Diaspora Tech: Five Innovations Keeping Us Connected


Diaspora communities demand technology that responds to their particular remittance-based, philanthropic, entrepreneurial, and social engagement-based needs. As a result, existing technologies are being applied in diaspora-focused markets and new technologies are being developed exclusively to address diaspora consumers’ challenges and needs. This process has the potential to spur economic development and open new pathways to social empowerment for peoples of developing nations. Many of the organizations that partner with IdEA are doing just that.

 

1. Expanding Access to Cellular Technology

Digicel Jamaica is the fastest growing company in the island nation and serves as another powerful example of how technology can help a country leapfrog over traditional stages of development. By increasing access to cellular technology and connecting people, including those in remote areas, with family and friends in the diaspora, Digicel Jamaica has made telecommunications more ubiquitous perhaps than indoor plumbing in rural parts of the island. The diaspora is in part responsible for the unprecedented success of Digicel, which only began to operate in the Caribbean in 2001. The company supports diaspora entrepreneurship by hiring diaspora members to distribute Digicel calling cards and other services and running grassroots marketing and advertising outlets.

2. Mobile Banking

Advances in cellular technology have created a myriad of new ways for diaspora members to connect with their countries of origin. Mobile banking technology has found a rich market within diaspora communities.  The World Bank estimates that U.S. diaspora populations remitted more than $50 billion to their countries of origin in 2010 alone. This phenomenon has not only enlivened traditional money transfer companies that were struggling with market share, but it has been a catalyst for new applications in mobile banking.  The pioneering mobile banking service Boom Financial targets diaspora markets in the United States and Mexico. The company provides not only remittance services, but also meets other basic financial services needs of “underbanked” and “unbanked” consumers.  Mobile banking has the potential to eliminate the high fees and security issues associated with cash remittances.

3. Healthcare Solutions

Diaspora members are solution oriented. Passionate about their homelands, they are always on the lookout for ways to give back. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the rate of counterfeit drugs in some developing countries  could be as high as thirty percent. While a graduate student at Dartmouth College, Kenyan-American Ashifi Gogo developed a technological solution to help curb the problem. The technology is a new application of bar code technology wherein a customer can text a drug product’s unique code to a central source to get instant feedback as to whether the drug is real or fake. Gogo’s company, Sproxil, was recognized with a grant to scale-up their efforts in the 2010 African Diaspora Marketplace.

4. Social Media

New on the scene in diaspora social engagement is OneVietnam Network, an online network for people around the world to stay informed, stay connected, and invest back to Vietnam. Founded by James Bao and Uyen Nguyen, the organization enables deeper and more meaningful connections for users than might be possible on the global corporate social media sites. OneVietnam Network users are able to post photos, videos and personal profiles, engage in chats, and raise money for causes they support through its application iFoundation. The organization has plans to scale up its model and build similar social media platforms tailored to the needs and interests of other diaspora communities.

5. Crowdsourcing Philanthropy

Inspired by her work at the World Bank on development and how to promote innovation, Harvard-educated Mari Kuraishi created GlobalGiving, an online charitable giving platform that uses technology to revolutionize charitable giving.  The virtual foundation allows for massive outreach to both donors and recipients, enabling the many to help the many. Technology has made it possible to screen and manage a large number of beneficiary projects, including small and micro projects, on a global scale. Diaspora members are using GlobalGiving’s open platform to crowdsource funding for projects within their countries of origin. For example, members of the U.S.-based Indian diaspora have provided thousands of eye surgeries in India by raising money on GlobalGiving’s platform for the Blind People’s Association.

 

Technology is critical to advancing and deepening diaspora communities’ engagement with their countries of heritage. Its potential for addressing development issues should make access to new technology a priority for diaspora innovators and development stakeholders, particularly in small and medium-sized economies. Increased access in these economies could be achieved, in part, by the transfer and sharing of technology across borders, using the diaspora corridor as a conduit.

 

About the Author: Geneive Brown Metzger is a leader in the Caribbean American community where, for more than three decades, she has promoted Caribbean-U.S. relations and economic development in the region. She served as the New York Consul General of Jamaica from 2008 to 2012. Currently, she is Co-Chair, University of Technology, Jamaica; and North American Adviser to UTECH’s School of Computing and Information Technology where she’s collaborating on a Caribbean regional  initiative for new tech innovators and entrepreneurs. She can be reached at gbamarketing@optonline.net.

 

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.