While flying Air France recently, I flipped through their in-flight magazine and came upon this figure: “$300 billion: The amount of money sent by émigrés all over the world back to their country of origin every year – triple the amount of development aid.”
That is an astonishing amount of money. And according to a World Bank memo, it falls short. The actual amount of remittances sent in 2012 is over $400 billion! These astounding figures illustrate a recent trend in increasing attention paid to the role of diaspora in their home country’s development.
For example, a recent report Divided Diasporas: Southern Africans in Canada argues that migration is, or could be, good for international development, as few migrants cut their ties back home. Moreover, the authors argue for diaspora engagement in terms of “triple-win” – activities which benefit the sending country, the receiving country, and for the migrant and her family. This is a positive approach to immigration in a country where 80% of new migrants come from developing countries.
Just south of the border, Hillary Clinton has started up the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance in 2011. Its aim is promote five activities among diaspora groups around the world: entrepreneurship, volunteerism, philanthropy, social innovation, and diplomacy. Although still heavily dominated by American groups, the organization looks to promote diaspora involvement in international development worldwide.
Despite this recent attention, diasporas’ contributions to their home countries is nothing new. Immigrants have long been sending remittances and other goods, managing businesses in their home countries, assisting in removing their family and friends from unsafe environments, and traveling back and forth regularly. They also, of course, serve as international ambassadors to educate their new neighbors.
All of this has got me thinking: how can diaspora populations develop higher education directly?
The first thing that comes to mind is scholarships (it is my mind, after all), for either national or international higher education. Diaspora scholarship funding typically goes directly to families or through programs like the Educate Lanka Foundation, which enables students to access the free education in Sri Lanka. While many of these efforts are aimed at primary and secondary education, there are a few exceptions. One is the Haitian Education and Leadership Program based in New York City.
A second way diaspora communities contribute to higher education is through émigré researchers examining problems and situations in their native countries. This must be quite common, as I can think of numerous examples of University of Minnesota academics who are engaged in such activities. However, I can’t help but wonder how much of their work gets into hands of the thinkers and decision-makers in the country of origin.
A final way diaspora academics give back is through teaching higher education courses in the home country. I have read a report of African academics in the UK who noted a high level of commitment to contributing to their home countries; they were very interested returning for short stays to teach, but they did not want to return permanently. I don’t know any émigré academics who do this, and I’d be interested to hear about successful examples.
With the rise in technology, virtual teaching and online courses led by diaspora professors are also a possibility. I’ll leave you with one cool example in Zimbabwe. A team of émigré academics have come together to support the University of Zimbabwe’s College of Health Sciences, which is struggling with a lack of teaching staff as the higher education system suffers under the weight of Zimbabwe’s political and economic problems. Through a partnership with King’s College London and other universities, lectures are being streamed simultaneously into Zimbabwe, at no cost to the latter institution or its students. Cool, right? More information about this project is available here.