Innovative approaches in diaspora engagement: i-platform/i-dijaspora connecting the Bosnian and Herzegovinian diaspora in Switzerland
AIDA IBRIČEVIĆ | 23 JUNE 2021 | ISSUE #15
In 2018, i-platform organised the (H)AJMO! event series in Bern and Zurich, Switzerland. Source: i-dijaspora/i-platform.
‘i’ is a connector
‘The Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian conjunction “i” (meaning “and” in English) in our name signifies connectivity, inclusiveness, togetherness. The “i/and” in our name refers to us in the diaspora “and” to us in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), to us here “and” to us there. With this connecting approach we bridge issues pertaining to the economy “and” culture, gender equality “and” scientific cooperation, environmental conservation “and” political representation. We simply oppose divisions, and instead, we want to create networks. We want to connect people,’ answers Nikola Burić, CEO of i-platform/i-dijaspora, when asked about the ‘i/and’ in their name. Nikola further explains: ‘Above all, we are a network, guided by the principles of network weaving, where developing strong human bonds and building trust are prioritized.’
Bosnian and Herzegovinian diaspora in Switzerland
According to the 2014 research study carried out by the University of Neuchâtel’s Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies (SFM), more than 60,000 emigrants originating from BiH live and work in Switzerland. People arrived in Switzerland from BiH in three separate waves of immigration, where the first and second waves (1960s and 1980s) were mainly labour migrants, while the third and most numerous refugee wave was caused by the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nikola Burić discusses the role of the i-diaspora/i-platform in the life of the BiH diaspora in Switzerland: ‘The i-diaspora organization was founded in 2014 and is of a semi-open type, as there are many procedures for becoming a member. After two years of successful operation and countless bilateral and multilateral meetings with various institutions, it became apparent to us that we needed a larger platform, a network with broader membership. In 2016, we launched a broad-membership project for individuals, institutions, NGOs, and companies.’ Furthermore, the i-dijaspora/i-platform network teamed up with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to create a self-sustaining platform with the main goal of strengthening economic, educational, cultural and social cooperation between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the BiH diaspora in Switzerland.
The COVID-19 crisis as opportunity: Connecting the BiH diaspora online
Increased transnational connectivity resulting from the COVID-19 crisis was seen as a real opportunity by the members of i-dijaspora/i-platform. From the first lockdowns onward, they started designing innovative approaches to connecting the BiH diaspora in Switzerland to the homeland, as well as the BiH diaspora worldwide. As Nikola Burić elaborates: ‘Before the COVID-19 crisis, we held many in-person business forums, cultural events, summer schools, student exchanges – we had events where people could meet and share experiences. We could then further support initiatives and ideas created within those interactions. Paradoxically, while we were all stuck at home both in Switzerland and in BiH, an excellent opportunity emerged: the opportunity to connect online with our diaspora scattered all over the world.’ Using the wonders of ICT, diaspora dialogues and meetups for BiH local communities and a series of online themed events were created.
Courtesy of i-dijaspora/i-platform.
Diaspora dialogues: Leaving, arriving and belonging
Diaspora dialogues build community using a set ‘dialogue format’ developed by Katalin Hausel, a Hungarian-Swiss artist, designer and educator, in cooperation with Collaboratio Helvetica. Diaspora dialogues discuss experiences of leaving the homeland, arriving in Switzerland and creating belonging in both countries. The dialogue format relies on introspective questions, such as: ‘Who am I?’; ‘What do I long for?’; ‘Where do I belong?’; ‘How did I become what I am today?’; ‘Where do I feel at home?’; ‘What is home?’; ‘Belonging, what kind of feeling is it?’; ‘Where do I feel it in my body?’ Dialogue participants give individual answers to these questions in pairs, and then exchange their observations with the larger group. The basic dialogue principles are to speak with intention and to listen with attention; to replace advice-giving with intellectual curiosity; and to create a safe and stimulating environment where all participants feel secure to reveal their vulnerabilities.
Meetups for local communities
Instead of viewing the diaspora as a monolithic and somewhat abstract whole, a translocal approach suggests the existence of many diverse diasporas, focused on belonging to small, local communities. Recognising the reality of many different diasporas, i-dijaspora/i-platform launched internet meetups for worldwide diaspora from BiH towns: Zenica, Živinice, Bijeljina and Kladanj. In conversation with Dalida Karabdić, i-dijaspora/i-platform’s representative in Kladanj, we learn that the Kladanj model of local community engagement has proven to be successful. ‘From October last year until today, we have held nine online meetups with the basic guiding idea of rebuilding mutual trust with the Kladanj diaspora. As a small local community of some 13,000 inhabitants, we have a wonderful opportunity to cooperate with our diaspora, to build a great team. We want to work together – families in Kladanj and families abroad, individuals, educational, cultural and sports institutions, as well as the Municipality of Kladanj, with which a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed. Since we are a close-knit community, we mostly know each other well, while it is often the case that some members of one family live in Kladanj, while others could be in the USA, Sweden, Italy, France or Germany. This type of diaspora engagement is personal, close and, above all, based on trust,’ says Karabdić.
Online diaspora check-ins, literary evenings and themed events
In order to harness opportunities for highly specific diaspora engagement, i-dijaspora/i-platform has organised online discussions on a variety of topics such as bilingualism, environmental conservation, as well as literary evenings and a conference on deliberative democracy. ‘We are a network and we try to encourage people to offer their knowledge and experiences, so that we could all benefit. Our joint pool of resources is impressive, and our approach is based on self-organization and self-management, because if we do not act, then who will? If not now, then when?’ The concluding words of Nikola Burić point both to the urgency of diaspora engagement and the extraordinary opportunities offered by the increased digitalisation of such cooperation.
Dr Ibričević is an independent migration and diaspora studies researcher based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, affiliated as a Global Fellow with the Migration Center at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Norway, and a Research Fellow with the Center for Diaspora Studies at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology. Her most recent research focuses on return and reintegration, the nexus between citizenship, home and belonging, external voting, and on highly skilled emigration. Aida has performed consulting services for various international development agencies, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She also provides review services for a number of peer-reviewed, international academic journals. Her BA and MA degrees are in Economics from Middlebury College, United States, and from the Central European University, Hungary. Her PhD is in Political Science from Istanbul Bilgi University, Turkey. For further information and contact, go to: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aidaibricevic/ and https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Aida-Ibricevic
This article is part of the issue ‘Empowering global diasporas in the digital era’, a collaboration between Routed Magazine and iDiaspora. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or Routed Magazine.