The Third Global Diaspora Forum took place this week under the theme of "Where Ideas Meet Action." This year the Forum went global. Besides its main location in Washington, DC, events took place simultaneously in Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto, Dublin and Silicon Valley. In all of these cities, the Forum's agenda was full of inspiring stories of the diaspora.
US State Department's diaspora conference and the establishment of Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IDEA) is a reflection of the changing perception of migrants globally. Last year at the Second Global Diaspora Forum in Washington, DC, Secretary Hilary Clinton underlined that, "Diaspora communities have the potential to be the most powerful people-to-people asset we can bring to the world's table." She added, "By tapping into the experiences, the energy, the expertise of diaspora communities, we can reverse the so-called "brain drain" that slows progress in so many countries around the world, and instead offer the benefits of the "brain gain." This year, the Under Secretary of State, Robert Hormats' speech was full of figures showing the difference diaspora communities are making in the United States. He quoted incredible statistics such as: from 1990 to 2004 over half of Nobel Prize Laureates in the United States were immigrants; and 25 percent of tech companies founded between 1995 and 2005 had foreign-born CEO's or lead developers.
Today migrants aren't considered as poor victims of underdevelopment anymore but new agents of development both in their home countries and at their adopted homes. Until recently, immigration has been seen as a negative phenomenon where people who cannot find opportunities or worry about oppression in their home countries, fled to other countries for new chances and better living conditions. That has changed. Today, immigrants in the United States have inspiring stories such as Turkish Philanthropy Funds founder and Chairman, Haldun Tashman who has been a very successful entrepreneur and a pioneer in promoting philanthropy; and Wole Soboyej, a Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University, whose investments in the United States and his hometown, Nigeria, have been facilitating cutting edge innovation.
Today, we accept that diaspora communities are able to mobilize financial, human and social capital to set up and implement initiatives both in the business and philanthropic world. These initiatives impact their communities of origin as well as their adopted countries. Diasporas most personal connection to "home" happens through philanthropic giving. Hamdi Ulukaya, who has turned a small business loan into a $1 billion business in just five years, in his most inspiring speech at the Third Global Diaspora Forum said: "We either have two homes or no home." Ulukaya talked about the importance of giving back to both of his communities, he deems as "home." What Chobani Founder and CEO notes shows how giving is a very personal statement for members of the diaspora. Ulukaya is from Turkey but he has adopted Upstate New York as his new home. Since Chobani's inception, the company has been giving back 10 percent of the company's profits through its philanthropic arm, Shepherd's Gift Foundation both in the local community of the company headquarters and in Turkey.
Diaspora giving is a personal statement. It is more than giving a check or making an electronic bank transfer. In that sense, it connects diasporans to home. In the case of some diasporas, that home represents both the home country and the adopted country. Giving enables immigrants to feel home in their adopted country but also be connected back home.
Yet, diaspora giving is also shaped by the culture diasporas are born into and is enhanced by skills and experiences gained in the adopted home. These hybrid identities allow diasporas to generate new ideas, habits, skills and practices and increase the impact of their contributions. That's why it is distinctive.