Tapping Our Trans-Local Potential for Change

This post was written by Chloë Straw, Project Research Assistant.

As we gear up for our fourth in a series of five public dialogues, we wanted to take a look back at some of the things we’ve learned so far through the Engaging Diaspora for Development Project. A guiding theme for us, which has both come out of and reinforced the importance of public dialogue, has been the power of personal narrative in evoking change. The following are some of the lessons we’ve learned through your stories.

Diaspora are uniquely positioned and play an important role

Members of the diaspora are uniquely positioned for development work as a result of having local knowledge and expertise in two very distinct locales. They bring the perspective of the developing world in addition to a transnational perspective. They understand the marketplace within the context of the global village and can be effective at “tropicalizing” Canadian know-how to better serve projects in the Global South. They are effective at working as “connectors” — using their networks to connect resources, human capital and donors with projects and, in turn, bringing back the stories of real impacts that are being seen. They work to inform and engage other Canadians to inspire action and promote solidarity.

The work of disapora also has an important looping effect, with results being seen both in communities overseas and here in Canada. The lived experiences that diaspora bring and share can help to reinvigorate the way we do things here in Canada. They can support our institutions in being more self-reflective and to be more critical in thinking about why our systems are the way they are; they can also do this on an individual level, helping Canadians to engage empathetically and really comprehend the effects that their lives and national policies have on individuals and communities in the Global South.

Diaspora are among those pointing to the need to incorporate more indigenous knowledge into our health and education systems, to broaden our perspectives and approaches and really think about how a system is functioning before it is exported to another country. They can inform government policies, specifically around how Canada does aid work.

Also, they can improve the formal monitoring and reporting of project impacts to bring greater legitimacy to the work they are doing. Through reporting back real examples and figures, they can bring more awareness to the realities on the ground in the Global South and attract more funding.

How can we better Support Diaspora?

Through the dialogues we have managed to engage constructively about how the work of diaspora might be strengthened. A major theme that has emerged is the need for more synergies and collaboration amongst diaspora groups. Rather than competing for funding, organizations working towards the same aims can band together, thereby strengthening funding proposals and doing away with any gaps in services.

Another theme has been the great difficulty on the part of young diaspora in being recognized for their work and the need to give more weight and formal acknowledgement to the work and impacts that these young people are having.

Finally, many discussions have centered around the notion of identity formation as it occurs for members of the diaspora. With the boundaries that form identity varying depending on the context in which one finds her or himself in any given moment, the process can, at times, cause personal conflict. We have heard it said countless times that being able to tell one’s story is so important, that hearing from others who’ve experienced similar realities and personal transformations is the basis on which community can be created and that’s what we’re here to do. May the storytelling continue.

The next dialogue, “Human Insecurity and Peacebuilding”, will be on July 13th, 2011. For more information and to register please visit our website.

Question

What have you learned by participating in the dialogues? What questions about diaspora and development have emerged for you?

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