Conference | Diaspora: Diplomacy: Development

Conference | Diaspora: Diplomacy: Development


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An international conference – 24-26 May 2018


Diaspora – a word of Greek origin meaning “dispersion” – is one of the oldest forms of human networking, long predating the invention of nation states. Today, in a time of radically diffused global power, diasporas have been reenergised and retooled as agents of diplomacy and development. Some governments view diaspora as a soft power resource that extends nation-state capacities – ministries, institutions, and programmes have been created to engage diaspora as agents of diplomatic and development goals. At the same time, diasporas are actively engaging arenas of transnational commerce, communications and politics in ways that disrupt normative ideas and practices of global governance.


Ireland’s history as an emigrant nation means it currently has one of the largest state/diaspora population ratios in the world. That history has not been without tension and trauma but it has also shaped the nation’s global interactions and the maintenance of bonds and networks across the world. The initial ideas and energies for this conference grew from the Clinton Institute’s research engagements with the global Irish diaspora, supported in part by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and we are grateful for DFA&T support for this particular event.

Minister Cannon

Minister Ciaran Cannon, Ireland’s Minister for the Diaspora and International Development, launched the conference with an introductory speech that outlined the “enormous benefits” Ireland draws from its diaspora and stated that “the values at the heart of Ireland’s development policy are deeply rooted in our country’s collective memory, in our history of famine and migration.” This history undergirds his conviction that “diaspora engagement can inform and advance sustainable development around the world” and he urged all present to recognise and engage the creative talent of their country’s diasporas.

Liam Kennedy (UCD Clinton Institute) and Kingsley Aikins (Diaspora Matters) set the context for the event by remarking on the growth of diaspora engagement by governments and IGOs in recent years yet also posed provocative questions about the rationale and efficacy of such engagement. Aikins questioned the “fuzzy maths” whereby governments misconstrued the relations of volume and value in diaspora engagement and explained why many diaspora initiatives fail. It was an observation that echoed through the conference as many discussions returned to the complexities of relations between government, non-government and civil society actors.

Liam Kennedy, Kingsley Aikins and Almaz Negash 

Economic development was one of the core topics discussed in several sessions, with focus on a range of ways in which diasporas are actively engaging arenas of global economic development and transnational commerce. Pedro De Vasconcelos (International Fund for Agricultural Development) underlined the importance of remittances in the economies of many developing nations and explained how IFAD is working to boost the development impact of remittances. Several speakers commented on innovative initiatives by states and the private sector to promote diaspora investment and entrepreneurship. Almaz Negash (African Diaspora Network) spoke about her work with social entrepreneurship platforms and mentorship programmes that engage the African diaspora in the US and particularly in the Silicon Valley region. Barry O’Brien, formerly of Digicel, gave a very commercial perspective as he detailed how the company mapped the Jamaican diaspora as a customer base, seeking to “bank the unbanked”. Colman Lydon (Everwise) spoke on Irish diaspora business networks and in particular the support they lend through mentoring, while Joanna Murphy described how her organisation Connect Ireland created jobs in Ireland, particularly in the SME sector, via a global network of over 100,000 business people in 147 countries.





                                                                 Jessica Colaco, Pedro De Vasconcelos, Barry O’Brien, Rune Rasmussen & Almaz Negash

There were also presentations on how cities such as Copenhagen are designing diaspora engagement strategies, on how several European governments are designing policy support for returning diaspora entrepreneurs, and on immigrants as drivers of transnational entrepreneurship.

A second core topic was the role of diaspora as stakeholders in international development. A key strand of discussion focused on diaspora groups as an integral element of civil society, often functioning as connective tissue between grass-roots communities and state institutions and external agencies. Presentations by representatives of the International Organisation for Migration, the German Development Cooperation, Comic Relief and AFFORD provided vivid examples of the partnerships between governments, private sector and diaspora civil society actors, and of the programmes being developed and delivered by these partnerships, including initiatives to enhance skills transfer and financial literacy, and to develop leadership. Tensions as well as productive collaborations were noted in the relations between different sectors, and there was also pointed commentary on the mounting pressures to promote return of migrants.

Another key strand of the development discussion was focused on how and to what effect diaspora agents are being engaged by states and international organisations in areas of conflict or disaster where normative forms of diplomatic and development activity may be compromised or limited by adverse conditions. This form of diaspora engagement can encounter particular sensitivities and tensions due to primed political and cultural contexts. Laura Hammond (SOAS, University of London), noted that in Somalia diaspora funds reached places and organisations that Western organisations cannot and that diaspora agents were particularly effective in providing rapid response to specific needs. However, she also noted limitations of diaspora actors and argued that ”international organisations have not figured out how to work successfully with diaspora.” Barlin Ali (United States Agency for International Development) illustrated some of the challenges in managing diaspora contributions to disaster response, while Mingo Heiduk Tetsche (Danish Refugee Council) noted that the role of diaspora in humanitarian action is undervalued, and asked for fresh consideration of how diaspora organisations could be supported to build capacity.

