Cooperating with the diaspora – the government perspective

Development Policy,Diaspora Inclusion17 Jun 2020Jan Rinzema

Realising effective inclusion of and collaboration with the African diaspora living in the Netherlands in the Dutch development efforts relies, to a large extent, on the willingness of policymakers to facilitate this partnership. Jan Rinzema, Senior policy officer at the Migration and Development Division at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs sheds light on the governmental perspective and explains ways in which collaboration is facilitated.   

The diaspora can certainly play an important role in inclusive development in the Global South and already does in many ways. That said, Dutch development cooperation policy does not single out diaspora as a target group or priority. Specific engagement with the diaspora has nevertheless been part of Dutch policy on migration and development for quite some years. It included regular consultation meetings between government and diaspora, for example to collect the diaspora’s input in the Dutch position for the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). Diaspora organisations were also eligible for subsidies from the migration and development budget but since about 2015, that specific engagement has not been continued (apart from targeted and assisted knowledge transfer by diaspora through support to IOM Netherlands). This is mainly because the – otherwise interesting – dialogue remained limited to networking and did not evolve into diaspora organising itself and taking ownership to become an effective partner for policy-making. At the same time, government-funded activities generally remained fragmented and lacked effectiveness. On this latter aspect, and focusing in particular on activities relating to entrepreneurship, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned an evaluative study by Ecorys. That study was published last year and is worth reading for those interested in the subject.

The policy response to the Ecorys study by the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation gives a clear message. While diaspora can certainly have an added value contributing to sustainable and inclusive development, the very fact of being a diaspora member is not sufficient to have development impact or to make business in developing or fragile countries a success. Other factors are just as – or even more – important, such as entrepreneurial skills, professionalism and knowledge of local networks and context. In the diaspora projects examined, those elements were mostly lacking. Therefore, from the Dutch government’s point of view, making diaspora a specific target group for engagement and support is not the best way to leverage its specific knowledge and position. Diaspora itself bears primary responsibility to organise its contribution to inclusive development of countries of origin. This does not mean that there is no support available for diaspora (entrepreneurs). The Ministry welcomes business proposals by small and medium-sized enterprises including involving diaspora, in accordance with the terms of its private sector support instruments. Information on those terms can be found on the website of Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RvO).

Similarly, diaspora members or organisations can use opportunities to be involved in policy consultations or applications for funding under the Ministry’s existing instruments for civil society. The recent ’Policy Framework for Strengthening Civil Society’ provides an opportunity to apply for grants relating to partnerships with the Dutch government to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The regular interaction with diaspora in the framework of the Dutch NAP1325 community (National Action Plan for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security) constitutes a good example of active diaspora involvement, as does funding through the Pilot Fund Peace and Security for All (PS4A). It may be noted that although the PS4A fund does not target diaspora organisations per se, the majority of the PS4A-partners do identify as such.

In sum, the government looks forward to the continued involvement of and contribution by the diaspora community to realize the SDGs, within the framework and possibilities offered by the current development cooperation policy ‘Investing in Global Prospects’. Its contribution to inclusive development is of great importance, all the more so given the potential consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for the Global South.