Reimagining humanitarianism –  The potential and challenges of 1.5 and second-generation diaspora engagement 

Reimagining humanitarianism –  The potential and challenges of 1.5 and second-generation diaspora engagement 

This keynote was delivered by Shabaka’s CEO, Bashair Ahmed, during a panel discussion on the topic of ‘Lightning talks: From emergency to recovery’ on Tuesday 17 October 2023, as part of   EUDIF’s Future Forum on diaspora engagement for development. 

“Hello, everyone, thank you for joining me today. I’m here to talk to you about a crucial topic for the future of humanitarian action: the role of 1.5 and second-generation diaspora. 

Who are they? 

Born or raised in a country different from their family’s origin or heritage, 1.5- and second-generation diaspora have a unique connection to their countries of settlement and origin or came as a young adult to a country of settlement. 

Yet, we do not do enough to understand what makes diaspora youth and other generations tick. We are missing the opportunity to engage them when there are so many humanitarian crises. We must engage diaspora generationally as positive change agents in their communities and beyond.   

Why should we look at diaspora engagement generationally? 

The reality is that humanitarian crises, and their impact are not limited to a few days or months; they can last for years or even decades. So, we have to look at humanitarian response generationally. Let’s look at some of the recent humanitarian crises around the world, such as Haiti, Syria, and Sudan. These countries have faced natural disasters, political unrest, violence, and displacement for years and received, and continue to receive, support from their diaspora communities worldwide for years. 

So why is recognising and engaging youth and 1.5 and second-generation diaspora critical? Because they are a valuable resource for both their countries of settlement and origin. They bring a lot to the table, not the side table, but the main table. 

  • A unique perspective that combines cultural knowledge, linguistic skills, social capital, and expertise.  
  • Access to different sources of information and influence.  
  • They are motivated by a sense of responsibility and solidarity that encourages them to act.  
  • And they have a vision for the future based on hope and resilience. 

But these can not emerge magically. We have to put the work into it. 

However, what are the obstacles? 

We are seeing diaspora engagement in humanitarianism gaining momentum. However, this often overlooked or underestimated by the humanitarian system, which tends to focus on first-generation, those born and raised in origin countries.  

This is a mistake because 1.5 and second-generation diaspora have much to offer, and they are already doing so in many contexts. But engaging them is not without challenges.  

  • Limited research: for example, those born origin countries cannot be captured in census data. Youth and 1.5 and second generation are not all the same; they are diverse, and we need to   
  • There are no formal mechanisms to communicate with youth or 1.5- and second-generation diaspora in humanitarian planning, implementation, or evaluation processes. 
  • The humanitarian sector has a trust problem for various reasons, including broken promises, decoloniality and scandals. This means it has to change as a sector to remain relevant, or the risk is it will be irrelevant despite the growing needs—the sector as a whole needs to do much more to engage the next generation. 

How can we engage the diaspora in humanitarian action generationally? 

We are starting to do this. There are some innovative partnerships and projects at Shabaka, such as the Switchboard with USAID and Sudan Crisis Coordination Unit. These are small scale, but there are many opportunities. And there are a few learning points from Shabaka’s experience that I can share. 

  • Humanitarian response is not only about cash; people can contribute in many ways- information sharing, advocacy, volunteering, etc. 
  • Engagement through social and cultural tools- music, food, something for the soul 
  • Don’t limit the focus to specific countries of settlement. Identities are much more transnational.  
  • Building trust is at the heart of any community outreach and engagement; it should not be an afterthought or a token gesture; you can see it when it is opportunistic. 
  • Spaces for diaspora humanitarian actors to convene and organise (but not to be organised) 

What can stop us from doing something about it? Nothing!  

To progress, we must make a change, be brave, and take a chance.  

Thank you for your attention”. 

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