By Anthony Advincula NAM Contributor
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week announced that the state department was adding a fourth “D” to its toolbox of Diplomacy, Development and Defense: Diaspora.
Marking a historic shift in the agency’s view of global migrants, Clinton spoke at the opening of a three-day “Global Diaspora Forum” that drew over 300 invitees including The Hartford Guardian‘s own Ann-Marie Adams, a star-studded cast of international development experts, diplomats and representatives of different diaspora groups.
“You have the potential to be the most powerful people-to-people asset we can bring to the world’s table,” Clinton told a standing room only crowd at the State Department’s Loy Henderson Auditorium. “Because of your familiarity with cultural norms, your own motivations, your own special skills and leadership, you are, frankly, our Peace Corps, our USAID, our OPIC, our State Department rolled into one.”
Clinton highlighted the contributions of some 60 million Americans who last year sent over $48 billion in remittances to countries around the world. “It dwarfs any foreign aid that our government can give,” she noted.
Clinton also acknowledged that diaspora groups and individuals are the first to respond to natural disasters, economic stagnation, poverty or civil unrest overseas. “When an earthquake happens in Haiti or civil unrest begins in Tripoli or a multitude of disasters hit Japan, we hear from Americans who have roots, who have business connections, who want to know what they can do.”
Clinton was most passionate when it came to the intersection of diaspora communities and diplomacy. She pointed to the role of Irish Americans in bringing peace, at long last, to Northern Ireland. She recounted the first time she and her husband, Bill Clinton, went to Belfast, where the hotel they stayed in “had been recently bombed and windows were still boarded up.” Because of the help of Irish Americans, the next time she went back after the Good Friday Accords, “there was 98 percent occupancy.” She noted how conflicts de-escalate when women become engaged and find common ground as wives and mothers.
The state secretary also emphasized the leadership of American diaspora communities in helping home countries in their transition to democracy.
“Many don’t know the first thing about politics…and this is where many of you can come in. We need to just get into the basics of what it means to participate in the hard and sometimes frustrating work of politics. That’s the way you get to govern in a democracy.”
As the United States grapples with difficult global challenges – whether natural disaster, war, economic recession, or terrorism – it would be impossible for it to work alone, she concluded. These challenges will only be solved by partnership with the private sector, civil society, public institutions and diaspora communities.
To that end, Clinton announced the launching of the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IDEA). “We spend a lot of time in the State Department trying to think of how we can put words together so the first letter spells something,” she joked, but she added that IDEA would engage “the whole of government.”
She ended with a call to action: “I hope you will look back on this day and really see that we started something that has just spread across the world, improving the lives of so many people, giving them the same chance that all of us have had because of this country that we love and we call home,” Clinton said.
The conference — cosponsored by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) — featured the heads of the Export-Import Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the US Trade and Development Agency, the Millenium Challenge Corporation and the International Fund for Global Development, as well as dozens of Non-Governmental Organizations and grassroots organizations. New America Media ran a special workshop on diaspora communications which featured a panel of ethnic media leaders and reporters from the Haitian Times, Al Jazeera English, Sing Tao Daily, Indian Express and ImpreMedia.