Diaspora communities key to progress

AROUND Christmas time and at the beginning of every year, I have routinely sent cash to my extended family back home in Zimbabwe.

Nobert Mugwagwa

That’s been the pattern since I joined the World Bank mid-career and settled in Washington DC 23 years ago.

I am not alone; the number of Zimbabweans who have left the country is estimated at more than three million. Most have left since 2000, for reasons varying from the socio-economic to political.

Diaspora statistics from Zimbabwe make for sobering reading: 50% of all professionals have emigrated since 2000, which places the country in 10th position out of 157 countries that experience migration at this level of brain drain.

This picture seems to suggest the country’s huge investment in education has been lost, yet when Zimbabwe suffered its worst economic meltdown in 2008-2009, the diaspora remitted over US$1,6 billion, which accounted for more than 10% of its gross domestic product.

In that time period, it was the biggest source of capital inflow and out-performed both exports earnings and development assistance.

Worldwide, members of the diaspora may or may not want to return to their country of origin, but most want to make a difference to their country by contributing money in the form of remittances, skills and knowledge – often called ‘social remittances’; establishing networks and connections, and investing in business ventures or technology transfer.

Aside from economic impact, countries that have benefitted most from their diaspora have governments that have engaged this group and implemented policies to recognise the role of the diaspora, and give them incentives to invest and reduce costs of doing business.

For those of us from Zimbabwe, relations with our home government have been strained. Members of the diaspora were denied the right to vote in the most recent elections and therefore feel alienated from centres of power. Political differences and tensions among the diaspora, and between the diaspora and the government, have impeded discussion of collaborating to improve the country’s economy.

In 2012, as part of its support to Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity, the World Bank weighed in to help my diaspora community engage with the government. I was tasked with organising my fellow expats to establish the Zimbabwe Diaspora Home Interface Programme (ZIDHIP) and its affiliate in the United States, the Zimbabwe Diaspora Network North America (ZDNNA). Over the last 10 months, we have designed a plan based on five priorities to contribute to the country’s development, as follows:

Develop an IT-based skills locator to facilitate self-reporting by diaspora-based professionals and build a database of expertise within the diaspora, which both the public and private sector can tap into;

Establish a think-tank to share knowledge on various subjects and topics that would be available as input for socio-economic strategic planning purposes, for the public sector as well as for business decision-making. Activities would include videoconferencing, information exchange during seminars and workshops, and research papers;

Define investment pathways by finding partners that are ‘a good fit’, a process that is challenging because investment choices are more individualistic and a result of intensive exchanges often of a confidential nature that requires certain levels of trust. The diaspora would be networked to form resource pools to take up opportunities in both the public and private sectors;

Support philanthropic causes through shipping and distribution of donations of equipment and supplies for health facilities, books for schools, and clothes and other consumables for orphans; and

Develop programmes to build public and private sector capacity through virtual training and sabbaticals, among other activities.
In August 2013, I coordinated a two-day ZIDHIP Diaspora Summit in Zimbabwe to formalise collaboration among members worldwide, including those from the United States, United Kingdom, Far East and South Africa.

Since the summit, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Finance, Patrick Chinamasa, has acknowledged the role the diaspora can play in the country’s economy and encouraged our participation in helping to build sectors such as power and agriculture, and in the resuscitation of faltering industrial companies.

The Zimbabwean diaspora is ready to contribute to its country’s development by pooling resources and investing in new ventures in mining, agriculture and financial sectors. I am very glad to contribute to these efforts.

Mugwagwa is a human development specialist with the World Bank.

3 thoughts on “Diaspora communities key to progress”

  1. 21 Gun Salute says:

    Would you after bearing the pain of having to leave home be willing to risk your hard earned money to fund atrocious salaries and growing corruption in land with no focus vision and driven by speculation, hatred and fear of the past? Good luck if so.

  2. masimba Evanhu says:

    The issue of engaging diaspora community is very wise and have been used by other countries like India for the benefit of all. Now the biggest problem with our day dreaming revolutionaries is that they always come up with these ‘sweet policies’ when it suits them most. Whatever they do, they want to win it all. Greedy leaders always think of themselves, they eat everything within their sight and live only for today! When they are desperate like now, with no rich friends in sight and all donor doors shut, they formulate desperate policies. Unfortunately after 34 years of cheating, lying, reckless spending, hurting, killing, blaming and having- it-all, MANYANGIRA YAONA!!!

  3. Tig says:

    I agree, see in the past GOZ would sent citizens abroad to gain expertise, such as trainee killers to North Korea, or more value adding, trainee doctors to Cuba.

    This was costly ofcourse. Now will be a good time for GOZ to benefit from the diaspora at little cost to itself really by simple and open engagement with the diaspora. Either way they will be forced to do so eventually.

    More than likely those that have had the international exposure can help GOZ stem the the mess that is Zimbabwe at the moment.

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