THE BLOG
04/19/2013 12:58 pm ET Updated Jun 19, 2013

Diaspora Communities Count on Kerry to Uphold Clinton's Legacy

When Secretary of State John F. Kerry delivered his first address as America's diplomat to the world earlier this year, he silently sent a significant signal to millions in this country and worldwide. He implied that he will continue the great work of his predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in focusing attention on the diaspora communities in the United States.

Kerry underscored the importance of Clinton's diaspora-centric term as Secretary by saying, "In today's global world, there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy." He continued, stating, "The decisions that we make from the safety of our shores don't just ripple outward; they also create a current right here in America."

It is heartening to see Kerry following Clinton's lead with the philosophy that the stronger the contact with the diaspora community, the more secure position the U.S. will find itself in.

Having grown up in a tight knit diaspora community, I firmly believe this is true. My grandparents were refugees from the Armenian genocide, and like others nationalities when forced migration takes place, there is an indescribable connection to the land, the people and the history. I grew up with a strong desire to reconnect to the historical lands of my family. As I went through high school, college, graduate school and into my doctoral studies, I never wavered in my desire to use my strength - science - to help Armenia improve and succeed.

As a scientist, researcher and a college professor, I brought students on research visits to Armenia and its neighbor, Georgia, to work on issues as disparate as health, water security and pollution. This exposure helps break down cultural barriers, language barriers and economic barriers. For Western students, it opens them to diverse perspective and alternative ways to approach a problem.

What prompted me to schedule trips to that part of the world, as opposed to other countries that are also starved for attention and help from Americans? The answer is simply that I knew of the needs because of my background. I had a personal familiarity, a deep connection and a driving passion.

There is a residual effect when those living in diasporic communities benefit from the American educational system and take advantage of the employment opportunities here. They send money back to their home communities, helping raise the standard of living in two places. And they export the knowledge, drive and promise of the rewards of hard work, too. That is how a single immigrant can benefit two communities and two economies.

In fact, a 2010 Hudson Institute report revealed immigrants send nearly $100 billion back to their native countries annually - three times what the federal government spends in official development assistance. With the federal budget under intense scrutiny, this is one of the few areas where private spending far outpaces public spending.

Secretary Clinton recognized this early in her stewardship of the State Department. In 2011, she created, with the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA), the Global Diaspora Forum, an international conference designed to highlight the paramount importance diaspora communities play in both the global economy and global security.

"By tapping into the experiences, the energy, the expertise of diaspora communities, we can reverse the so-called 'brain-drain' that slows the progress in so many countries around the world, and instead offer the benefits of 'brain gain,' "she said at the opening of last year's conference.

In her farewell remarks as Secretary earlier this year, Clinton she said there are now more than 1,500 diaspora communities from more than 190 countries and regions that regularly interact with the State Department and IdEA.

That momentum is why it is so important for Secretary Kerry to continue this critical work. Contact with the diaspora communities helps forge ties when trouble erupts. Clinton spoke about Tunisian-Americans' assistance in reopening economic ties between the U.S. and Tunisia when the Arab Spring began with a revolution there two years ago. Despite the atrocities in Syria, it is the Syrian-American community that is helping with diplomatic efforts there, according to Clinton.

There are many examples of this with the diaspora communities of the former Soviet Union. When the USSR dissolved in the early 1990s, millions of trained workers were left without jobs or prospects. They were armed with scientific knowledge on how to locate the Soviets' nuclear arsenal or how to develop new weapons of mass destruction. Many came from Armenian and Georgia.

Fortunately, America welcomed thousands of them to our country, reuniting them with long lost family members, and harvesting their scientific know-how to benefit the country and the planet in a positive way. After nearly two decades here, they have become the voices of their communities, and an inspiration to the next generation.

Many of these people are my colleagues and my friends. We are bound by more than just a common ancestry. We are also bound by a love of science and an understanding about how much it is needed back home.

Karen Kashmanian Oates is the Dean of Arts & Sciences at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

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