Liza Gashi – Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Republic of Kosova

We are living in a turbulent and disruptive world, sometimes referred to as a world of VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Unforeseen events allied to a combination of rapidly advancing technology and communications is making change faster than ever before. In this world, countries, and especially small countries, need to have their global friends and contacts. Diasporas everywhere tend to have a series of unique characteristics as follows:

  1. They have a keen sense of belonging to where they originated, or have ancestral links to, and that can be a country, region, city, place, or organization such as a university.
  2. They are highly motivated and are often willing to tolerate challenges in connecting with their home countries that non-diasporas find challenging.
  3. They are emotionally engaged which can result in a ‘patriotic dividend’ and they have a sense of pride in their home country and thus can act as unofficial ambassadors.
  4. They have unique knowledge and expertise both locally in their home country and globally.
  5. They often have access to powerful networks of ‘affluence and influence’ of members of their diaspora and others.
  6. They have financial resources which can often go further in their home country than in their host country.
  7. Diasporas can be a valuable source of remittances, philanthropy, and investment funds.
  8. Diasporas want to bring to their home countries the techniques, values, attitudes, and behaviours that made them successful in their host countries.
  9. They want to give back particularly when they are at that stage of their life when they are reflecting on legacy and heritage.
  10. It is not essential that they return to live in their country of origin, ancestry, or affinity to play a role – they can be very effective, impactful and influential while remaining in their host country.

This journey is important as countries realise that there is a difference between the state and the nation. The state is defined and confined by lines on a map whereas the nation is a global notion. As Former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson Miller notes, “we have to redefine the concept of the nation. The nation today is not territorial – it is not bounded by physical space. The nation is a social and political construct. In a borderless world the nation is no longer confined by geography. We also have to redefine patriotism. Patriotism can no longer be seen as necessarily synonymous with residence in the country of one’s birth. The fact that you are not physically located here does not make you any less committed to this country and its development nor does it make you, in this globalized era, disconnected from Jamaica.”

Diaspora engagement opens the home country to the skills and talents that are critical to becoming a knowledge smart economy. The attraction and retention of talent and skills are critical to this. Creating specialist knowledge networks of highly skilled professionals and linking over achievers in both home and host countries will lead to increased inward investment and export promotion and a virtuous circle of excellence.

Diasporas are in a good position to influence what people think of their home countries and can help shape the national image by shaping a national narrative. National images are not a function of advertising campaigns and are not created through communications strategies. Images are earned rather than manufactured by advertising agencies.

The key to this is engaging as many people as possible so that the home country gets more positive exposure and gets a reputation based on trust. Nation branding has emerged as a creative way for countries to build up their image and present themselves to the rest of the world. Countries with good reputations are admired and attract investment and tourists and find it easier to sell their products abroad. Diasporas are able to promote and defend their home country’s image. Members of the diaspora can serve as informal ambassadors which can have significant diplomatic, developmental, and commercial potential. In this sense they are, as Dr. Martin Russell of Global Diaspora Insights put it, ‘low-cost foreign policy’.