Harvesting the Talents of the Sri Lankan Diaspora

Jeevan Thiagarajah, in Daily News, 29 July 2019, where the title is Implementing Brain gain initiative. Our diaspora”

There is sheer waste of rich resource and benefit to Sri Lanka by our failure to tap into the rich resource available in the Sri Lankan Overseas Communities. There is no co-ordinated effort to tap into this rich willing resource. In the end what most do is undertake personal initiatives. This is what a lot of people do.There are two ways to implement the brain gain: either through the return of the expatriates to the country of origin (Return Option) or through their remote mobilization and association to its development (Diaspora Option).

However, the fundamental difference between those countries that will ultimately succeed and those that will fall short of expectations lies in one thing only– excellence in execution. Successfully engaging the diaspora is a long-term ‘hearts and minds’ business that requires perseverance and patience and there remains a wide gap between the promise and delivery of diaspora contributions. While many governments acknowledge the importance of diaspora engagement, many still lack the capacity to design and implement effective policies on a meaningful scale.

Learn the key lessons

A country’s diaspora constitutes an immense source of ‘soft power’. By implementing a comprehensive diaspora strategy this can be harnessed and converted into ‘hard impacts.’  The key to success is identifying exceptional people and organisations in the diaspora and connecting them with exceptional people and organisations in the home country.

The challenge is to identify and engage those with ‘affluence and influence’ who are in a position to connect with the home country. Early identification with leaders and keeping in contact on an ongoing basis for a long period of time is essential.

The role of Government is to act as facilitator rather than implementer of programmes. It has a pivotal role in giving its ‘imprimatur’ and support, making clear to diasporeans that they are regarded as important and involving them as participants in meetings and policy making. Government, by being accessible, has an enormous role to play.

Segment the diaspora

* Lived diaspora – individuals born in the home country who now live permanently or temporally in a host country.

* Ancestral diaspora – individuals with ancestral links to the home country (for example second and third generation diaspora members). The experience of The Ireland Funds is that sometimes later generations become even more committed to the land of their ancestry than their parents or grandparents.

* Next generation diaspora – these are younger members of the diaspora, typically under the age of 35, who are fundamental to engage in order to ensure the sustainability of current diaspora strategies.

* Returning diaspora – diaspora members who have lived in a host country and who have come back to the home country.

* Affinity diaspora – nationals of other countries who work or study or who once worked or studied in the home country but have since re-migrated.

Build a mutually beneficial relationship with the diaspora

* Helping to redefine a homeland’s value proposition and providing assistance in increasing the brand value of the homeland

* Converting brain drain into brain gain and brain circulation.

* Acting as global ‘search networks’ for developing local industry and assist in the creation of global knowledge networks to support the growth of indigenous companies. For example, key members of the Taiwanese government and leading overseas engineers in Silicon Valley played such a role in the establishment of a successful venture capital industry in Taiwan.

* Contributing to the expansion of global trade with their knowledge of home country markets, as the case of Chinese, Mexican and Indian diasporas do.

* Acting as ‘talent accelerators’ for the homeland’s next generation through mentoring, internships, and other training and educational opportunities that will offer opportunities to ‘internationalize’ the next generation of leaders.

Diaspora engagement

Who?: Governments around the world should begin to think about their diasporas in new ways and seek to build mutually beneficial relationships and partnerships with them. Rather than viewing them as being ‘lost’ to the homeland, they can re-engage with the homeland through strategic diaspora initiatives such as formal mentoring programmes, investment and trade programmes, and cultural initiatives. They do not need to return in order to make a difference

Why?: Global diasporas constitute an obvious collective of people through whom networks can be created and individuals mobilized for mutual benefit of both diasporas and the home country.

How?: Global diasporas serve as an important conduit, facilitating the two-way flow of capital. That capital presents itself in every form be it human, social, intellectual, cultural or financial.

Looking at capital flows alone, the transfer of funds in the form of remittances, bonds, philanthropy or business investment is massive by any scale, and growing.

Options suggested to our Ministry of Finance

Visa – Fast track issue of 3, 6 or 12 month visa for individual + family;

Banking – Ability to maintain bank accounts in Sri Lanka and overseas;

Foreign Exchange – Flexibility to transfer foreign exchange in either SLR to Foreign Currency or Foreign Currency to SLR. (This could be built on the recent announcement on new laws to regulate FE);

Property / Land – flexibility to purchase property / land in Sri Lanka with no restrictions; Investment – Flexibility to invest in Enterprise or Social/Charity activities;

Remuneration and or Expenses – Ability to receive Remuneration and or Expenses (if applicable) in foreign currency or SLR; Citizenship – Fast track of Dual Citizenship applications for individual + family or Permanent residence (PR) visa as agreed with the Ministry of Finance, based on the cumulative remittances, import tax concessions to import vehicles and other household items;

Higher duty free facilities when they return to the country for holidays; in case of the capital investments for projects and industries,

Import duty relief provided as decided by the Ministry of Finance.

(i) Setting up a dedicated unit with an MoU with the Ministry of Finance to enable engagement of diaspora with Government, Industry, non profits and communities in Sri Lanka.

(ii) The unit acts as a one-stop-shop to disseminate and exchange information about Sri Lanka’s development needs to networks to diaspora, facilitates the issuance of visas/work permits, placements and inland services for diaspora returnees including establishing institutional agreements and engages in inland and overseas marketing with partners. An Online Business Information Centre established to provide information on business opportunities to facilitate such investments by coordinating with government agencies.

(iii) Setting up advisory groups within Sri Lanka to spearhead each focus area.

(iv) Creation of an online web portal with database of diaspora and groups to identify their skills and resources.

(v) Review quarterly. The cost of services is recovered through advertising in the web portal, client fees from users, sponsorships and revenue shared between the partners.

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