Kickoff Event for Global Diaspora Week: Global Diaspora Media Forum Recap

Overview by Sandra Romero; From the Forum Floor by Deborah Trent


On Tuesday October 14, 2014, IdEA, AudioNow and George Washington University’s Center for International Business Education and Research kicked off Global Diaspora Week with the Global Diaspora Media Forum (GDMF). The event gathered experts from diverse diaspora and communications organizations and focused on the interplay between mobile technologies and the impact and potential they have for diaspora communities around the world. Panel discussions honed in on political and diplomatic implications, as well as observed social trends and economic issues stemming from different cultural contexts and industry perspectives.

The world is increasingly dynamic and bursting with socio-political intricacies and technological novelties. Despite the long history of diasporas, today’s society demands attention to new challenges—simultaneously accompanied by new tools—that could expand opportunities to fully engage diasporas in host countries. At the same time, diasporas live across a spectrum of socio-economic statuses and not every diaspora has uniform access to these tools and opportunities. Afternoon Keynote David Ensor, Director of Voice of America, highlighted the prevalence of mobile devices in some regions in Africa, where he has met food insecure people who are hard pressed to abandon their cell phones.

Unsurprisingly, the second panel, “Leveraging Diaspora Capital: Media Trends & Innovative Solutions”, highlighted the importance for diasporas and countries of origin to stay connected. Even non-traditional means such as financial services can channel information and ideas on topics such as national security, health, and jobs. Innovative solutions are emerging to engage broader audiences and social sectors.

From the Forum Floor

GDMF hummed all day with engaging presentations. There was plenty of action all around the room, too. The shared commitment of every participant to strengthen diaspora-media relations and promote socioeconomic progress around the globe gave the Forum an intimate, purposeful atmosphere.

The three Forum sponsors, IdEA, GW-CIBER, and AudioNow demonstrated the power of public-private partnership, convening an Inspiring group of broadcasters, journalists, educators, students, entrepreneurs, and development specialists from across all sectors and continents.

Rebecca Walker of AudioNow helped welcome the Forum, hoping for the conference to not just be a discussion but a chance to create actionable agendas as well. The morning keynote—David Duckenfield of the U.S. Department of State (State and the USAID provide leadership and financial support to IdEA)—called for sharing stories about working to improve situations abroad, transnationally, and at home. He wished the attendees good luck putting their ideas into actions.

Interesting insights emerged about effective practices. The first panel, “Diaspora Political Engagement: Media Challenges, Opportunities & What’s Next”, included speakers serving Mexican and Filipino Americans, two of the largest US-based diasporas. Washington-based Mexican diplomat Vanessa Calva remarked that with 10% of the country’s population residing in the U.S., a major challenge is just to identify and keep current on the biggest needs of and most responsive programs for the diverse Mexican American population.

Filipino diplomat Elmer Cato underscored the effectiveness of partnering with the private sector, including with AudioNow. The firm set up FM radio stations in the Philippines and at the embassy in D.C. Soon, a mobile app will aid the diaspora in donating funds digitally during disasters, and with “the new normal” of more frequent, stronger storms, this and other partnerships are vital.

Canadian Haitian radio entrepreneur Harold Isaac, of Kiskeya International Inc., said the diaspora is the real middle class of Haiti, sending about $2 Billion each year in remittances and creating a lot of business opportunities. He also sounded what for me was a major theme of the Forum, that the fragmented politics in Haiti and among the diaspora requires the different groups to better organize themselves to make political change on the island. Anne Bennett, of the Swiss news media NGO Hirondelle USA, summed up that there is enormous potential for increased partnership with the private sector in technology, political engagement, and development.

Audience participants had ideas and insights suggesting an action agenda. A Sierra Leonian teacher expressed concern about starving, uneducated children in the aftermath of Ebola. Ms. Bennett responded empathically, having worked in the country to build a community radio station at a college there, but agreed that there is an immense need for more on-the-ground operations around basic human needs as well as news, information, and transnational communication. World leaders need not only to contribute more human, technical, and financial resources now but prepare for the post-epidemic era.

The third and final panel, “Conversing with the Diaspora: Transnational Socio-Cultural Engagement trough Media” pulled the thread of organizing for action through a discussion of transnational digital identity-making as a socio-cultural process requiring deeper understanding and experience by the media as well as diasporan entrepreneurs and activists. Moderator Jennifer Brinkerhoff (on the GW faculty) explained that the media should appreciate and engage diasporan cyber-grassroots organizations as they are sorting out their missions, resources, and goals.

The four panelists related many experiences about how media outlets can converse more effectively with these dynamic, diverse groups so that they have voice and contribute to their countries of heritage: Mita Hosali of the UN News and Media Division; Nermen Riad, Coptic Orphans (Egypt); George Lehner, Fund for Peace; and Meaza Birru, Sheger FM Radio (Ethiopia).

At the UN, they understand that diasporans love the spoken word, but they want to reach them on other platforms, and not just in conflict situations or on breaking news. After the siege of Homs, Syria, UN broadcasters were on the ground interviewing, but the most-followed event at the recent UN General Assembly was the Nepali Prime Minister’s speech. Ms. Hosali and members of the audience repeated the call for partnerships to increase community radio, and both she and Ms. Birru underscored the need for credible, balanced reporting, whether it be on current events or long-term political and economic development.

Ms. Riad has experience social media as a critical way to cultivate diasporan identity. Mr. Lehner expressed concern that media and NGOs in other sectors need to have thought through why they are contacting diasporans before trying to engage. He and Dr. Brinkerhoff also observed that diasporans can be good communicators on social media and perform a vital service, e.g., in the current Ebola crisis, but social media engagement requires sophisticated reporting and compiling skills to get the job done accurately and relationally.

All in all, it was a day that far exceeded expectations for depth and potential future efforts. Thanks to IdEA for hosting this post. Follow the author Debbie Trent: @dlt4pd. Bio at

Keynote Addresses by: David Ensor, Director of Voice of America and DAS David A. Duckenfield, U.S. Department of State

Panel: Diaspora Political Engagement: Media Challenges, Opportunities & What’s Next Elmer Cato, Embassy of the Philippines; Vanessa Calva, Mexican Embassy; Harold Isaac, Radio Kiskeya; and Anne Bennett, Hirondelle Foundation. Moderator: Dr. Nathan Jensen, Associate Professor of International Business, George Washington University

Panel: Leveraging Diaspora Capital: Media Trends & Innovative Solutions Patrick Kennedy, Millennial Strategies; Amanda Bergson, Pennsylvania Welcoming Center; John Samuel, Homestrings; and Nandini Harihareswara, USAID.
Moderator: Dr. Liesl Riddle, George Washington University

Panel: Conversing with the Diaspora: Transnational Socio-Cultural Engagement through Media Nermien Riad, Coptic Orphans; George Lehner, Chairman of the Fund for Peace; Meaza Biru, Sheger FM; and Mita Hosali, UN Radio.
Moderator: Dr. Jennifer Brinkerhoff, George Washington University