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Mark Marich

Diasporans are natural bridges between cultures and systems, but their diplomatic and developmental potential remains largely untapped. Last week in Washington DC, the U.S. Department of State, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Kauffman Foundation and Univision Networks hosted Unleashing IdEA, a Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) event to develop ideas for harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of diaspora communities.

The International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA) is a partnership platform, launched by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the first-ever Global Diaspora Forum last May, to enable collaboration between diaspora communities, the private sector, and public institutions to promote trade and investment, volunteerism, philanthropy, diplomacy, entrepreneurship, and innovation in countries of origin.  

One of IdEA’s five pillars or core modes of diaspora engagement is “diaspreneuership”, which is based on supporting diaspora entrepreneurs in investing and building enterprises as well as stimulating trade in countries of origin. A report by the Migration Policy Institute argued that diaspora entrepreneurs often are motivated to contribute to job creation and economic growth in their native lands, but that many developing countries have met only limited success in attracting diaspora investors and entrepreneurs, so there is a lot of work to be done in this field. 

Speakers at today’s event included Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the IDB, Cesar Conde, president of Univision Networks, Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, Elizabeth Littlefield, president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and senior State Department officials. Panels looked at lessons learned from initiatives to engage and support diaspora entrepreneurs and investors in various regional contexts, and highlighted how aspiring entrepreneurs can access transnational resources.

The panel “Collaborative Advantage: How Diaspora Entrepreneurs Are Creating Connections for Shared Prosperity” was especially interesting for those intereseted in the policy side of entrepreneurship. The moderator, Philip Auerswald, senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation and Associate Professor at the George Mason University School of Public Policy, generated a very interesting discussion among the panelists. Among them were different perspectives. 

Speaking from a gender perspective was Semhar Araia, Founder & Executive Director of the Diaspora Africa Women’s Network (DAWN), who stressed that diaspora engagement should look beyond remittances, to how to better prepare diaspora entrepreneurs and investors to better manage the challenges on the ground. 

As with all matters in entrepreneurship, there are a lot of models to look at. For example, Kalsoom Lakhani,Founder of Changing Up Pakistan, explained the many challenges of handling risk in diaspora engagement for Pakistan. The ecosystem there is so new and volatile that entrepreneurial diasporans need support to leverage their networks on the ground. But despite the challenges to the growth in the flow of diasporans´ expertise and capital to their country of origin, this trend is “just the beinning,” according to Lakhani. 

Bill Barhydt, president and CEO at m-Via, Inc. could not agree more. His company has been trying to find ways of propagating new forms of mobile banking. He is part of the Diaspora 2.0 movement, which foster innovative communication and information technologies such as mobile banking and diaspora social networks to enhance and deepen engagement.

While the moderator and panelist all agreed that diaspreneurship is only a part of the answer, it should no longer be ignored. Diasporans hold the potential to build bridges between nascent and more advanced entrepreneurial ecosystems.   


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