4. Thematic Analysis
191. Analysis of the country profiles revealed a number of cross-cutting themes which are of relevance to diaspora engagement.
The drivers for diaspora engagement
192. Traditionally, at least since the 1990s, the rationale for diaspora engagement was economic: to address the “brain drain” from poorer or more marginal, but educated countries, to richer countries with more economic opportunities. Not seen as a very high policy priority in the first years of the 21st century, this started to change following the financial crisis of 2008, when historical patterns of emigration started to reappear.
193. The other main traditional driver for diaspora engagement was cultural identity in an increasingly globalising world. The roots of this can be seen in the late 19th century in countries as different as France and China where institutions and policies began to be developed to support the cultural identity of people living overseas.
194. Today, the evidence we have found is that these two historical drivers are still the strongest, with the addition of soft power/public diplomacy. Our research has identified the following key drivers:
The economy: labour market considerations predominate, especially policies to manage skills shortages in ageing populations. This is the key driver (sometimes the only driver) for diaspora engagement in most countries studied, but is especially prominent for Australia, Denmark and New Zealand. Exports and inward investment through support for diaspora business networks are also important, as is knowledge transfer (Australia, Denmark, Québec, New Zealand), and support for alumni (Australia, France).
Culture and identity: a smaller range of countries give priority to helping diaspora communities retain a sense of cultural identity with their origin country (China, France). There can be an overlap between these activities and the economy through initiatives which aim to attract tourists and support for business networks through activities and events that draw heavily on well-recognised symbols of national belonging and identity.
Soft Power: the OECD identified a role for diasporas to act as ambassadors for their countries. A range of states and civil society actors also see potential in working with diaspora stakeholders to impact on world events, and shape preferences of decision makers in target countries in favour of the home country. Sometimes these activities are very explicit, for example Flanders’ desire to increase its influence in the European Union, or the French integration of diaspora engagement in their Cultural Diplomacy.
195. There is another driver of diaspora engagement which is perhaps the most prevalent of all, and that is the activities states undertake to exercise their right to protect their citizens who live abroad. This is one of the primary duties and functions of a diplomat. States have different approaches to how they approach this, ranging from balancing the right to protection with an emphasis on the responsibilities of citizens for their own safety, through the provision of services such as information provision or emergency assistance, to including diasporas and citizens abroad in the domestic affairs of the home country. These activities and services can range from supporting political and civic participation (voting, representation, rights) through to easing barriers to return from overseas. As these activities can only meaningfully be taken forward by states with legal competence, diplomatic missions (especially consular services) and substantial resources, we have ruled them out of scope for this study.
Modes of engagement with the diaspora
196. The drivers for diaspora engagement are broadly similar between the countries in this study. It is striking that the institutional arrangements, activities, and programmes are also similar. There appears to be a consensus internationally that the way to develop diaspora policy and strategy is through extensive stakeholder engagement and consultation – there are useful examples here from Denmark’s Task Force, and from Ireland. Multi-stakeholder engagement is the norm, but it broadly takes three forms:
- Diplomatic services in countries with established diaspora engagement strategies and activities, typically lead on policy, especially where diaspora engagement is seen as key to soft power aspects of external relations. China, France, and Japan are good examples. They also lead on provision of services to diasporas, budget allocation, questions relating to security (of diasporas) and coordination of other Government stakeholders, including Ministries, sub-Ministry level bodies (such as international office networks), other national level institutions (especially Parliaments), consular networks and public-private bodies.
- Where states such as Ireland develop new diaspora engagement policies, they involve relevant domestic interest groups, typically local government, business and its representatives and umbrella organisations, and universities. Sometimes they also consult the diaspora itself, but this is not always done.
- Where civil society actors take the initiative as in Canada and Denmark, this usually comes from business, cities/city regions, or diaspora groups who want something from the home country.
197. Given the nature of diasporas and the extensive range of interests involved, from states and local governments, corporations, small businesses, public agencies, universities, NGOs, and even individuals, it is unsurprising that multi-stakeholder engagement is the norm. The range of domestic stakeholders requires leadership, extensive consultation, and a willingness to listen. Our research suggests, however, that this can lead to a sense of policy fatigue – it becomes all too complex, contested, and difficult; the benefits are not clearly articulated; and the costs are under-estimated. An example would be Australia where, after extensive engagement and advocacy in support of diaspora engagement in the early 2000s, and periodic revivals of interest from external stakeholders, the Government has not developed a strong commitment to diaspora engagement beyond one specific initiative (its alumni strategy) and one organisation (Advance.org). Countries tend to fall back on diaspora engagement that is more manageable as it is more narrowly targeted and where the burden of delivery can be shared. As the evaluation of Kea in New Zealand has shown, while initial claims for the return on investment are often optimistic, the contraction of ambition and lack of resources can lead to the potential of diaspora engagement being only partly realised. It is necessary therefore to manage expectations and to be able to demonstrate tangible results.
198. Other cross-cutting themes are relevant to Scotland:
- A strategic approach to higher education and alumni. This is an area where Scotland, with its very strong higher education base, could learn from initiatives in other countries, such as Australia’s Alumni Strategy, or aspects of France’s provision of education for expatriates. Following the digital turn during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are more opportunities than before to offer a Scottish education remotely, and to take advantage of universities’ innovative initiatives and existing partnerships in online learning.
- A rigorous approach to data and statistics. Lack of data on diasporas is a general problem, but some countries have rigorous and comprehensive national statistics (as does the UK), and others report on progress with strategy implementation. There is, however, strong international interest in developing better data on diaspora engagement internationally, and addressing the methodological challenges of understanding the sites and flows of diaspora populations in global labour and study markets. There is also a general lack of evaluation in this area which could be addressed.
- A sophisticated approach to nation branding. Generally, countries that are active in diaspora engagement wish to align their activities with national brands. Several, for example Australia, 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. Other countries, for example Japan, 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 between 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. As with data, these are issues which face a number of countries in this study (Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Japan).
- Digital engagement, networks, and platforms. 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 we looked at in this study drive diaspora engagement as such, and where they do (for example Advance.org), their offer is focused on the interests of the home country, rather than on the diaspora population.