“A connected Diaspora is not enough”

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • November 12, 2013 3:13 PM EST

An interview with Dr. Marjorie Brennan on the outcome of the Diaspora Engagement Conference called “Models, Methods, and Mechanisms for Diaspora Engagement in Haiti: Leveraging knowledge, skills and resources for Mutual Economic Development” that took place on November 1-2 at Columbia University in New York. Dr. Brennan is the Founder and Executive Director of the Joseph Denis Thomas (JDT) Foundation, one of the organizers of the event.

What was your overall impression of the conference? Do you feel it achieved its objectives and purpose?

We gathered at Columbia University and spent two days exploring methods, mechanisms and models for Diaspora to come together and find solutions to pressing social and economic problems. We were fortunate to have a robust partnership of the National Association of Haitian Professionals, The Earth Institute at Columbia, and the Joseph Denis Thomas Foundation, which brought diverse viewpoints. There is a growing recognition of the substantial benefits that Diaspora populations can bring to development efforts in Haiti, not just as senders of remittances but also as sources of direct and indirect investments. Yet it is a challenge for the Diaspora to identify practical mechanisms and frameworks for these investments of time, talent, and financial resources.

This is at a time when Haiti is transforming at a rapid rate with greater political stability and prospects for long-term sustainable economic and social development. The conference sought to actively explore effective institution building, and to catalyze engagement to bridge mainstream development and investment efforts with Diaspora groups.

We feel the conference was very successful in demonstrating the breadth of skill in our Diaspora, illuminating the current successful models of Diaspora engagement, and bringing together the stakeholders to frame mechanisms for future collaboration and goal-setting. Many of the individuals and organizations present made concrete, voluntary commitments to partnerships for sustainable development goals.

This was an outcome-oriented conference, intended to gather stakeholders to develop actionable items and to mobilize their networks to implement the plan synergetic with other organizations.

In your view, what were the most valuable takeaways of the event?

We have a committed, highly educated and diverse Diaspora.

Our young professionals and students are searching for meaningful connection to each other and to Haiti. We had a terrific discussion on harnessing the talent and passion in our community through building transparent frameworks for investment and through strategic volunteerism.

We also understand that a connected Diaspora is not enough. Diaspora groups must engage with other stakeholders such as the Haitian government, non-governmental organizations, and international development institutions to develop priorities and desired outcomes, and subsequently to implement proposed action plans. This linkage is crucial for long-term impact.

Do you think the Diaspora is getting more organized and active?

We witnessed tremendous engagement and enthusiasm at the conference.

I am encouraged by the solid and tangible commitments by individuals and organizations to tackle the actionable items that were discussed. In the coming months, we will continue to engage Diaspora organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and the Haiti government to create frameworks to foster entrepreneurship, innovation, and strategic volunteerism.

About the JDT Foundation

The JDT Foundation is dedicated to empowering the Haitian people to reverse the economic, environmental, and social effects of deforestation. The foundation will advance higher education to enable Haitians to find inventive and effective ways of reclaiming Haiti’s beautiful landscape, find alternate fuel sources, diminish the devastating effects of soil erosion, and lead healthy productive lives.