Much has been written about the migration from Africa and the Diaspora’s remittance. However, very little has been done to organize and leverage the Diaspora’s social and financial capital inputs to their full potential. In fact, the African Diaspora is as fragmented as the continent itself, if not more so.

However, despite our global separation, we should not be looking at this as a deterrent to development. Actually, it is an untapped resource: the varied locales in which we find ourselves provideindustry-specific, best-in-class knowledge and hands-on experience. The sheer breadth of our professions makes us a virtually untapped pool of talent. So why aren’t we being put to better use? What are obstacles preventing the Diaspora from realizing its full potential as a tranformational force?

There are three major reasons why we are not engaged in development projects beyond mere remittances. By “mere,” I do not mean to belittle the estimated $40 billion in annual remittances we send to Africa. However, I do believe that $40 billion dollars can have a far greater effect on development if it were structured differently. While there are many reasons for this lack of coordination there are three specific obstacles I wish to highlight which explain, in part, why the diaspora is not more involved in greater numbers and on bigger projects beyond remittances and personal wealth accumulation.

LACK OF GOVERNMENT VISION
The first reason is quite easy to grasp. The unfortunate reality is that if you mention Africa and government in the same sentence, that very same sentence is likely to end with the “blind, corrupt, grossly inept, criminal.” The truth is that many African governments do not have policies in place to attract or support Diaspora-led development efforts. Very few African governments grasp the full potential offered by their own Diaspora populations. Institutional grid-lock and corruption also block Diaspora engagement. In fact, it is the one area of African development where I can lump all of Africa’s countries into one category. Very few countries are actively seeking and organizing the Diaspora.

Rwanda, for one, has pulled out all the stops in an all-out effort to streamline its institutional processes. It has figuratively rolled out the welcome mat and opened up an office catering specifically to the needs of its Diaspora. There are rumors that the Ugandan government is slowly beginning to court the Diaspora. Somaliland has an extensive and very active Diaspora population in Europe and Eastern United States.

LACK OF ADEQUATE DIASPORA FUNDING OPTIONS
Additionally, outside of the their own personal capital reserves, it is hard for the Diaspora to access investment capital sized appropriately to their projects. Most of the projects that the Diaspora engage in require less than $1,000,000. Often, these projects demand as little as $100,000; a micro-micro loan by global financing standards.

However, the World Bank generally seems averse to small-scale projects, limiting Diaspora potential. Furthermore, if there are grant & loan facilities available to handle small amounts, the requirements to apply for these funds make the whole process irrelevant.

Take for example the newly launched Diaspora Market Place, a joint venture between Western Union and USAID. In order to be a funding candidate, they require that you already have matching capital on hand. Which begs the question, if I already have that capital, why do I need you? We need a better financing environment specifically targeted at these projects and an investment climate that will attract more diaspora-led projects. Financing institutions should build investment vehicles fashioned after successful micro-finance model such as Gramin and Kiva to both foster collaboration and reduce risk to the financiers.

ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL
Finally, as a diaspora, we need to start organizing our efforts. If a financing model were built to cator to the needs of the diaspora, it would foster organization and reduce duplication of efforts. We need to organize our projects, share best-practices, and build a cohesive voice. The Internet has reduced the globe to a village. Communication is instantenous, mobilizing is as easy as a click of a mouse. We need a place to converge, converse, and share our successes. There is strength in numbers, and a centralized meeting place would create an echo chamber that would galvanize a stronger movement. Social media tools are easing the process of discoverability. We are starting to see regional organization of the Diaspora. Naijaborn is one such example, a social media portal for the Nigerian diaspora. Facebook is becoming the de facto tool for organizing the diaspora around a cause or raising funds. Twitter is the digital water cooler where everyone has a voice and is able to broadcast their ideas and get immediate feedback.

There are many more reasons why we don’t engage, but the ones listed above offer us the best chance for greater engagement. Addressing government policy, designing targeted financing vehicles that address our project needs, and finding a way to organize our efforts, are the three biggest obstacles to a more engaged diaspora.

What are some other ways we can engage better with Africa’s development?

UPDATE:

Oh dear! How could  I have overlooked this one. Africa Rural Connect (ARC), as my dear colleague points out in the comments, IS in fact, a great starting point in terms organizing diaspora projects. It allows discoverability and subsequent collaboration. Look for  more on ARC at Africa Gathering later this month.

  1. Great post. I was thinking about this today after reading an article about the Government of Zambia's frustration that their investment into scholarships and higher education for its nationals have largely been wasted due to the qualified opting out of Zambia and heading to developed markets. Frustrating indeed but, in many ways the Zambian government is as much to blame as the scholars.

