5 Keys to Engaging Diaspora Millennials

By Rediate Tekeste, Founder and Executive Director of Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship


EDF 2016 Fellows pictured with Rediate (EDF’s Executive Director) and Meseret (Program Director)

Millennial diaspora are a powerful demographic. They are highly educated, entering or already in an established professional space, socially conscious and impact-driven, social media and tech savvy, and globally connected cultural translators. A focus on storytelling through content is shaping them into active, global connectors who are forging their identities through music, television, film, social media, professional opportunities, conversations with other diaspora and even memes. The makings of a major movement is starting with them.

Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship

At the Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship (EDF), we are building an organization that serves this population. EDF is a 501(c)(3) organization that equips young Ethiopian-American professionals with leadership, service, and creative storytelling skills before sending them to Ethiopia to work with partner organizations for six-month fellowships. EDF serves as an agent for positive change by connecting these talented young professionals with transformative service opportunities that foster mutual growth and understanding.


EDF 2016 Fellows after landing in Ethiopia at Bole International Airport

You can read more about the start of our organization in our previous IdEA blog here. We recently completed our first year and were surprised that three (out of five) members of our first cohort chose to continue living in Ethiopia after their fellowships. This is the outcome of a generation that is flexible, willing, and desires connectedness between worlds.

We now have members of the second EDF cohort in Ethiopia working in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. As a result of working with this population, we’ve observed that this is just the beginning of a much bigger movement. The intersection between this generation’s global connectedness, transnational identities and the need for global cultural translators places the millennial diaspora in a powerful position to become the next generation of impact-driven global leaders.

Here are a few practical tips we have learned (some the hard way) for engaging and adding value to this generation.

5 Simple Ways to Attract & Engage Millennial Diaspora:

  1. Be Aware. We built EDF based on the results of a survey we sent to millennial Ethiopian-American diaspora prior to launching. The survey asked about their previous experiences in Ethiopia, desire to serve and live in Ethiopia, barriers to doing so, and their cultural and professional identities. We used analysis of the survey alongside anecdotal stories to understand who they were and how to serve them. You may not be able to send out a formal survey, but ask questions, run a focus group, volunteer or work with the population at an event prior to yours. The identity formation, desire to reconnect, and overall cultural understanding  is complicated – assumptions won’t get you very far when serving this population.
  2. Be Flexible. This population is looking for a place where curiosity and flexibility are celebrated and mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities. You will miss out on opportunities to truly add value and engage if you are unable to change your “master plan” when it no longer makes sense. For example, we were convinced early on that planned peer-to-peer mentorships were necessary to accomplish our objectives. However, once our first fellows were on the ground in Ethiopia, we saw that they were naturally forming relationships. We dropped the requirement because we realized it would detract from invaluable time spent with each other, with co-workers, and with their families.
  3. Be Authentic. We’ve learned that authenticity is absolutely necessary in connecting with diaspora – especially millennials, who have a deep desire to connect to people and purpose. Last year, two Indicorps alumni led a training in Ethiopia with our fellows. They were extremely authentic while addressing sensitive questions, creating a safe atmosphere for learning and growth. Intentionally striving to be genuine and transparent is absolutely necessary in retaining millennial diaspora engagement.
  4. Be Purposeful. Don’t waste their time. When you build or design anything for this population, keep in mind that they are looking to do something, not just talk about it. This generation grew up with immigrant parents that worked multiple jobs to survive. They know what working hard looks like and want to do the same to grow themselves and their community. Create something where they can feel their growth and measure their impact.
  5. Be Collaborative. Are you available for meetings? Are you listening to their concerns? Do you know their goals? Their names? They will not invest in anything if they know you are not invested in them. Availability can be practical. For example, if you are a consulate, go to local university groups and see what they are doing, hold office-hours, learn the names of young leaders in your community. If you are an organization, look for other organizations working in the same space and don’t compete – collaborate.  

EDF is part of a global movement. As millennial diaspora ourselves, we are keenly aware that this generation is extremely equipped, willing, and capable of making a sustainable difference in their host countries and their home countries. Our ability to be cultural translators makes us valuable to any stakeholder – government, non-profit, or private. You would benefit immensely from strategically engaging these young professionals. Whatever the objective, capturing this audience and cultivating relationships with a purpose will transform the global environment.

The time is now, the audience is willing, the strategy is yours.

To learn more about Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship please visit www.ethiopiandiasporafellowship.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. You can contact Rediate Tekeste at rediate@ethiopiandiasporafellowship.org.