Diaspora engagement in times of crisis

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the way diasporas respond to crises. Shabaka launched its latest research report in collaboration with EUDiF on 2 June with a webinar discussing the key findings. The report explores diaspora crisis responses in six cases: Lebanon, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sudan, Ukraine and Zambia. The project explored diaspora motivations, the modalities of their response, their challenges and best avenues for support.  

At the webinar, Paul Asquith, Research and Advocacy Manager at Shabaka established the key findings of the research. Amongst these are the importance of shared identity and memories, and the specific socio-economic and historical contexts of each emergency. Diasporas are driven by a desire for impact: they offer varied support that goes beyond financial resources and are able to navigate complex contexts, operating across the humanitarian-development nexus There are some challenges, such as a lack of recognition by with traditional actors, differing terminologies, and a lack of coordination. The report suggests several ways to go forward: engaging diasporas for humanitarian response as well as development, improving coordination mechanisms, facilitating diaspora action, upskilling for both traditional actors and diasporas, maintaining ongoing communication, and research.  

Amel Karrar from the Secretariat for Sudanese Working Abroad (SSWA) touched on the responsibility of governments to coordinate and facilitate diaspora involvement. She emphasized the importance of intra-government coordination and mechanisms to work with diasporas to ensure continued collaboration.  

Alexandra Singpiel from DEMAC (Diaspora Engagement Action and Cooperation) spoke on the Ukrainian context, and noted some important patterns including flexibility and mobility in diaspora involvement. Alexandra highlighted the importance of understanding between traditional actors and the diaspora of the heterogeneity and complex motivations of diasporas and improving communication and information sharing through dedicated points of contact.  

Paddy Siyanga Knudsen, Migration Governance Analyst speaking on the Zambian case, stressed the role of identity and that the diaspora is driven by impact, which makes trust conditional on concrete results. She reiterated the importance of coordination mechanisms, and added that diasporas should be seen as crucial actors on the ground in times of crisis. She noted that targeted and purposeful communication was essential to make platforms accessible.  

The discussion addressed some of the challenges for diaspora engagement and highlighted ways to go forward. It demonstrated the importance of localised research and also identified future areas of exploration into gender and age dynamics.  

Download the full report