Community, Diaspora and Immigration

Funding and partnerships key challenges for African diasporas – study

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Funding and working in partnership emerged as the key challenges and limitations for diaspora organisations in a recent study conducted by the Centre of African Studies and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Fifty-five Europe-based African diaspora organisations participated in the study. Most of these organisations were located in France, Belgium, Germany or the UK, and some in Spain, Lithuania, Malta, Switzerland, and Italy. The research aimed to investigate good practices and to collect examples of successful development projects. Though not providing final data, the findings offer some practical lessons for both diaspora organisations and development practitioners in developed countries engaging the diasporas.

Funding emerged as the biggest challenge: access to different sources of funding, difficulties in accessing funding, or the way financial resources are managed, are indicative of good practices and affect organisations and individuals' choices and strategies, as well as outcomes.

Research shows that membership fees and private donations are still the main source of funding for 23% and 24% of organisations respectively. However, more diaspora initiatives are supported by public contributions (16 out of 36 examples of projects mention local or national authorities, the EU or a governmental institution among the main funders), while the largest international NGOs engage less frequently in diaspora-lead projects.

The experiences shared by respondents offer some practical examples on how to face some of these problems:


• Securing the funding before starting the project is important to meet the development objectives. The most successful programmes are those that did not need to match the funding half-way.

• Differentiating the sources of funding and the types of projects increase the organisation's competitiveness and the chances to access resources.

• Professionalising the organisation (both in terms of organisational structure and staff) helps diaspora associations to be taken more seriously by prospective governmental partners and to be able to negotiate on a more equal partnership with them.


Partners include funders as well as local organisations or governments (both in the country of origins and of residence) whose involvement within the project may vary. Partnerships are rarely equal and often pose the question of ownership of the project.

Migrants, although constantly in contact with their communities of origin, often have a different perception of the local context and needs, and the role of local partners is crucial in making sure the project reflects real and achievable needs. Thus, local partners (both governmental and non-governmental) play an important role and are often necessary for the project to be accepted by the community of beneficiaries who can be suspicious about the role of the diaspora associations in promoting development.

However, if they help to reach local communities, local partners also raise the issue of accountability. Working in certain contexts is also very challenging because small local organisations operate less formally and rely on oral communication. This can create an overload of work for the organisation and can strain the relationship with donors.

Case studies

• Transparency and good management are important throughout all the phases of the project. This is reflected in, for example, the organisational structure and the emphasis on good leadership and communication, across organisations of different size and operating in different fields.

• Diversifying partners is a way to avoid a situation in which one part emerges as dominant over the others.

• Understanding the context in which the organisation operates is crucial to prevent and respond to problems. An organisation based in Germany must be aware of the legislation and the local culture when approaching potential institutional or non-governmental partners. The same organisation needs to be able to communicate with the counterparts in the countries of origin.

Generally, the study found that diaspora associations are becoming more sophisticated in their organisation, fundraising, and implementation or delivery of support. Promotion of strong links between diaspora and development is now as much about capacity building and associations learning from one another as it is about channelling more funding into development activities. Many initiatives in Europe work to strengthen capacities and creating networks. The research was conducted as part of one of this initiative promoted by the Africa Europe Platform (AEP), a network of Europe-based African diaspora organisations, supported by the European Union.

However, the study also suggests that the role of the diasporas as actors in development is still not fully understood or accepted. They are seen as 'outsider' both in the countries of origin and of residence, and are expected to make an extra effort in order to be recognised, as well as accept a certain model of development.

Initiatives like AEP represent an attempt to overcome scepticism about the contribution of diaspora associations to development, beyond remittances. It is also a way to influence the developmental discourse and practices, as well as learn from other experiences.

Development professionals in developed countries can contribute to this efforts and learn from them. Recognising and accepting the richness of experiences and realities that characterise the diasporas is a first step.

Diaspora associations represent specific communities and groups, and tackle specific issues. Often development efforts are directed solely towards the communities of origin of its members. This should not be seen as a limit and deter from supporting these groups: they know both worlds and have a know-how that can be channelled towards meeting specific development targets or building a long-term sustainable project.

Dr Sebastiana Etzo is an independent researcher at the Centre of African Studies at SOAS, University of London and is the co-founder of the consultancy firm Africa in Perspective.

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Source: Guardian

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