Op-ed about the panel discussion “Connecting young people from the diaspora with home countries”
Prepared by Çlirim Sheremeti for GERMIN NGO
In the Albanian civic discourse, one of the most frequently mentioned points is the potential of the youth and their commitment to the future of the country. Given that there are millions of Albanians living in the diaspora, and a large number of young people continuing to leave, it is difficult to see how that potential can be materialized and actualized. However, the experience of GERMIN, an organization that works closely with the Albanian diaspora around the world, shows that these young people have a constant desire and willingness to contribute. So, how can the connection and engagement of young people from the diaspora with their home countries be made?
This was exactly one of the topics of discussion organized within the Diaspora Flet 2020 conference by the NGO ‘GERMIN’, with panelists Mentor Dida (Social Innovation Expert), Ilira Aliaj (Youth Education and Exchange Expert), Emin Tahiri (Member, ” Diaspora for a Free Albania ”), Daniela Muhaj (Researcher, Harvard University), and Enxhi Popa (Product Finance, Google), and moderated by Çlirim Sheremeti (Founder and CEO, 4-H Kosova).
For the sake of simplicity, the opinions and conclusions drawn from the discussion are grouped below into 3 categories: institutions and organizations, the economy, and the individual and the family. Each of these categories includes concrete suggestions and steps that can be taken by these groups to increase youth engagement with home countries.
Institutions and organizations
The role of state institutions and civil society in this discussion is undeniable. Specifically for what can be done in the home country, the panelists had some suggestions.
In order for the return and engagement of these young people to take place in a sustainable way, it must be organic, and according to Mrs. Muhaj can not depend entirely on national feeling and idealism but there must be incentives and market forces used. She stressed that a critical point in the realization of this cooperation is the right information: do local actors have information about cooperation, or young people about the opportunities that exist in the home countries?
Mr. Dida agrees with this point, where even when he returned to Kosovo he experienced this problem of lack of information on engagement and contribution, where he suggests creating a central information point on engagement opportunities.
A potential solution for this aspect could be the suggestion of Mrs. Aliaj, that the Ministries of Diaspora in Albania and Kosovo have relevant departments that deal with the engagement and development of young people. She also stressed that the Ministry of Diaspora should be clear about who it targets with its policies and work, as they mainly work with older first generation immigrants, while not so much with second generation young people. third, who were born and raised entirely in the diaspora and do not have as much emotional connection to the motherland.
The other institution which Mrs. Aliaj says it should increase engagement are embassies, which should not only serve for visas and diplomatic missions, but are positioned in such a way that they can create an excellent bridge of cooperation, as we have many artists and athletes in the diaspora who can promoted among the engagement of embassies.
Embassies can also serve as a tool to promote an aspect highlighted by Mr. Dida: the fact that we have a tendency as a people to display bad work and be portrayed with negative aspects. While if we start to promote more positive aspects and “rebrand” the concept of “Albanian”, we can also result in increased optimism and pride of young people about their country.
While specifically for the diaspora, Mrs. Popa noted that organizations and groups holding cultural events play an extremely important role, as they create an even greater sense of pride and belonging to the motherland, where there are many young people in the diaspora who for the first time can be exposed and to reveal their appreciation of Albanian culture among these organizations.
Regarding the economic impact of the lack of cooperation, Ms. Muhaj stressed that there is a double loss. The first loss is what we already know: brain-drain or brain drain. The second loss is to those young people who have left and are studying or looking for work in the diaspora, and they not only do not send remittances, but need financial help from the family in the home country. Because these young people have grown up in their home country and then they leave, combining this with a lack of belonging and emotional connection, this results in a loss of investment for the home country.
Mrs. Muhaj also mentioned a very interesting point from the economic point of view: “productivity knowhow”, or the skills and knowledge that an economy needs to develop. The development of productivity know-how can happen in two forms: between foreign investments of “efficiency-seeking” nature, or in cases when professionals from abroad come to Albania and Kosovo and bring knowledge, innovation, and creativity with them.
This is exactly the second form where there is potential for engagement of young people from the diaspora with the mother country. According to Mrs. Muhaj, young people should not be perceived as a lost asset, but as a “reservoir of the brain” that continues to be enriched, and mechanisms and incentives are necessarily needed to engage them back in the homeland. Zt. Tahiri, with his experience in international youth engagement, agrees with the assessment as a “brain reservoir”, as he mentions that these young people can serve as much more than just remittance providers or promoters of the natural aspects of the home country; they can be a factor in the country’s policies and decision-making.
While Mr. Dida mentioned that, for the youth of the diaspora, during the time they spend the summer in their home countries with families, their peers engage in extracurricular programs and various summer camps, and as a result Albanian youth lag behind in their development. He mentions that one of the ways to promote engagement can be to provide these professional opportunities for young people in their home countries, where they also contribute to the development of the country as a result of their work.
The Individual and Family
Regardless of the initiatives of other actors, after all, real change starts with ourselves and the first steps we take are from the family.
Starting initially from the identity, Mrs. Popa, who has spent half her life in Albania and the other half in America and challenged herself with a “dual identity”, says the point that made her feel completely comfortable with herself was when she admitted she was not only Albanian or American, but Albanian-American, and that it belongs to both of these worlds.
While Mrs. Aliaj, for individuals and families, suggests trips of the type “birthright trips”, i.e. visits to the mother country to explore history and culture. This trip would help young people and families to repair and strengthen the relationship and the feeling they have for their homeland.
As for the family, Mr. Tahiri said that for those young people who were born in the diaspora or migrated as children, the main role is played by the family, as young people are directly influenced by their parents’ perspective about their homeland, a perspective which then influences their will. to identify with this identity and culture. According to him, it is the responsibility of the family to educate young people about their homeland and keep them connected to the culture.
As a final word, I want to mention that although we tend to complain and list problems, the panelists of this discussion showed us the potential of our new diaspora and offered us concrete opportunities for engagement. I invite everyone who is reading this article to contact the organizations, institutions, and companies working with the diaspora, and those individuals you know and live in the diaspora, and share the article with them and see how you can commit to our youth.
We can not continue to argue whose fault it is why things are not working properly. The time has come to stop victimization and take on the responsibility we have for change – we can not control others, but we can control our actions. If we are the future, then the future is now!