Transnational communities, diasporas, expatriates, migrants — no matter what labels apply, individuals living away from the places they call home have historically driven social and economic change around the globe. Over the last decade, development actors and governments have increasingly recognized and promoted the important role played by diaspora communities, which has already been augmented and facilitated by exponential evolution of communication technologies.
While international actors like IOM, the UN Migration Agency, have a long history of supporting efforts to empower diaspora communities, they have by and large been State-led, addressing transnational communities from a given country of origin or residing in a given country of destination. However, it has become clear that these communities can learn a lot from each other and maximize their impact by collaborating across communities to share lessons learned, best practices, new ideas and inspiration.
Based on this notion, IOM has taken the first steps to establish a global platform that helps transnational communities connect and self-mobilize in order to amplify their voices in the fields of local development, policy planning, humanitarian assistance and more. That platform is iDiaspora. Initially conceptualized as a tool for collecting inputs from transnational communities as part of the consultation phase of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM) in 2017, the need for it to grow beyond this mandate quickly became apparent. Since then, a small team of dedicated colleagues within and outside of IOM set out to develop iDiaspora into a dynamic collaborative space.
Recognizing that such a platform needed to be grounded in the real needs of transnational communities around the globe, while building on the experiences of a broad range of actors, the iDiaspora team took a participatory approach to its development. An Advisory Board as diverse as the intended users of the platform was established, to apply expertise in website design, private sector development, academia and of course diaspora empowerment. The first board meeting took place in January 2018 and since then, the board members have brought a wealth of ideas, perspectives, and initiatives to the development of the platform well beyond the normal scope of IOM’s work. Prior to that, a multilingual questionnaire was built into the platform to collect feedback from users on their priorities and how iDiaspora can best address them. The survey was actively promoted through a social media campaign in May 2018 but remains open here.
In parallel, based on the inputs recorded during a series of initial consultations during the end of 2017, the platform was redesigned — from a simple set of forums into an interactive hub for transnational communities and those that want to engage with them. IOM’s Online Communications Unit based in Manila has worked to continually integrate feedback and new ideas that have been received from users and colleagues; as more and more users test the platform, better and more pertinent feedback is collected.
With the groundwork laid out, and with immense gratitude for all those partners and collaborators that have contributed to the platform, the team is finally ready to share iDiaspora with the world. The official launch of iDiaspora on 8 October 2018 marks the start of a new journey of collaboration. The hope is to continue building the platform with a community of users so that it can truly be a global platform for and by transnational communities; a new tool for a new age of engagement.
This piece was written by Roberto Cancel, Regional Labour Mobility and Human Development Specialist for MENA, based at IOM’s Regional Office in Cairo.