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December 19, 2018

Diaspora engagement


December 19, 2018

The federal government is focusing on the contribution of overseas Pakistanis to our socio-economic development and devising different plans. However, the results have not been satisfactory which is visible when one sees the number of expatriates who voted in the National Assembly by-polls. Out of around 10.41 million Pakistani expatriates, only a meagre 6,233 voted for the by-polls.

Similarly, to date out of a target of Rs1400 billion, only Rs8.22 billion has been collected, out of which the overseas contribution is approximately less than 50 percent. These statistics do not imply lack of commitment or affection on the part of overseas Pakistanis towards Pakistan. But there is some missing link that is impeding the Pakistani diaspora from contributing their due role to our progress.

Diaspora is a term used for a community or group of people who migrate in large numbers and settle outside their native country. In the modern world, they are considered to be those people who leave their home country and settle in a host country usually for better opportunities. Diaspora engagement helps a country of origin in socio-economic development. Through ideas and knowledge, skills and investment are directed back to the home country. Resultantly, there is a win-win situation is for the diaspora and the home country. To manage diaspora engagement, the following model should be adopted by the government.

The Agunias and Newland model of diaspora engagement is the best suited to the socio-economic setup of Pakistan. The model is a five-step process.

The first step of is to identify the goals and capacities of the diaspora. Why should it be engaged? For any specific purpose like investment or fulfilment of labour requirement etc? Such questions should be asked for effective engagement.

The Ghanaian government’s project ‘MIDA Ghana Health’ is an example. The project aims to engage Ghanaian physicians residing in European countries like the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Germany. This was done to tackle the deficiency of health practitioners, and enhance the healthcare system. Similarly, the Chinese government asked its diaspora, residing in the US and Europe in the early 1990s, to contribute to education, research and investment.

The government of Pakistan should also identify clear goals prior to engaging its diaspora. In the previous federal government of the PML-N, Ahsan Iqbal, minister for planning and development, rightly explored the power of the diaspora and gave it importance in its economic reforms by propagating the motto of “I am raising Pakistan”. Describing the importance of Pakistanis’ input, he stated that, “We must work harder, better and smarter to secure competitiveness in all fields, which is a key to sustained growth”. The ministry also sought to attract the Pakistani diaspora for national development, which can be judged from the banner on its website that reads “Calling Top Overseas Pakistani Talent to Contribute in the National Building”. However, that would have then needed strategic planning by the then and the current governments.

The second step is to know the diaspora. Knowing the exact population, opinions of its members and the skill inventory of the population, etc are factors that are deemed important for engagement.

A comprehensive research study of host countries and organisations where diaspora members are working is required; that should be followed by a viable strategic plan. It would help the government to know the details of demographic capabilities of diaspora members. Although the National Talent Pool by the Presidential Programme for Care of Highly Qualified Overseas Pakistanis was a good initiative by the previous government of the PPP. The initiative was for collecting relevant information and maintaining a database for highly-qualified expatriates, it should now be more detailed and systematic in its utilisation.

The third step deals with establishing trust between the diaspora and the home country. More than six million Pakistanis can fulfil the requirement of labour shortage, supply of a substantial foreign direct investment and source of knowledge/skill transfer subject to the existence of trust created by the government. A surety by the government, accompanied by transparency provided to overseas Pakistani, can smoothly materialise the effective engagement of the diaspora.

This can be achieved by devising a multipronged strategy including revising the existing and framing new policies such a dual citizenship, flexibility in project implementation, special privileges to expatriates in terms of visa, duty, etc, explanation of diaspora policy and a mechanism of feedback and above all the interventions with the governments of host countries.

This is the most significant and critical stage of the model which should be implemented delicately. Certain measures such as high-profile events, seminars and conferences should be arranged by the government sponsoring the opinion of the members and highly qualified expatriates. There should be a mechanism which leads to the integration of diaspora members in the national development plan. In other words, diaspora members should be involved in diaspora policy by valuing their feedback. The investors should be facilitated to the maximum level by establishing ‘centres for guidance’. This can be achieved if the government sets up institutions at the federal and provincial levels, which can be further extended to the district level. Above all, a partnership scheme should be offered to diaspora members for effective mobilisation of their investment and skills.

The last step is the engagement of the Pakistani diaspora. All the above steps, if implemented in a systematic manner, can assure the effective engagement of the Pakistani diaspora for socio-economic development.

A set of recommendations are mentioned below, which, if implemented, can help achieve the government’s dream of sustainable socio-economic progress; however, proper strategic planning is an utmost requirement.

The government should devise a ‘Diaspora Engagement Policy’ with the consensus of all stakeholders, including the media, educational institutions and the civil society, and due space should be given to the policy while framing the national economic plan. In addition, a ‘Diaspora Centre’ or ‘Department for Diaspora Affairs’ should be established on the federal level which can later be cascaded to the provincial, district, tehsil and even at union council levels.

Procedural and policy reforms should be made in the national talent pool. It should not be merely a database, rather a skill inventory which can be effectively utilised if required.

The mega development project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a source that can ultimately lead to ‘brain gain’ and ‘brain circulation’. Hence, further research is required to assess the demand of human capital in CPEC. That would help the government to effectively engage the diaspora.

The media should also play its role by highlighting the issue of brain drain and persuading the youth as well as talented expatriates to return to their motherland so they can give back in terms of knowledge, skills, ideas and investment.

The educational policy must be revised and aligned with the objectives of ‘brain gain’. This can only be possible if the graduate and post-graduate curriculum is designed to improve the academia-industry relationship.

Diaspora engagement has been identified as an effective tool for reversing the brain drain of Pakistan’s human capital. CPEC will have a positive impact on the socio-economic landscape of the country, but a proper policy has to be chalked out by the government. Diaspora engagement is specifically highlighted because it creates a sense of ownership among overseas Pakistanis for the accomplishment of the “multibillion game-changer”. Local and overseas Pakistanis should be involved in the project only through mobilisation and engagement like China and India did.

The writer is the chairman of the Department of Management Sciences, CECOS University of IT & Emerging Sciences, Peshawar.

Email: [email protected]