A few west African nations in 2019 were beneficiaries of an initiative dubbed, “The year of the return", which sought to encourage African Americans in the United States diaspora to reconnect with their motherland continent. High profile celebrities like renowned actor Samuel L Jackson, Idriss Elba and others made pilgrimages to their ancestral countries and in some instances were granted citizenship.
In the wake of these visits, interesting discussions are ongoing among many African diaspora communities. For the Kenyan diaspora, how to give back home while still living in the diaspora is a common question. Recently, Nairobi hosted a Kenya diaspora gathering, highlighting interests this group's desire to participate in the local development agenda.
For many African countries, foreign direct investments are now outstripped by diaspora remittances as the major source of investments and donations. Kenyans sent Sh244.8 billion in 2019. The main question is how to strategically utilize remittances to optimise returns while at the same time creating opportunities and channels for those willing to return home with skills to give.
While a majority of diaspora are in early phases of their immigrant lives (limited skills, informal jobs, little spare cash), a not insignificant number are in a position where they are able to contribute capital, cash and also their technical expertise since they are in management or senior administrative positions. For this group, their skills would be invaluable. Over the holidays I had the chance to discus with such individuals in the diaspora. For some, the opportunities and channels on how to to give back their skills at home is what is lacking.
Take something like access to water, arguably surpassed in both quality and quantity (the average American uses cleaner water and higher volumes than seven Kenyans). It's estimated at 1,200 litres per household daily. Toilets, bathtubs and lawns being culprits. Similar distorted statistics in healthcare also apply.
There are many Kenyans affiliated to professional groups like engineers without borders, doctors without borders. How do development aid organisations harness such group's members to optimize on their volunteer work and time. For one, they have the advantage of having a more intimate knowledge of challenges at hand. Secondly, as locals, their connection is deemed non-conventional, and achieving end-user co-contribution buy-in could be easier as well.
The government and development aid organisations have an opportunity to harness this growing wave of "consciousness" amongst diasporans for implementation of projects built around either borrowed skill, time or matched funding to increase the spread and impact of intended projects.