    My thoughts broadly centred around several of the issues you raise here. First of all, my starting point is that the brain drain from Africa is not a good thing. It may be understandable, and the reasons complicated, but it cannot be positioned as being good for Africa. If we accept that it has happened and that it continues to happen then the focus should be on making the best out of the situation.

    Your post looks at just that. The starting point has to be, as you say, the governments of Africa. There is the broad sense stability, corruption, structures, spending and priorities and then the specific policies. These include policies that encourage private investment, entrepreneurial growth, communication, support, employment laws etc. Governments need to recognise that the private sector offers greater potential for state revenue through taxes, enterprise, export revenues etc than aid. Aid and inflows need to be invested in the private sector to ensure long term sustainable development verse spent only on state structures.

    The Diaspora bring more than remittances, they bring knowledge, experience, new skills, a global perspective and the same drive that lead them to seek their fortune in the developed world in the first place. However they also bring with them expectations of reward, efficiency and fairness. You only need to watch what happened to the Meikles group (a huge company with duel listings on the London and Zimbabwe stock exchange whose assets were seized by the Zimbabwe government) in Zimbabwe, and look at what happened to the private property rights of farmers in that same country, to be nervous of success in Africa.

    To your last point Teddy, new media and real-time communication do and will help bring us together, particularly those outside the limited connection options within parts of Africa. This will bring faster change and connect the right people together faster than ever before. It can only help to bring relevant projects together. The downside is, the opportunity cost of short term needs, i.e. sibling education, family accommodation, food, vs investing for future gains within a volatile and uncertain environment.

    Great post on a difficult subject.

    • Great comment Mr. Munn,
      I think some our governments really lack clear foresight and prefer to “eat today” and worry about tomorrow when it gets here. And yeah it's really frustrating watching and KNOWING that clearly things could function better.

      Also, you are right, how we invest that $40 billion does have a trade off. We'll have to balance the immediate needs with the needs of a better future. We have to imagine that diverting funds for a greater purpose will lay a much better foundation for everyone, setting in motion the growth of sustainable home-grown solutions and institutions that no longer need diaspora investment. That, would be an idea situation… but alas, we need visionary leadership to pave that highway.

  2. Teddy,
    The needs that you state above regarding a place for members of the African Diaspora to collaborate, receive funding, and exposure for projects is found at http://www.AfricaRuralConnect.org.

    Already we are hearing success stories about individuals and small start-ups being contacted by larger organizations and other people interested in learning more about ideas and investing in projects.

    The site continues to grow and people from over 60 countries are actively engaged, tapping into the great resources of everyone who has lived in Africa.

    I encourage people to check it out, post an idea, add to an idea, and keep the conversations going. Thus far it’s had an impact and will continue to do as more interested, passionate individuals get involved!

    Best,
    Molly

  3. Teddy,
    The needs that you state above regarding a place for members of the African Diaspora to collaborate, receive funding, and exposure for projects is found at http://www.AfricaRuralConnect.org.

    Already we are hearing success stories about individuals and small start-ups being contacted by larger organizations and other people interested in learning more about ideas and investing in projects.

    The site continues to grow and people from over 60 countries are actively engaged, tapping into the great resources of everyone who has lived in Africa.

    I encourage people to check it out, post an idea, add to an idea, and keep the conversations going. Thus far it's had an impact and will continue to do as more interested, passionate individuals get involved!

    Best,
    Molly

  4. Great points Teddy. My question has always been that, how can we in the diaspora be a champion to policy changes. Personally, I tend to think that we in the diaspora are indirectly supporting the lavish lifestyles of the corrupt leaders in Africa, that is why they keep encouraging us to send the money. The diaspora work day and night to provide for their families. That relieves the burden from the government and as long as these families are been provided for , they will not put pressure on their elected leaders to do their job!! The question then becomes, what if the diaspora of a certain country organized themselves well enough to not send any remittances for a certain period of time until some policy changes are implemented??

    • An interesting suggestion! And I think that kind of clout takes organizing the diaspora in such a way that we have a cohesive voice, command presence enough to dictate the direction of economic, social, and political development.

      I would much rather have africa enslaved to diaspora remittances instead of aid organizations who have no exit strategy. At least we'd have a vested interest in demanding concrete results!

