Notes from Secretary Clinton’s Global Diaspora Forum | Project Diaspora

Notes from Secretary Clinton’s Global Diaspora Forum

by TMS Ruge on May 21, 2011

I spent this past week in Washington, DC attending Secretary Clinton’s Global Diaspora Forum. The UN foundation invited me to participate on a panel discussion the Global Diaspora’s role in tackling global problems.

The power of the Diaspora as change agents is not something new to us here at Project Diaspora. Since 2007, we’ve been singing that song from the perspective of the African Diaspora’s role in development of Africa. While the continent’s Diaspora was well-represented, I noticed a lack of Sub-Saharan Africa voices on the major planery panels. Semhar Araia, founder and executive director of Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN) and a member of Eritrea’s Diaspora, was one of the few voices I noticed.

I can possibly give the State Department a pass as this was the first conference of it’s kind. I am sure subsequent forums will include an equal representation from all regions. There was an underlying current of the need for collaboration among the Diaspora’s.

In his opening remarks, Thomas Debass, Director at the Global Partership Initiative in the Office of the Secretary of State, noted that “the tone of the conference is about partnership and less about pontification.”

The following are notes from the first day’s keynote speeches and plenary sessions. I zeroed in on interesting stats and quotes that I thought most relevant to this audience:

  • We [ global diaspora ] are natural ambassodors
  • 300 organizations represented
  • Diaspora at State is a brand new office set up by Secretary Clinton

Maria Otero
Under-Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs

  • Highest ranking Latina in the history of Department of State
  • Raised with 8 siblings in La Paz, Bolivia
  • Moved to Washington, DC when she was 12
  • “Our hearts, our minds and our stomachs always remain in our home countries”
  • Her siblings lived somewhere between Bolivian culture and new home in America. All her siblings got jobs that fulfilled that balance
  • Has been fortunate to work in careers that have dealt with her home country
  • Over 25% of American population is first generation immigrant
  • US throughout has used used Diaspora to engage with their home countries
  • This event today builds on our ties to our countries of origin. Seeks Diaspora to inform State Department on foreign diplomacy.
  • “What State Dept calls diplomacy, we call a phone call to family and friends.”
  • We know we are the link between the two and our voice matters
  • Diaspora communities are first to respond and last to leave in any time of intervention
  • Diplomacy under this pres and Sec of state is no longer limited to a phone call from government office
  • From one immigrant to many, I greatly appreciate you being here
  • All the issues that I work on I know are important to you


Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State of the United States

  • Extend greeting to everyone that is visiting via internet
  • One of great strengths of the US is its diversity
  • More than 60 million Americans are first or second generation diaspora
  • What would countries do without remittances from America. Remittances dwarf foreign aid
  • Not possible for any government to deal with everything it has to deal with, that’s why we need ‘smart power.’ Building coalitions, people-to-people exchanges is the essence of smart power
  • You are our peace corps, our usaid, opic all rolled into one
  • In a crisis, first people to respond are those with family or friends where disaster strikes
  • Many of you have stepped in where others were unwilling or unable to assist
  • Irish Americans were instrumental in peace process in Ireland
  • America has an obligation to try and promote peace around the world (with guns?-TMS)
  • Particularly interested in women involved as peace makers
  • There are some member of some communities who want nothing to do with their respective communities of origin
  • GDF will instutionalize as a convener, catalyst, collaborator (work closely with diaspora to maximize impact
  • We need to get into the basics of what it means to participate in the process of politics
  • We need you to help to us (State dept) on what is best to be done to organize
  • Too many people who pledge for democracy believe in one election, one time
  • We want you to tell us what we should be doing


Partner Commitments to the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IDEA)

  • IFAD
    • Diaspora investment in ag is end of conflict and beginning of development
    • 250 million leave outside countries of origin worldwide
    • We all have a profound connection to our friends and our families
    • 325 bil in remittances around the world, help in education, health, family
    • Role of diaspora goes beyond short-term relief
    • Investment in ag is best vehicle to development. Social and polical benefits
    • Diaspora willing to invest while foriegn firms run away
    • How can we better leverage Diaspora investments in agricuture
    • Diaspora save $400 bil every year, money is not the problem
    • Diaspora throughout the world will send over $1.3 trillion, goal is to encourage moving some of that money towards investments to foster growth and development
    • “Let us create a world where migration is a matter of choice, not a matter of necessity”
  • Inter American Development Bank
    • Latin America will soon reach 100% mobile phone penetration, the highest in the world
    • It is impossible for any one institution to have everything

World Bank

    • African Diaspora is the 6th region for Africa’s development
    • Africa in the last decade has done better than it has ever done, growing at about 5.7% per anum.
    • Africa’s sound policies rebounded after the global crisis because of sound policies
    • Any attempts to grow the continent needs to employ all economic regions
    • Data on physicians: 1 to 33,500 patients in Liberia
    • No way africa is going to achieve MDGs in childbirth without investment in this areas
    • 2 million in the US and other areas
    • Infrastrucre on the continent.
      • Domestic resources mobilization is almost saturated
      • $48 billion needed annually to build up Africa’s infrastructure


  • I would ask the remittances laws be changed to allow for more flow and less control at the top by remittance companies controlling remittance flows.

MVIA launches BOOM

    • World’s first global mobile-based bank account
    • Does not charge money transfer fees
    • First two global diaspora will be Mexico & Haiti
    • Will include large towns and cities as well as rural areas
    • Partnership with 25000 owner-operated money-transfer facilities
    • Bank over 1 million over next 5 years
    • Eliminating cash will increase security for many Mexicans who count on remittances
    • 30% of Haiti’s GDP is generated from remittances**
    • Zero transaction fees to Haiti for the 1st year
    • More information at


The Hand Foundation

  • Different views on various topics get in the way of organizing for development
  • Human capital development is really critical in running our home countries


Western Union

    • Main business is to serve movement of money for diasporas
    • 10% of GDP for approximately 40 countries
    • 70% is functionally banked using technology
    • 70% of proposals came from USA for Diaspora Marketplace participants
    • Founding member of Diaspora Alliance
    • Announcing renewed partnership with USAID and will launch second DMP later this year
    • Celebrating 160th birthday

The business card exchanges were fast and furious. Deciding which panel to attend and which to miss was a heart-breaking process, as I found the discussions both deep and engaging. It was unfortunate that so many panels were held concurrently, because it meant missing out on so much content. Here’s to wishing that the next forum provides a better avenue to accessing the panels & discussions that were missed online.

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