Diaspora engagement is an area of global commonality and shared experience that can contribute to a prosperous and participatory future for all.
This is why we are happy to speak with distinguished diaspora affairs leader, Dr. Martin Russell; to know more about his organisation – Global Diaspora Insights (GDI).
Global Diaspora Insights (GDI) – Mission, Vision and Core Team
GDI provides world-class advisory, research, policy, and teaching services on diaspora engagement.
The organisation was established in 2022, after extensive background work a year earlier.
“For the past 10-15 years, the diaspora engagement ‘sector’ has seen its focus cutting across many areas as compared to traditionally known segments such as international development. The argument around why it is important has largely been won at this exploration stage, and the ‘how’ is the next question we are looking to answer at this juncture. The beauty of it is that the type of expertise you need around the table to answer the question includes new voices as well, and so there are several actors coming in. This is the driving force behind the establishment of our organisation”, says GDI Founder Dr. Martin Russell.
“After participating in the Global Diaspora Summit 2022 in Ireland, which contributed to the vision in Ireland’s diaspora strategy to share its expertise and become a global hub for expertise on diaspora engagement, I developed an idea I’ve had in mind for many years. This was to have an entity in Ireland which is Irish owned and led but global looking, particularly on diaspora engagement involving government organisations, private sector, civil society and so on. Personally, I’ve built a network of people from different countries I’ve worked in over the last 15 years, in order to collaborate to achieve the vision”, he adds.
GDI’s mission is to build a purpose-driven global centre of excellence on diaspora engagement. This mission is rooted in a commitment which ensures its business model best serves the stakeholders it will serve and collaborate with; in addition to an ethos of working to ensure that the value of work is felt locally through these stakeholders, and to always commit to strategically giving back.
Dr. Russell sees GDI as a blend of a think tank and a consultancy which he chooses to call an “action tank.”
“We’ve done a great job working on the foundations of the sector, and we are now moving from the exploration to the experimentation stage which is about action. We need to be creative in how we frame diaspora to bring in solutions, in terms of actioning diaspora engagement to attract the private sector, foundations, as well as to blend those actors with people we already have working on diaspora in government, civil society, academia, and elsewhere. In connecting these dots, GDI works in advisory, research, policy, and teaching and training services”, Dr. Russell explains further.
GDI is unique in terms of the cross-sectional/cultural network and heritage of the people it works with who have a lens of the future. In bringing worlds and interests together, the global organisation also produces a different kind of content, coupled with blending academic robustness with the applied.
Dr. Martin Russell, leading the charge for global diaspora engagement at GDI
Leading GDI, Dr. Martin Russell brings on board a vast multi-national experience in diaspora engagement, having collectively worked with international teams in almost 40 countries spanning across Africa, Asia-Pacific region, the Balkans, Caribbean, Europe, MENA region, United Kingdom, and the United States.
Dr. Russell completed his PhD at the Clinton Institute (University College Dublin) where his research focused on the role of the Irish diaspora in the Northern Ireland Peace Process specifically looking at diaspora media, diaspora philanthropy, and diaspora politics.
He was also a visiting fellow at the United Nations University in Maastricht (UNU-MERIT) and is an advisor with The Networking Institute.
He served a full term on the Executive Leadership Council of the African Diaspora Network based in Silicon Valley. He currently sits on the Advisory Board of Ireland Reaching Out.
With a varied publication record, including several diaspora engagement policies and strategies, his most recent publication was a co-authored article, Diaspora Philanthropy: Unlocking New Portals for Diplomacy and Development, in the Routledge International Handbook of Diaspora Diplomacy. He has co-chaired the organisation of several global diaspora conferences and in 2022, served as part of the Core Coordinating Committee of the Global Diaspora Summit, co-hosted by the Government of Ireland and UN Agency for Migration.
Ireland, a great example for diaspora engagement
When we asked Dr. Russell why he thinks Ireland continuous to be a great example for diaspora engagement, this is what he had to say:
“As a people, I think diaspora is deeply engrained in our history for some positive and negative reasons. What makes Ireland a relatively unique proposition in this area is that we have an authentic story to tell, with an independent voice to do so. For me, the potential for Ireland in diaspora engagement is part of a diplomatic offering for the world considering that part of our foreign policy vision is to put Ireland at the centre of the globe. I firmly believe that Ireland can help in providing answers for a non-competitive sector like diaspora engagement by working with other countries, since our biggest asset is our people at home and those around the world.”
“I would like to see a lot happening – be it through GDI or other organisations in academia, charity, for profit, and so on; to really begin to build a collective offering to the world for diaspora engagement for reasons like foreign direct investment, public diplomacy, sports, music, arts, areas where we have something to share. And so, in summary, I’ll say the success of Ireland in the sector is a mix of history, the importance of the topic to Ireland’s role in the world, and authenticity.”
The Future of GDI
GDI aims to help make Ireland the global centre of excellence for diaspora engagement.
“To achieve that we need to work with our partners not just locally but internationally in putting together what I call a ‘diaspora dream team’. To avoid having the same conversations or similar projects over and over, we need to bring all the bits and pieces of the jigsaw together by fitting skills, capacity and experience at the appropriate places where they can contribute at this experimentation stage”, says Dr. Russell.
“In doing that, we’ll build something systemic, attract investment and bring solutions to the different challenges and questions in the sector; and I would love to see GDI at the forefront of that. I want us to be at the front of such conversations and that investment to really think about how to build long term sustainability in diaspora engagement, because I think we have earned the right to have these conversations”, he adds.
Trends to look out for in the diaspora engagement space
The future of global diaspora engagement truly looks exciting, and with establishments such as GDI, and leaders like Dr. Martin Russell at the forefront, it can only get better.
Diaspora Digital News asked Dr. Russell for some of the top trends to look out for in the coming years for diaspora engagement.
“I think it’s a balancing act between now and the future when talking about trends”, he says.
“In saying that however:
Government participation in diaspora engagement is growing across countries, and this will increase in the building of processes, outcomes and robustness of developing diaspora policies and strategies.
We have seen a lot of development in diplomacy from both countries of origin and residence in diaspora engagement regarding opportunities and challenges they face. We’ll see more diplomats being trained and further specializing in diaspora engagement by developing and implementing policies. Diplomacy is expanding from just governments to include actors such as the media who shape and understand the narratives.
Also, diaspora philanthropy will be more upfront where we’ll consider the time, talent and treasure of diasporas. Diaspora philanthropy will cut across many dynamics such as the role of diaspora in strategic giving, investing support, and other engagements.
Governments are now developing communication and outreach networks with diasporas, and that’s being used for a variety of reasons like promotion of business, policy and so on. Diaspora engagement works best when relationships are built properly, not transactional engagements. Looking at the interest from the next generation, diaspora engagement needs to be ‘hi-tech’ and ‘hi-touch’. So, the magic happens when we balance the online piece and the relational part.”
In conclusion, Dr. Russell believes that diaspora will pop up in many different ways but we have to be “creative about seeing the connections.”
By: Theresa R. Fianko
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