Diaspora and the Knowledge Economy

Sonal Shal (Harvard University), Respondent, Dr. Jacob Eisenberg (UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School), Chair, Kingsley Aikins (Diaspora Matters)

In association with the US Embassy.

(Video Available)

n association with the United States Embassy and the UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School, the UCD Clinton Institute hosted an impressive discussion on Diaspora and the Knowledge Economy in Newman House last Wednesday. Chaired by Kingsley Aikins, Founder and CEO of Diaspora Matters, the discussion was led by Sonal Shah (Harvard University) and response was provided by Dr. Jacob Eisenberg of UCD Smurfit. In opening the event, Prof. Liam Kennedy (UCD Clinton Institute)  noted the importance of developing fresh insights and global comparative awareness amongst academics, policymakers, and practitioners on topics relating to migration and diaspora. Focusing on the timely correlation of the discussion to the Global Irish Economic Forum, Prof. Kennedy mapped instructive thematic discussion around the role of diasporas in both home and host countries particularly in relation to the role such collectives of individuals, organizations, and institutions can play in terms of economic, social, cultural, and political development.

Then, Mr. Aikins built upon the emerging fascination with diaspora matters across the globe by describing the depth and layered approaches to these topics in Ireland. Identifying Ireland as a global knowledge and practice leader in this space, Mr. Aikins insightfully drew out some foundational insights on diaspora engagement from his publication, the Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit, in areas such as FDI, Tourism, amongst others. He introduced the concept of Diaspora Capital, which he positioned as a way to envision and shape our theoretical and functional approaches to the roles in which diasporas continue to shape the 21st century.

Ms. Shah’s address offered several pivotal developments for diaspora engagement approaches both in Ireland and elsewhere. Narrating her own diasporic journey from low level income villages in India to impressive work with Goldman Sachs, Google, the Obama administration, and now Harvard University, she charted 3 strategic approaches to engagement from her experiences. Focusing on her work with Indicorps, she explained how early perceptions of engagement (based on notions that if you were going to make it in India you would have to make it out) were challenging in developing effective engagement. She offered the importance of service in changing these perceptions and argued that with over 35 programmes now offered by Indicorps, there were 3 main audiences to focus on:

  1. The generation of young people who want to connect through their heritage
  2. The generation who want to invest through Diaspora Capital
  3. Retirees who want opportunities to participate in global economies and growth.

This amalgamative approach allows for a rich, diverse engagement that provides important engagement in India focused on circular migration, talent exchange, knowledge transfer and various development agendas. Ms. Shah then outlined the importance of connecting and collaborating with internal diasporas. Pinpointing the remarkable impact of such migrant groups in the United States in areas such as innovation and job creation, Ms. Shah described how these networks can be worked in and for Ireland. Illustrating examples from academic alumnis, affinities, and corporations, she explained how “borders are now horizontal”, and people are now looking for such networks. Finally, she identified that the issues are now more global than less global and the ability to consistently leverage positive influences on migration and diaspora will outweigh negativities. This, she argued, can be driven through the fact that diaspora engagement, in the knowledge economy and elsewhere, is now non-competitive.

Dr. Eisenberg provided a thoughtful and insightful response which explored the societal and organization complexities of identity and their correlation to the topic being discussed. He identified 3 strands under the framework of diaspora membership as a matter of identity

  • Feelings as Individual Based
  • Cultural Connects such as Ideas, Attitudes, and Beliefs
  • Actions and Behaviour.

He insightfully identified how multiple identities, as central components of contemporary diasporic engagement, can be flowed through collective memories, commitments to ancestry, and the ideal of return. Furthermore, he explored how issues of threat, crisis, and prestige act as key connectors for diasporic communities. Centred on answered why diasporas care, Dr. Eisenberg articulated how avoiding value conflicts for migrant communities, synergizing hyphenated identities, and asking for meaningful engagement can shape Irish and global diaspora transfers. By usefully identifying some developmental steps for the Irish case, he studied how harmonizations of expertise and talent through mentorship could be applied, how diaspora education through scholarships could be developed, and how these functional platforms can tie strong layered engagement between old and new Irish. Insightfully, Dr. Eisenberg helped us to understand the most challenging dimensions of diaspora engagement in relation to the knowledge economy – why it works and how it should work.

In a diverse and informative exchange with the audience, Mr. Aikins opened questions on the issue of the United States representing a mosaic or a melting pot. Ms. Shah contributed that the identities are now “melting into each other”, where individuals purposefully take the “best of both”. Dr. Eisenberg anecdotally argued that mature approaches allow there to be a “lower heat” where melting pots can move towards a mosaic. This point provided useful links to further questions on issues of rights for migrants/diasporeans, in areas such as voting. Other questions resulted in detailed discussion on the importance of reducing difference in terms of diaspora where we must work towards diaspora individuals and institutions growing with their home and host countries where the emphasis on the opportunity for such growth must come from home and host. Topics such as inter-generational bridges for diaspora communities were explored. Finally, in an important pretext to the UN High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development, issues such as remittances, job creation, and policy coherence closed the session.

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