    • That cannot work in Africa. Africans are by nature so family conscious. They are so attached to their fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. This dates back to pre-colonial days. With or without a governments in place, Africans in the diaspora will not stop sending money to their families back home. In fact, most of these people sending money home are not rich. But they share the little that they earn with their families because they consider them to be an integral part of their lives. Yes, they can agree to stop send remittances as a group, but they will continue sending them privately. For instance, someone will receive a message that his dad is ill and needs to go for an operation. His son in the diaspora will surely send him the money so that he gets the best medical attention, not so?

      Maybe the best way for the diaspora to champion policy changes would by investing in governance issues and civic education of the masses especially in the rural areas. The people that get our remittances back home are the very people that vote. If they vote for the right people, it will be easy to change policies. And some of the returning Africans must also consider taking up a political career. It will be easy to champion policy changes from within the system. For instance, the Malawian president and several top cabinet ministers have been in the diaspora for many years. Since 2004, the economy is growing by 7.4%. Policy changes are easy to implement. As I write, they are setting up a database of Malawian professionals in the diaspora.

  5. Teddy,

    Thanks for writing yet another great article! This one is of particular importance as it strikes a note in the hearts of all African's in the Diaspora. What note does it strike in your heart?

    My apologies for this somewhat lengthy comment and for including the excerpt from the economist.

    Some other reasons that prevent us from being more engaged with the development of our home Africa include:

    FEAR we are afraid of so many things. Each one of us has our own fears; like the fear of failure, that our ideas may be rejected, that we will not be able to work with the systems in place at home, of dealing with corrupt officials… I'm sure you could all to this list.

    LEGAL REFORM like the following brief article from the economist "The law poor" points out. Poor property rights do not encourage people to invest as they do not know if they will be able to make full use of their investments. It talks about the four "pillars of legal empowerment"— property rights, access to justice and the rule of law, labour rights and business rights.

    Also see Hernando de Soto's comments in the Munk Debate


    The rule of law starts with property, property rights. We need to have strong individual property rights. Indigenous Africans need to have rights to their own land. We are faced with a global food shortage and are running out of land to cultivate! The last vestiges of land are in Africa – if we do not have strong property rights for our own indigenous people for our land we could end up loosing it to the Chinese, it will be taken over by large corporations.

    To view the whole Munk debate on Foreign Aid go to http://www.munkdebates.com/
    With Dambisa Moyo, Hernando de Soto, Stephen Lewis and Paul Collier

    http://www.economist.com/finance/PrinterFriendly….

    Legal reform and development

    The law poor
    Jun 5th 2008 | NEW YORK
    From The Economist print edition

    A new report says that legal empowerment can help end poverty

    TWO in every three people on the planet—some 4 billion in total—are "excluded from the rule of law." In many cases, this begins with the lack of official recognition of their birth: around 40% of the developing world's five-year-old children are not registered as even existing.

    Later, people will find that the home they live in, the land they farm, or the business that they start, is not protected by legally enforceable property rights. Even in the rare cases when they can afford to go to court, the service is poor. India, for example, has only 11 judges for every 1m people.

    These alarming statistics are contained in a report from a commission on the legal empowerment of the poor, released on June 3rd at the United Nations. It argues that not only are such statistics evidence of grave injustice, they also reflect one of the main reasons why so much of humanity remains mired in poverty. Because they are outside the rule of law, the vast majority of poor people are obliged to work (if they work at all) in the informal economy, which is less productive than the formal, legal part of the economy.

    The commission was born out of the theories of Hernando de Soto, a Peruvian economist whose books, "The Other Path" and "The Mystery of Capital", proved unexpected best-sellers—albeit controversial ones. For a long time there was such disagreement among the commission's members—ranging from Ernesto Zedillo, a former Mexican president; and Lawrence Summers, a former American treasury secretary; to Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human-rights activist and winner of the Nobel Peace prize; and Anthony Kennedy, a justice on America's Supreme Court—that it seemed they would be incapable of producing an agreement.

    Perhaps reflecting the need for compromise, the report takes a much broader view of legal empowerment than Mr de Soto's focus on property rights. These are just one of four "pillars of legal empowerment"—the others are access to justice and the rule of law, labour rights and business rights (which make it easier for poor people to start, own and pass on businesses).

    Unfortunately, the report does not attempt to rank its recommendations—again, the desire for consensus may have got in the way. Nor does it suggest how to measure the progress towards legal empowerment. However, both Kemal Dervis, the head of the UN Development Programme, and Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, are enthusiastic about legal empowerment, so the report is likely to be taken further. Madeleine Albright, a former American Secretary of State, who chaired the commission with Mr de Soto, says she hopes that legal empowerment will now become part of policymaking jargon, much as "sustainable development" did after it first appeared in a similar report three decades ago.

