Mobilizing Next-Gen Diaspora Engagement and Leadership

By Andrew O’Brien, Special Representative for Global Partnerships at the U.S. Department of State.
Originally posted at 

I’ve been leading a “Diaspora Tour” across the United States, where I have had the honor of visiting and speaking at a number of conferences and universities about the important role that America’s diaspora communities play in advancing our diplomatic and development efforts globally. Whether it’s through remittances, investment, policy influence, or skills transfer, diasporas are often the first movers when it comes to development advances in their countries of affinity. And while diaspora contributions to development are now garnering more attention in the global research agenda and by governments worldwide (and rightly so), one particular area that goes largely unnoticed is the potential impact of diaspora youth and next-gen diaspora leaders in the development arena.


Consider this: in this era of globalization and interconnectedness, never before have we seen efforts to mobilize and organize around a cause so quickly and efficiently. And by leveraging technology, ideas can be shared easily, become online projects, then blossom into campaigns, and faster than ever before, they transform from a concept to reality. As simple as it sounds, of course there’s still a whole lot of work and effort that goes into any project of substance. And our college campuses are an inspiring medium for such initiatives.

The student and faculty diversity on our campuses is truly an untapped potential. Think about the American engineering professor of Filipino origin who can also train wastewater treatment technicians and managers back in the Philippines in his native language of Tagalog. And the student of Haitian origin who sees a gap in what non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are offering to help rebuild Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and starts her own NGO that now employs dozens of volunteers to strengthen Haiti’s path to sustainable growth. Or the Indian student entrepreneur who was so inspired by his interaction with an Indian child beggar that he uses his engineering degree and technical skills to launch an organization dedicated to the education of Indian women and children. These are, by the way, real examples of real people on college campuses featured in panel discussions from parts of the Diaspora Tour. And the common thread between them — and all others like them — is a passion for helping people in places where they have an emotional connection.

Next week, I continue the “Diaspora Tour” at UC San Diego, UCLA, and Seattle Colleges, which also coincides with Global Diaspora Week or “GDW,” an initiative launched by our flagship diaspora engagement partnership, IdEA (the International diaspora Engagement Alliance). GDW is a truly global series of events organized by diaspora communities and organizations to shine a spotlight on the work that diaspora groups do and the issues that they feel are important. The official launch of GDW will be the Global Diaspora Media Forum, a one-day conference in Washington, D.C. to kickoff GDW under the theme of “Engaging the Mobile Diaspora.” The event is co-sponsored by IdEA, The George Washington University School of Business, and AudioNow. The beauty of GDW is that it enables all interested groups to discuss and deliberate on diaspora-related issues – in cities, towns, and college campuses, regardless of location and size. Over 65 events globally will take place during GDW, and full information, including locations, panelists, and speakers, can be found here.

Every “Diaspora Tour” stop reinforces my belief in the power of America’s diasporas as our grassroots ambassadors. And diaspora youth and next-gen leaders have the energy, skills, and creativity that are needed in bolstering America’s development efforts. They are engaged, driven, connected and impassioned about their linkages globally and we encourage students, faculty, community organizations, universities, local governments, and the private sector to explore partnership opportunities that can amplify global development in game-changing ways.

About the Author: Andrew O’Brien serves as the Special Representative for Global Partnerships. Follow #gdw2014, #diasporatour, @DrewatState, and @GPatState on Twitter for updates.