By Sara Yousefnejad Gallagher, IdEA Program Officer
I had the pleasure of spending the past week in Tbilisi, Georgia to participate in The First Diaspora Professional Forum, an event hosted by The Office of the State Minister of Georgia for Diaspora Issues. It was an exciting week in Tbilisi to say the least. May 26 marked Georgian Independence Day and the streets were filled with families, music, exhibits, and military vehicles. This is a dually joyous and serious event for a country that has fought for its independence more than once.
Military vehicles on display in Freedom Square, Tbilisi, May 26, 2015.
Crowds at Independence Day festivities.
The very next day, May 27 was the official Georgian Diaspora Day for which The Office of the State Minister of Georgia for Diaspora Issues hosted The First Diaspora Professional Forum themed “Share Experience to the Homeland”. The Office of the State Minister is an excellent example of successful government engagement with diaspora and the Forum put the talents of the Office and the effectiveness of their diaspora strategies on display. I was honored to be included as a keynote speaker, alongside Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili, United States Ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland and World Bank Regional Director South Caucus Department Europe Henry Kerali. The 500 person audience was diverse and included high level government officials and development leaders, as well as roughly 150 Georgian diaspora members from around the world, who had returned home to attend this forum and ‘share experience to the homeland’.
Immigration Economics and Investment Panel at the First Diaspora Professional Forum.
Georgian diaspora members represented 30% of the audience and included academics, medical professionals, political scientists, media members, investors, and more. In the afternoon these diaspora members broke out into panels and roundtable discussions with Georgian Government officials, development specialists, and other professionals to discuss Georgia’s state of affairs and how the diaspora could help drive the development of Georgia in the future.
To finish out the week, The Office of the State Minister of Georgia for Diaspora Issues hosted Georgian Diaspora Days through May 29. This multi-day celebration featured a range of special activities such as lecture on diasporas and development by George Washington University Scholar Dr. Liesl Riddle, an art exhibition and musical performances by Georgian youth groups, and tours of several economic initiatives in Tbilisi and surrounding areas.
Dr. Riddle presents on diasporas in development at International School of Economic at Tbilisi State University.
I spoke with numerous Georgian diaspora members and organizational representatives throughout the week and despite differences in their terms of departure, country of residence, and other factors that can lead to lack of consensus in diaspora’s opinions, their sentiments were relatively aligned. Many expressed support for the Minister of Georgia for Diaspora Issues, Mr. Gela Dumbadze, and his office, citing the important difference his Ministry can make in the lives of the diaspora and the means by which they can contribute back to Georgia. The First Diaspora Professional Forum was a major first step in gathering local and diaspora changemakers to dialogue and begin plotting the way forward for Georgia’s future success.