Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Republic of Kosova

Today the world is more globalized, interconnected, and interdependent than ever before. An interesting paradox of globalization is that while the world is being internationalized it is also being localized. The world shrinks as the local community takes on greater and greater importance. Diasporas play an important role in this phenomenon as diasporas are essentially about having a sense of belonging. As Covid-19 showed, it is no longer possible for any nation state to consider itself an ‘island’ nor is it possible to be immune to the ebbs and flows of global economics and other influences such as pandemics.

To be able to fully leverage the advantages of interdependence, countries and organizations are looking at engaging complex networks of people to generate social, cultural, economic, and diplomatic benefits. Diasporas constitute obvious collectives of people through which networks can be created and individuals mobilized for mutual benefit. They are a bridge to knowledge, expertise, resources, and markets for Kosovo.

The word ‘diaspora’ is derived from two Greek words – dia meaning over and speiro meaning scattering. However, more recent times has seen the word go ‘mainstream’ and there are now over 100 countries who are engaged with their diasporas. What were once ‘lost actors’ are now seen as ‘national assets’. Their numbers have grown rapidly in the recent past. In 1990 there were approximately 150 million people living outside the country they were born in – now that number is over 280 million. If it were a country, it would be the fifth largest country in the world.

Increasingly countries are realizing that they have a formidable resource in their diasporas and are putting in place policies, projects, and programmes to engage them. This is also a reflection on how the world has changed with a new world order emerging which is based on connectivity. There is an increasing awareness of the importance of ‘Soft Power’ for countries which was a concept pioneered by Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University and defined as the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion. Soft Power is made up of a country’s culture, political values, and policies. A country’s diaspora constitutes an immense source of soft power. By implementing a comprehensive diaspora strategy this can be nurtured and converted into ‘hard impacts’.

Technology is allowing people everywhere to connect instantaneously, constantly, and continuously and often for free which means diasporas are acutely aware of what is happening in their home countries. They are often living ‘hyphenated and transnational lives’ such as Irish-American, Australian-Greek, including across the diaspora for Kosovo. Geography no longer dictates identity, and it is now often more important what you do than where you are.

There is a growing realization that countries, regions, and cities possess diaspora capital which The Networking Institute defines as ‘the overseas resources available to a country, region, city or organization and is made up of three flows – flows of people, flows of knowledge and flows of finance’. What this means, in effect, is that the power of diaspora can be manifested in many different ways.

A fundamental underlying set of questions must be answered in terms of all diasporas, and they are – who are they, where are they and what are they doing? Very often that information is not available in any one location – rather there are pockets of this information in different organizations including the government (especially the Department of Foreign Affairs).

The recent past has seen more and more national governments introducing diaspora policies and strategies and recognizing the role that key members of the diaspora can play in developing their home economies without having to return home permanently. Brain drain can become brain gain and brain exchange. Social media means that connections can be made on a one-to-one individual basis and people who never engaged with diaspora organizations can be connected with their home country and with each other in powerful and creative and innovative ways. Networks are being built and enhanced based on interest rather than purely on location – the tyranny of distance and geography is finally being broken. These diaspora networks bring together people with strong intrinsic motivation driven by self-interest and a desire to help others.