Traditionally, the term “diaspora” has been associated with forced exile and the inability to return to one’s country of origin. More recently, usage of the term has evolved and, as part of the discussion on international migration and development, it is now being applied to refer to nationals of a country living abroad (in a country other than their country of origin), including second and third generation descendants of those who originally left. In practice, the diaspora consists of those who identify and become active as such; it is a matter of self-reclamation as well as, increasingly, the subject of targeted efforts at institutionalization by States. Indeed, policymakers and practitioners have come to realize that diaspora communities, and individual members, can be profoundly interested in and able to influence social and economic development in their “motherlands.” Such transnational engagement has been facilitated, since the 1990s, by the explosion in the number of mobile telephone subscribers, the growth of web-based communication, and the decreasing costs of travel. Members of the diaspora have in many cases not only acquired financial capital, but also human capital such as skills, networks and ideas that can be of use to their countries of origin. In addition, they can capitalize on their “insider status” in two countries, which may allow them to understand the particular issues facing their countries of origin, while leveraging their resources and influence in their countries of settlement.
Governments and international organizations have devised a number of institutional and programmatic tools to reach out to diasporas, learn more about their capacities and potential contributions and provide channels for facilitating their engagement, for example through incentives for permanent or temporary returns, investments, knowledge transfers, tourism or philanthropy.
The following resources provide some concrete examples of what different countries and organizations have done to understand and make the most of the potential of diasporas.