At the University of London’s Center of African Studies we recently surveyed African diaspora organizations in order to identify a list of commonly accepted good practices in diaspora development initiatives and to collect specific examples of successful projects implemented by the diasporas. Fifty-five European-based African diaspora organizations participated in our study; most of these organizations are located in France, Belgium, or Germany, though we also had participation from groups in Spain, Lithuania, Malta, Switzerland, and Italy.
Although all of these organizations are working to give back to their homelands, they are immensely diverse in terms of their size and scope, initiatives, perceptions of development, capacity or ability to access resources, and the challenges they face. Despite these differences, however, all of the diaspora organizations we surveyed seemed to agree on the key factors that contribute to the successful outcome of a project. Here, I would like to discuss some of these factors and why they are important.
Transparency emerged as a strong element of good practice. That the vast majority of respondents (almost 98 percent) were open to disclosing information about their projects and experiences is an important data in itself. Transparency as a value is reflected also in the fact that most surveyed organizations are legally registered entities and select their management structure by majority vote or on a meritocratic basis.
Most respondents indicated good planning and strong leadership as critical to leading successful projects. For example, one person that we interviewed believed that showing strong organizational skills and professionalism was decisive in order to overcome the initial skepticism of those governmental and non-governmental institutions approached for funding.
Funding is another major theme: access to different sources of funding, difficulties in accessing funding, or the way financial resources are managed, are indicative of good practices and affect organizations and individuals’ choices and strategies. Because of limited resources, associations cannot always afford to employ professional full-time staff or keep their projects afloat.
One of the most interesting findings to come out of the study is the striking difference in the sources of funding for organizations that are part of Anglophone versus the Francophone diasporas (in most cases, the Anglophone diaspora organizations were based in English-speaking countries and Francophone diaspora organizations were based in French-speaking countries). We found that Francophone associations are more likely to fund their projects through donations from their individual members (including membership fees). In contrast, we found that most of Anglophone diaspora organizations’ funding came from foundation grants. However, for both groups, public funding constitutes their second most important revenue source. International NGOs are important funders for Anglophone diaspora organizations, but less so for the Francophone.
While more research is needed to explain this data, it seems that diaspora organizations are moving beyond remittances to fund development projects. Also, a different attitude is emerging among governmental institutions, both in the countries of residence and of origin, which appear as the main funding agency in sixteen out of the thirty-six case studies submitted.
The data highlighted also the importance and the complexities of partnerships, both in the countries where projects are implemented and in the European country of residence. Partnerships are recognized as challenging but also crucial for meeting the development objectives. Enhancing the organizations’ capacity to network and to engage in mutually beneficial collaborations is thus critical to their long-term success.
This study suggests that diaspora associations may be growing more sophisticated in their organizational structure, their fundraising mechanisms, and their implementation or delivery of support. Promoting strong links between diaspora and development is as much about capacity building and associations learning from one another as it is channeling more funding into development activities.
This research was conducted as part of a broader project promoted by the Africa-Europe Platform Partner Organization (AE)—a network of Europe-based African diaspora organizations—and supported by the European Union. When the final study is released, it will be available through AE’s research page.
About the Author: Dr. Sebastiana A. Etzo earned a PhD in African studies from the Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale in Italy. She currently works at the Centre of African Studies at SOAS, University of London. She also pursues independent research, studying African diaspora populations, African cities, and issues of citizenship and democracy in relation to changes in the labor market.
The contents of this blog are the sole responsibility of the author and its ideas and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of International diaspora Engagement Alliance, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Migration Policy Institute, or any of their partners.