Foreword: Empowering global diasporas in the digital era
Diasporas are agents with the capacity to create transnational connections and initiatives to support their communities both in their countries of origin and in their countries of residence. Technology provides an invaluable tool to galvanize these diasporic efforts to tap into the unlimited potential of the digital space and collaboration. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic at the end of 2019, diasporas have become powerful actors in supporting communities both in their countries of origin and residence – for instance, by conducting information and advocacy campaigns using digital platforms to stop the spread of the virus and protect the most vulnerable people within their communities. Digital platforms have also been very useful as a tool to collect funds to distribute goods, personal protective equipment, and sanitary equipment. In addition, technology has allowed diasporas to communicate efficiently, reinforce existing networks, and engage with other stakeholders involved in the response to the pandemic such as international organisations, governments, and experts.
I am happy to present this publication as a collaborative effort between IOM's supported iDiaspora platform and the Routed Magazine which collates commentaries and articles from a wide variety of young scholars and professionals, under an overarching topic “Diaspora and Digitalization”. The publication showcases important initiatives undertaken by diasporas to contribute to their societies and to sustainable development digitally during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
The reader will learn how diasporas have been at the forefront in developing life-saving initiatives to alleviate the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, working transnationally to transmit crucial medical knowledge, from Nigeria to Syria to Afghanistan and across Africa, and helping medical teams in their fight against the pandemic.
As well, diasporas have deepened innovative uses of technology to communicate across borders during the sanitary crisis, when global mobility has been constrained, using social media to learn about repatriation opportunities, joining online conversations about their homelands, or strengthening transnational connections.
Technology has also been vital in the development of new initiatives to engage diasporas within borders, with the pandemic providing a catalyst for change for the Albanian diaspora and for the Egyptian diaspora’s campaign to expand electronic consular services.
Beyond the pandemic, technology can empower diasporas to drive development, through using blockchain to fund sustainable development in Tunisia and bridging the gap in digital literacy for asylum seekers in Mexico, and systematically mapping Greek diaspora organizations.
When harnessed to their full potential, diasporas are a powerful source of knowledge, and can be a means to transfer ideas, skills, and social remittances. The knowledge gap can be overcome through effective media engagement and communications, breaking down barriers, and counteracting mainstream media narratives.
Diasporas use online social networks to create safe spaces, constructing collective identity and fighting racism or forming new and reclaiming old identities through art and photography. Digital diaspora maps and platforms can help locate diaspora organisations and facilitate the connections between them and with the homeland. As well, technology allows women to access vital information whilst migrating from India to the Gulf, or to construct collective memories and virtual remedies through art.
I wish the reader joy when reading this publication as another testament that diasporas are actors with the will and capacity to create partnerships for development at the international, regional, national, and local levels. Technology and digital platforms can accelerate diasporas’ empowerment by enabling them to connect, to transfer knowledge and resources, and to reaffirm their identity as transnational actors.
Head of Labour Mobility and Human Development Division
International Organization for Migration.