Diaspora Partnerships: Strengthening the Ties that Bind Us

Posted by Jim Thompson and Sarah Glass
October 13, 2015
Medical worker walks with a survivor of Ebola in Mawa Town, Liberia [USAID photo by Morgana Wingard]

This week we honor and celebrate the critical role diaspora play in strengthening our ties with communities of heritage. The 2014 Ebola epidemic was a devastating but poignant example of how these communities can be mobilized to support a global response.  Ebola virus disease infected more than 28,000 probable, suspected, and confirmed people and took more than 11,000 lives. The virus wreaked havoc on communities throughout Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, destroying families and stunting economies.

But diaspora communities from Ebola-affected regions came together to fight Ebola and help their homelands respond and recover. From sharing information about the virus with their families and communities, to hosting fundraising events and providing specific volunteer expertise needed by organizations on the ground, the diaspora sprang into action. What’s more, these communities helped keep Ebola on the global agenda.

According to the World Bank, over 165 million people of African heritage live outside the continent, including approximately 79,000 Liberian diaspora; 34,000 Sierra Leoneans; and 13,000 Guineans in the United States.

During times of disaster or crisis such as the Ebola outbreak, these communities can be counted on to support first responders -- with the goal of ensuring their loved ones, friends, and communities get the support they need to recover and rebuild. Impressively, this is true for both first generation diaspora with close ties to their home countries, as well as diaspora communities several generations removed who retain a sense of connection to the communities of their parents, grandparents and great grandparents.

At the height of the Ebola crisis, a large number of African diaspora community members engaged with USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI) to understand how best to support the response. They developed collaborative platforms such as Africa Responds, which brought together diaspora and others to pool their resources, networks, and collective voices to support relief efforts. The platform helped raise nearly $100,000 to support organizations that are providing critical services on the ground in some of the hardest hit areas. Individuals such as Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie, a Sierra Leone native, sent medical supplies to his home country, raising funds to cover the shipping costs. And generous donations made by some of the African diaspora’s most successful business leaders helped fuel critical response efforts. 

We are pleased that as of September 30, 2015 Liberia remains Ebola-free.  As we continue to focus on getting to zero cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone and stay vigilant throughout the region, the diaspora can play a valuable role in helping the Ebola-affected countries recover from this terrible tragedy. Through continued support to families and friends struggling to recover from the crisis, diaspora communities are a lifeline for many.  As business men and women, they can also play the role of impact investors to strengthen economies; as doctors and nurses, they can provide invaluable volunteer expertise to help strengthen health systems weakened by tragic losses during the outbreak; and as philanthropists, they can help raise funds to support health systems strengthening for West Africa to ensure an outbreak on this scale never happens again. 

At the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development, we recognize the critical importance of building partnerships with diaspora communities such as these to further our foreign policy objectives. Over the last four years, we have worked together through the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA) to build the capacity of diaspora communities to work in coordination with the U.S. government to deliver innovative programs that build economies, strengthen communities, and improve the lives of millions around the globe.

Through IdEA, we’ve worked with diaspora communities to promote entrepreneurship in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. We’ve worked with major technology firms such as Microsoft and Nokia along with a host of partners and diaspora members to promote an innovation ecosystem in Africa and Asia. And we’ve built a dynamic new partnership -- the India Investment Initiative -- to fund small businesses across India.

And through the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program, we are helping women entrepreneurs across Africa, including Liberia and Guinea, access the networks, knowledge, and capital they need to grow their businesses, export their products, and create jobs and economic growth and rebuild from the devastation of Ebola.

This week, we recognize diaspora communities and their contributions during our annual Global Diaspora Week celebration. The theme this year is on partnerships and how these partnerships are changing the way the U.S. government meets its foreign policy objectives. Throughout the week, we are highlighting opportunities for collaboration and talk about what partnership means in practice for governments and diaspora communities.

We will also spotlight opportunities for collaboration such as the Ebola Response, Recovery and Resilience in West Africa Addendum to the Global Development Alliance Annual Program Statement. Through this Addendum, USAID aims to leverage the good ideas, capacity and resources of the local, regional, and international private sector to develop partnerships that address gaps and build resilience in health care, education, information and communications technology, energy infrastructure, and social programing. Proposals will be accepted through October 16. Learn more about the opportunity at: www.usaid.gov/ebola/gda.

About the authors: Jim Thompson serves as the Director of Innovation in the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships at the Department of State. Sarah Glass serves as U.S. Global Development Lab Ebola Coordinator at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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