anika-forrestAs a member of the Jamaican diaspora, I grew up acutely aware of how law and policy impact the socio-economic privileges of international communities and the space for diaspora members in development conversations. My decision to attend law school and my commitment to international human rights and advocacy derive from my cross-cultural experiences. I have focused my law school coursework, research fellowships, and practical legal experience on international development, which I interpret as the advancement of human, socio-economic, and political liberties, to engage most effectively with legal and policy work that operates in concert with global social needs. Substantively, I contributed to peacebuilding, the rule of law, and cross-sector projects that serve as international development responses to mass migration, ethnic and environmental conflict, and economic inequities. Experientially, I have integrated legal frameworks and applied policies to projects (e.g., human rights laws) and ensured compliance with doctrinal laws.

I joined the Embassy of Jamaica in Washington, D.C. as an intern to broaden my knowledge of diplomacy and the participation of disaporans in development initiatives. Diaspora-affiliated development contributions, most notably remittances, are not a new phenomenon. Diaspora groups from nations like Israel, Ireland, and Jamaica have visibly mobilized in support of their nation of origin for decades. Among their many accomplishments are diaspora conferences, successfully renegotiated trade agreements, education missions, and healthcare projects.

More recently governments are formalizing their inclusion of diasporans and diaspora organizations. Jamaica is refining a national diaspora policy and a diaspora-mapping project meant to build relationships with abroad populations and to strengthen the support of economic and social development in Jamaica. Additionally, many nations have created diaspora institutions at the ministry, sub-ministry, special committee, and local levels of their governments. For example, the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ General Office for Consular and Immigration Services established the Office for Chileans Abroad, whose core mission is to encourage its diaspora’s participation in Chile’s development.

Through my internship with the Embassy, I grew familiar with the international development community’s emerging partnerships with diaspora groups. Recognizing diasporans as key development stakeholders allows the countries offering assistance to transfer, often unencumbered, diaspora human and intellectual capital to native countries in order to support resilience building and citizen security. In 2011, the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships, within the U.S. State Department, and USAID established the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA) to engage the diaspora community with socio-economic efforts in their countries of origin. Specifically, IdEA promotes entrepreneurship, innovation, philanthropy, and volunteerism. Among IdEA’s notable efforts are the Caribbean IdEA Marketplace and La Idea, business competitions to promote innovative entrepreneurial work that supports economic growth and increased employment opportunities in Caribbean and Latin American nations. In late 2016, the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnership also announced a brief grant competition for diaspora-led projects aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

To provide a basic comparison, diaspora members are valuable to their nations of origin much like alumni are to their alma maters. Likewise, the cultural knowledge, intelligence, expertise, and national dualism of diaspora members can help to negate apprehension of “outside” development projects. Last fall, I attended USAID’s Diasporas in Development forum. At the event, I enjoyed participating in knowledge exchange and strategy sessions to strengthen and engage diaspora partners in the development community. As I embark on a career in international development, I am eager to continue exploring how diasporans engage with their cultural counterparts and support development. Moreover, I hope to help develop domestic and international laws that encourage diaspora-led efforts.