A third core topic was diaspora diplomacy. Nick Cull (University of Southern California) and Elaine Ho (National University of Singapore) provided an advanced scholarly introduction this relatively new field of study. Cull provided historical context and examples to explain relations between diaspora and public diplomacy, noting ways in which diaspora activities have become more formalised in diplomatic terms. Ho cast diaspora as “liminal actors” and presented several examples of Chinese diaspora involvement in advancing national economic and political matters, particularly in Singapore, while remarking on ways in which diaspora exercise subjectivity and resist simply being tools of diplomacy, yet also lack capacity and cohesion as diplomatic agents. Following on from this introduction to the field, several presentations offered detailed examples of diaspora diplomacy, with particular emphasis on the “long distance politics” practised by diaspora communities. Examples ranged from Ireland’s diaspora diplomacy in the US during the War of Independence to diaspora mobilisation among Egyptians after the 2011 Arab Spring and Iraqi Kurdish diaspora politics today.

A key strand of the diaspora diplomacy topic was the formation and implementation of diaspora policy, reflecting the steady growth in government offices and agencies engaging their nation’s diaspora and generating distinctive policies and strategies of engagement. This activity extends the diplomatic capacities and responsibilities of nation states in relation to their emigrants and their offspring. A discussion session featured speakers who have leading roles in their respective state’s diaspora engagement, including the Minister of Diaspora Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia, and senior representatives of offices responsible for diaspora outreach in Poland, Lithuania and Georgia. They presented insights on their national strategies, with all agreeing on the need to build capacity. Policy perspectives were also presented by speakers representing Nigeria and Malawi, while some scholars reflected more critically on state/diaspora relations, including how diaspora engagement is being pursued by Indian and Chinese governments among their emigrant communities in the US.

A fourth core topic was diaspora networking and innovation. New information and communications technologies are reconfiguring the time and space of diaspora-state relations, radically altering spheres of communication and connectivity, and promoting decentralized networks of activity. These networks are facilitating diaspora knowledge and skills transfer, mentoring and education. Ronit Avni (Localized) provided examples of the “knowledge remittance economy” which is powered by the willingness of diaspora professionals to give of time rather than money. Jessica Colaco (Brave Venture Labs, Nairobi) echoed this and emphacised the importance of machine learning in identifying diaspora talent. Behar Xharra (Germin, Kosovo) described a range of innovations his organisation have advanced to map and engage diaspora groups. And Alison Coburn (Common Purpose) spoke about an inter-diaspora project that promoted leadership and bridge-building skills.

This was a conference of remarkable diversity, allowing for conversations to emerge across sectors and between individuals who might not commonly be in dialogue. It identified multiple interactions of diaspora, state and private organisations and actors under conditions of globalisation. It acknowledged tensions and challenges in these relationships, yet also identified the opportunities and gains in terms of economic development, business and talent networking, conflict transformation and disaster response, the strengthening of civil society, and much more. One of the most positive messages to emerge from the conference is that diaspora mobility and connectivity can be a dynamic source of innovation and creativity in many fields, providing fresh knowledge and imaginative leadership that can provide solutions to the challenges of globalisation.


We will be working to build on the synergies and ideas that emerged. Thank you to all who contributed so energetically to this event!


Videos of Panel Discussions;

Minister Ciarán Cannon,

Minister for Diaspora and International Development, Department of Foreign Affairs

Participating Organisations included:

    • United States Agency for International Development (US)
    • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ, Germany)
    • Danish Refugee Council (Denmark)
    • International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
    • African Diaspora Network (US)
    • Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA)
  • GERMIN (Kosovo)
  • Localized (US)
  • Embassy of Nigeria (Ireland)
  • Department of Lithuanians Abroad (Lithuania)
  • Institute for Mexicans Living Abroad (Mexico)
  • University of Oxford (UK)
  • National University Singapore (Singapore)
  • SOAS University of London (UK)
  • University College Dublin (Ireland)

With thanks to:


Please enter your email address instead of your home address when paying so that we can contact you in advance of the conference.

If you prefer to pay on the day, we only accept cash and you can email to register.



Ireland is not in the Schengen agreement, so you need to check whether a visa is necessary.  If you do need one and need a letter of support please contact Catherine Carey

Accommodation Options

It is advisable to arrange your accommodation as early as possible.  The following hotels/B&B are only suggestions ,check their price both on the hotel’s website but also through or as sometimes it might be cheaper on their sites..  In addition do check out Airbnb options.

The address for the University is Stillorgan Road, Donnybook, Dublin 4


 Avalon House

Guest Houses


An addition website to look for accommodation near the University

If you decide to stay in the city centre there is a bus that will bring you directly onto the campus, this bus is the 39A, but there are other options that will leave you outside the campus and on the opposite side of the road, these include the 46A and the 145.

Getting from the airport to the city or your hotel

It is advisable to get a bus to the city centre as a taxi could cost up to €45 depending on where you are staying.

Bus to City Centre Airlink 747

The is an excellent bus service called the Aircoach which goes from outside the arrivals hall and delivers people to a number of hotels both in the city centre and on the outskirts of the city including the first 3 hotels. The return fare is €16

Also, for short-term rentals, check out

To help, here is a map showing safe and accessible locations throughout the city

For further details, please contact Catherine Carey at UCD Clinton Institute:; tel. ++353 1 716 1560

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