Scottish connections (diaspora) work: literature review

Reports on findings from a literature review looking at international examples of engagement activities, initiatives and strategies in relation to various diasporic communities.

Executive Summary

1. A Fairer, Greener Scotland: Programme for Government 2021-22,[1] commits the Scottish Government to expand on its existing work with Scottish diaspora networks across the world. This research contributes to that by building on previous research and existing strategy, to identify, from a practical point of view, “what works” in other countries’ arrangements that can contribute to a new strategy for developing “meaningful connections” with the Scottish diaspora, as part of a wider strategy of global engagement.

2. The countries included in this study (with a few exceptions) are typical of countries globally in that they do not have fully developed policies and strategies for diaspora engagement and even where they do have strategies, they do not embed evaluation in their activities, so it is hard to assess “what works”, even in a qualitative way, without further research.

3. We did, however, compare what countries say publicly, and drew on academic assessments, Parliamentary reports, budget statements and other grey material, to come to an overview of:

  • Policy drivers: what inspires countries to engage with their diasporas and their priority target groups.
  • Means of engagement: how countries engage.
  • Who engages: the key actors in diaspora engagement in each country.
  • Issues: facing countries engaged in diaspora engagement, and
  • Specific initiatives: which countries attach value to over time as a proxy measure for effectiveness, or which indicate a willingness to try new approaches and innovate.

4. In the countries reviewed, the historical drivers for diaspora engagement were:

  • To address the “brain drain” from poorer or more marginal, but educated, countries to richer countries with more economic opportunities.
  • Preserving cultural identity and ties to the home country in a globalising world.

Our research found that these two historical drivers were still the strongest, with the addition of attempts to influence others through public diplomacy carried out by diasporas.

5. Countries and regions in this study are increasingly interested in developing policies and strategies for diaspora engagement. This is principally driven by concerns about the economic impact of demographic change, and is particularly evident in countries with ageing populations, skills shortages, and good education systems that equip globally mobile younger workers to work overseas. Policy responses include a range of engagement measures, principally support for overseas business networks, and in some cases support for alumni, as well as steps to encourage and support skilled diaspora members to return home. This emphasis on “return” policies is frequently mentioned in migration literature and is borne out in data sets on emigration policies.[2]

6. The scope for sub-state action on diaspora engagement is invariably impacted by the legal competence the sub-state has within its overall constitutional framework. This competence is defined differently in each case, so it is hard to draw general conclusions.[3]

7. Our sample countries mostly targeted “temporary migrants” defined by the European Union as “Migration for a specific motivation and / or purpose with the intention that afterwards there will be a return to the country of origin or onward movement”.[4] While other diaspora segments, such as “heritage” or “affinity” diasporas were targeted by some countries, they were in the minority. Comparator countries’ commonest policy goals were economic, followed by cultural. Surprisingly few countries saw their diasporas as contributors to their public diplomacy or international promotion.

8. There appears to be a consensus internationally that diaspora policy and strategy needs to be addressed through extensive stakeholder engagement and consultation (this is true even in China). This process is not always part of a wider international strategy development process, but where it is, it seems to be more effective at leading to adopted strategies.

9. In all countries in this study, diaspora engagement, when it is understood in the narrow sense of providing services to citizens overseas, is implemented by diplomatic structures (consulates). This is also the case in most countries globally.[5] Embassies and consulates also engage in other aspects of diaspora engagement such as events for sections of the diaspora, business and trade activities, cultural diplomacy, or promotional activities. Diaspora relations take place through a range of institutions including embassies, sub-state international offices, trade delegations, business networks, cultural institutes, civil society and voluntary bodies. Diaspora engagement activities can also be based in the home country, in the form of dedicated agencies, advocacy organisations that promote diaspora engagement, alumni networks, digital platforms, online networks, and online services such as access to information or ancestry search.[6] Activities other than those directly provided by state institutions may, or may not, receive support from the state.

10. Lack of good data is a general problem. While the countries in this study mostly have rigorous and comprehensive national statistics on migration (Canada, Denmark, the UK) which can partly serve as a proxy measure of the diaspora, none of the countries in the study had easily accessible statistics on their diasporas. As noted by the Migration Data Portal, to do so would pose methodological challenges, given that there is no agreed upon definition of “diaspora”. France stands out in this study as the country with the best statistics on its expatriate population, reflecting the fact that France is unique in our sample in extending full citizenship rights (including voting rights) to its overseas population.

11. Generally, countries that are active in diaspora engagement wish to align their activities with national brands. Several are in the process of developing nation brands through processes of engagement and consultation, but that tends to be a parallel process to that of consultation on their diaspora strategies. Countries face challenges in connecting their nation brands to their national imaginary (how they see themselves, especially their values and symbols), to the perceptions of others (how others see them) and to the associations others make with references to the past which do not play well in the modern world. There is also the question of how accurately nation brands express the reality of the country.

12. The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the turn to the digital, globally, in terms of how people live, work, transact and engage. Countries offer a range of digital experiences and opportunities to diasporas – but these are almost never targeted specifically at them unless they address specific sectoral concerns (business networking), sell individual experiences (ancestry and tourism sites), provide services (consulates), or project an image of the country (in relation to global challenges). Very few sites drive engagement. That, where it is the focus of digital engagement, is done through social media (mostly Facebook).

13. Temporary migrants, including students and alumni, are an increasing focus in the countries studied, reflecting increased labour mobility. This is particularly relevant to Canada (Québec), Denmark, Ireland, and New Zealand. Temporary migration is defined by the European Commission as “...for a specific motivation and / or purpose with the intention that afterwards there will be a return to the country of origin or onward movement”. As noted in Scotland’s National Population Strategy, temporary migrants are important as they can meet the skills needs of sectors such as pharmaceuticals, banking, or higher education, or the labour requirements of seasonal industries such as food and drink, and tourism.

14. Countries (with some notable exceptions) do not devote substantial resources to diaspora engagement other than through their consulates. Several countries have started to develop engagement policies with a broad scope, but over time, nearly all have found it necessary to focus more narrowly on specific groups who can be supported meaningfully within scarce resources. It is thus hard to conclude whether Scotland should take a broad or narrow approach. That would depend on what Scotland wants to achieve in its wider international engagement and how it sees itself in the world. Decisions on resources should also follow an assessment of how far its own capacities will go toward reaching its goals, which capacities reside within the targeted diasporas, and which must be created or sought from other actors.

15. Policy must be communicated effectively in order to secure domestic (and diaspora) support for engagement over time. Given the large number of interests and stakeholders, it is important to manage expectations. From the experience of countries such as Australia and New Zealand, there is a risk that governments that respond to pro-diaspora lobbies with a sense of genuine initial excitement find it hard to translate that into overall policy or strategy, or offer other than very limited financial support.

16. At the level of delivery, there are three main levels of “meaningful engagement”. These range from formal state-led engagements through diplomatic channels (level 1), through to more informal arrangements (level 3). Scotland, as a significant sub-state actor, today operates at levels 2 and 3. The right level of diaspora engagement within existing competencies is a question which can and should be addressed by Scotland as it considers diaspora engagement in the context of its wider international aims.

17. However, meaningful engagement, at any level, is a two-way process involving discussion and cooperation, rather than one-way information provision. It also implies mutual understanding based on good information. As research into cultural relations, dialogue and co-operation for the British Council has shown, a shared view of contemporary diaspora and home country reality is a prerequisite for effective engagement.



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