Kiza Magenda & Yannicke Goris

How to include the diaspora in the Dutch development agenda

Image: Moshekwa Langa, Suburban Metro Lines (2000)

With more than 22 percent of its residents coming from over 220 foreign countries, the Netherlands is one of the most diverse nations in the world. As a result, the country is home to a variety of diaspora communities and organisations that represent them. It has been argued that these diaspora organisations could play a crucial role in making Dutch development policies and programmes more effective. At present, however, both the Dutch development sector and the Dutch government seem to struggle with the question of how the diaspora can best be included in their efforts. Therefore, The Broker, in collaboration with Partos, is launching an online knowledge dossier, to help shed light and stimulate constructive dialogue on diaspora inclusion.

Academic literature of the past two decades has shown that members of the diaspora remit both their social and economic capital to their home countries. Despite their physical detachment, migrants continue to be emotionally, culturally, politically and economically connected with their home country. They do so by taking up various roles, including entrepreneurship, investing in capital markets, philanthropy, voluntarism and political engagement, to name just a few. Confirming these academic findings, migrant organisations in the Netherlands indeed focus not only on the integration of their members within Dutch society, they are also actively contributing to human development in their country of origin. These insights and empirical examples have informed a common perception that members of the diaspora in the Netherlands possess knowledge and networks that can help build effective linkages between their home and host country – i.e. The Netherlands. These linkages, if used effectively, have the potential to enhance the efficiency of Dutch development projects and policies.

Policy Background

Since 2004, recognition of the importance of including the diaspora in development efforts has been a constant in Dutch policy dialogue. It is assumed that, in addition to having vital knowledge and networks, many migrants residing in the Netherlands are also willing to contribute to the development of their home countries. All things considered, the diaspora could logically play a valuable role in advancing the Dutch international development agenda. This line of reasoning was made explicit, for instance, in the 2008 policy brief ‘international migration and development’ by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice and Security. The policy brief not only envisioned to consult members of the diaspora but also to support diaspora organisations in implementing development projects in their home country. And six years later, in a letter to the parliament, Lilianne Ploumen, then Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, confirmed this logic when she wrote that involvement of diaspora communities in the development of their home countries was still considered an important policy priority.

An ambiguous record

Although the government’s stance on diaspora inclusion seems to have predominantly positive elements, Dutch policy developments of the past years have had an ambiguous character. It was found, for instance, that through the integration of migration and development policies, Dutch budgets that were originally designated for development ended up serving the Dutch migration agenda. Of the total expenditure of 23,5 million Euros on migration and development between 2009 and 2011, around 70 percent was used for migration management purposes like boarder control and repatriation. It is a trend that has become even stronger in the past five years, particularly in light of the European ‘migration crisis’. Following the adage ‘development in the region’, Dutch government policy has been focused on the prevention and repatriation of migrants, which has affected the relationship with diaspora communities as well. It appears difficult to effectively support or work with diaspora organisations as their members are often still considered citizens with ‘one leg in the Netherlands and the other leg in their country of origin’. In late 2019, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Sigrid Kaag, wrote in a letter to parliament that within her new policy framework “the diaspora is no longer regarded as a distinct target group, neither for the collaboration on migration nor for private sector development.” Informed by an external evaluation of the diaspora (entrepreneurship) policies, the minister had decided that diaspora organisations and diaspora entrepreneurs in particular should be integrated in and link up to already existing policy frameworks (like the Dutch Good Growth Fund - DGGF). In other words, no targeted governmental activities are to be expected to enhance the inclusion of diaspora in development efforts.

A first step towards inclusion and collaboration

The above described policy development of the past sixteen years suggests that, while there is agreement that the diaspora can play a crucial role in advancing the Dutch development agenda, it is unclear how this potential can be unleashed and if efforts to do so are on the minds and agendas of policy makers at all. Similarly, within the Dutch development sector, it appears difficult to integrate or work with the diaspora to promote inclusive development. The current Covid-19 crisis, however, is raising awareness within the international development community about the need to rethink its goals, innovate its practices and work together more efficiently. In a recent letter to the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation about the need for a global approach to the pandemic, for instance, the Development Studies Community of Scholars in the Netherlands calls for intensive cooperation and mutual learning that goes beyond simple transfers of ideas from the North to the South. Further, the development scholars argue that precisely during a crisis, we need to ‘reflect on our development model and our focus on increasing growth at the cost of the environment and human health.’ In other words: never waste a good crisis.

While the coronavirus has plunged us all in a global health and economic crisis, it also creates new opportunities and forces us to take a step back and reflect on the path we are taking. Now is the time to critically assess the Dutch development agenda and the actors involved in realising its objectives.

In efforts to effectively respond to this crisis as well as in activities after corona, the (African) diaspora could play an important role. In order to put diaspora inclusion on the agendas of both policy makers and NGOs and to stimulate a constructive dialogue about the role of the diaspora in Dutch development efforts — now in time of crisis and in the future —The Broker and Partos have decided to join forces. A first step in our shared endeavour is the realisation of an online knowledge dossier, where experts and practitioners from different fields shed light on the issue of diaspora inclusion for sustainable development.

Over the coming weeks, in this online dossier the role of the diaspora in inclusive development will be discussed from six different perspectives: the Dutch government, the Dutch development sector, diaspora entrepreneurs, diaspora civil society organisations, the Dutch private sector and academia. Guiding questions include, but are not limited to: To what extent can the African diaspora in the Netherlands support Dutch NGOs in their goals and activities (realising inclusive development in The Global South)? What is the role of diaspora civil society organisations in the realisation of inclusive development (in both the Netherlands and the Global South) and what challenges do they face? By featuring authors from different backgrounds to answer these and other relevant questions, this online dossier will contribute to a better and more comprehensive understanding of the (potential) role of the diaspora in the Dutch development agenda. It is our hope that their insights will provide guidance as to what direction development policy and programming should take to move towards more efficient inclusion of and collaboration with the diaspora in the Netherlands. 

Kiza Magendane is a knowledge broker with special interest in Arican politicis, migration and diversity.
Yannicke Goris is managing knowledge broker , specialised in the field of civic action and social movements.

This article was first published in The Broker.