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Middle East and North African Diaspora Provide More than Just Money

March 28, 2017

Engaging diaspora can unlock untapped human capital particularly in times of crisis

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2017— Diaspora from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) can be critical to fostering regional integration, entrepreneurship and economic growth, and can help countries in the region become major players in the global economy, says a new World Bank Group paper released today.

The new paper, Mobilizing the Middle East and North Africa Diaspora for Economic Integration and Entrepreneurship provides evidence that MENA diaspora have the potential to foster trade, investment, and technology transfer in the region. But it says governments and international development organizations must do more to strengthen their connections and partnership with the diaspora.

There are more than 20 million people from the Middle East and North Africa living abroad, but we fail to think of them beyond remittances,” said Hafez Ghanem, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. “This diaspora is a potential goldmine of knowledge, skills and business networks which, given the right circumstances, could be tapped to address some of the region’s current challenges, such as lackluster investment and high youth unemployment.”

Using data gathered from an online survey and interviews of about 1,000 MENA diaspora that live around the world, the paper shows that those living outside of their home countries want to help and remain engaged, but also express deep concerns about the quality of their countries’ business environments.

The results showed that giving back to the diaspora’s country of origin is a priority for 85% of the respondents; 87% of the respondents are willing to invest time in mentoring individuals in their home country; and 68% of the respondents are willing to invest capital and trade with their country of origin.

However, more than 54% of the respondents agreed that weak business environments are the main factor reducing their appetite to invest back home, while 62% mentioned the lack of transparency regarding regulations and business opportunities as the main obstacle to investment.

Additionally, there was an almost unanimous consensus amongst the participants that if their respective governments treated them as partners and actors rather than a source of remittances, their engagement with their home country would significantly increase.

The paper notes that in spite of their doubts, diaspora remain more willing than foreign investors to invest in their home country during turbulent times, as they have more awareness of the business environment and local practice.  

Through these surveys, we understand better that if capitalized upon effectively, the MENA diaspora can be an indispensable vehicle to enhance trade, boost countries’ competitiveness and foster knowledge transfer,” said Anabel Gonzalez, Senior Director of the World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice. “Establishing trade ties, enhancing innovation and promoting investment opportunities are a few of the many benefits the diaspora community can provide to the region’s business environment.”

MENA diaspora is particularly important to the region in light of its current refugee crisis. The Syrian diaspora, for example, can make a real difference to the livelihoods of refugees now in Jordan and other host countries.

According to the paper, diaspora communities also see international development organizations, such as the World Bank Group, as important to helping them engage with their home countries, with 84% of survey respondents saying that the Bank Group can play a critical role in supporting the MENA diaspora.

Diaspora’s top three requests of development organizations, the paper notes, are establishing matching grant programs; technical assistance for pilot programs; and capacity building for associations, diaspora members, and networking.

The paper provides the following recommendations on diaspora-related policies and government engagements and says that to be effective they need to be tailored to each country’s economy and diaspora community.

  • Diaspora mapping to help elaborate specific outreach programs targeted to various diaspora members with different skills and interests. Mapping will allow governments to mobilize the diaspora more quickly.
  • Establishing knowledge exchange networks with the help of bilateral and global development partners.
  • Systematically calling on the professional diaspora and business angels to provide seed financing and mentorship to high-growth entrepreneurs, particularly in early-stage seed deals.
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