  6. A great blog Teddy, in many ways I am not surprised that African governments have failed to tap into the potential that is the Diaspora. Whilst not an impossible task it would require a great deal of technical organisation, willingness and commitment on the part of the governments. This may look like hard work on the face of it, and certainly not an easy option when compared to AID.

    Don't get me wrong I am not trying to get them off the hook, because as you say Uganda and Rwanda have certainly started work on this.

    There is also the question of Trust! Would we in diaspora knowing what we know trust African governments with our earned CASH!

    We in the diaspora may have to lead on this by organising ourselves to make this work. I am especially keen on platforms that bring us together for dialogue and collaboration.

    I would ultimately like to see an annual event that was to do with reporting on diaspora led projects and any results from such projects.

    Looking forward to meeting you and your team in London next week

    • I think two things that you have mentioned are critical also; trust and organization. The good thing is that we have started to organize… and that organization is going to get that much better with time. With organization, we can maximize our effective lobbying potential to have a say in governance and how our money should be used.

      Thanks for the great comment. See you next weekend!

  7. Thank you all for this Teddy
    I'm coming at this from a different angle, media to be precise. I've often wondered how to get some of the powerful stories from the Diaspora that I access on the web and feature them on television. Being a talk show host with reach to 48 African countries, I cannot help but notice how much these inspiring stories need to be heard 'at home'.
    I am also of the belief that we Africans still need to work more efficiently when it comes to engaging and communicating our ideas with one another whether we live on the continent or not. For all the challenges you face in organising yourselves, allow me to 'put it out there' that the opportunity to tell your story to Africa is here on the continent. You have my email address so do not hesitate to get in touch
    All for one & one for all

  8. Teddy,
    This is a wonderful blog and I appreciate all the comments on this subject. Many of us do not trust each other to invest in programs that we have started back home even when those programs would help us. We have brothers and sisters who have phone companies that would sale us cards to call home but we rather buy name brand cards, we have brothers and sisters who make clothes but we rather wear Nike shoes. The list goes on and on. A small group of us can lead the way and take action. Others will follow…
    Our NGOS must engage in advocacy and lobbying. There is so much civic education needed in our communities even communities of people living in the diaspora.

  9. Jackson…I've had a year-long unfinished blog post about Why the African Diaspora needs to start buying African…. so good to see that someone actually shares those sentiments!

    It certainly is a trust issue, but I think those of us in the Diaspora need to start relying on ourselves and put ourselves in position to be trusted. I think it starts simply as we were all taught in Sunday School… “treat others the way you would like to be treated.” Treating each other with respect means we have reached a point whereby we worry not about trust.

    Thanks for the comment.

  10. This reminds me of an interesting book I read a little while by a US Nigerian journalist. the book is called THE CAPITALIST NIGGER, it is not availalble here in the UK due to Political correctness, I came across it in South Africa a few years ago. The author whose name I can remember raised the same issues that Jackson has alluded to here.

    It is the same reason we buy plastic bags isntead of our Vikapu/baskets:-)

  11. This reminds me of an interesting book I read a little while by a US Nigerian journalist. the book is called THE CAPITALIST NIGGER, it is not availalble here in the UK due to Political correctness, I came across it in South Africa a few years ago. The author whose name I can remember raised the same issues that Jackson has alluded to here.

    It is the same reason we buy plastic bags instead of our Vikapu/baskets:-)<div style="margin: 6px 0pt 0pt; display: block;"><a class="a2a_dd" href="http://www.addtoany.com/share_save"><img src="http://static.addtoany.com/buttons/share_save_171_16.png&quot; alt="Share/Save/Bookmark" border="0" height="16" width="171">

  12. Great post Teddy. It begins and ends with Trust as @Kaguri mentions. The reason why many Africans turn to Foreign NGOs and Charities is because they trut them (sometimes to fault). In the same sentence, saying Africans need to help each other, some of those same people will follow up with 'but we don't trust other'. It's gotta start somewhere and I really do believe that's with the motivated members of the diaspora.

  13. Hey Jon, great comment! In a recent speech, @dambisamoyo stated that the role of Africa's Diaspora is first and foremost to rebrand the perception behind the term “Africa”. As you've stated, this involves trusting each other first. Afterall, if you can't trust your brother, you can never repair your family's image.

    TMS Ruge
    TMS Ruge Media | Project Diaspora

    http://tmsruge.com
    />http://projectdiaspora.org

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