of increased agency within the diaspora strategy. This approach encourages more relationships and engagements, which in turn can be used to provide a greater sustainability for the strategy. In this context, the public, private, and voluntary sectors are more systematically engaged, multiplying the central interlocutors in the strategy. Meanwhile, an implementer role reduces such agency and this can be problematic. In essence, a facilitating role places a larger emphasis on sustainability than an implementer role by diversifying agency and producing greater transparency. This can help to encourage and develop a mutual trust and understanding between government and diaspora.

Agency and sustainability One of the most obvious benefits a government can draw from a facilitator role is that of increased agency within the diaspora strategy. This approach encourages more relationships and engagements, which in turn can be used to provide a greater sustainability for the strategy. In this context, the public, private, and voluntary sectors are more systematically engaged, multiplying the central interlocutors in the strategy. Meanwhile, an implementer role reduces such agency and this can be problematic. In essence, a facilitating role places a larger emphasis on sustainability than an implementer role by diversifying agency and producing greater transparency. This can help to encourage and develop a mutual trust and understanding between government and diaspora.

Credit: Diaspora Toolkit

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