Forging Meaningful Connections: Diaspora Studies Initiative Holds Workshop On Networking And Fundraising

in Center News
December 13th, 2016

Networking and fundraising issues were discussed at the BU African Studies Center on December 7, 2016.  The Diaspora Studies Initiative (DSI) of the BU ASC held a workshop “Networking, Fundraising and Philanthropy:  How to Build Meaningful Relationships for You and Your Organization” that was attended by members of the BU community and DSI diaspora partners.  The presenter, Dr. Martin Russell (DiasporaMatters, Ireland), is a scholar and speaker with global expertise on networking and fundraising strategies.  The workshop was introduced by the Consul General of Ireland, Ms. Fionnuala Quinlan, who highlighted the importance of seeking creative and innovative solutions for facilitating connections in the current era of growing global mobility.  Participants were also welcomed by Associate Vice President for Development of Boston University Stephen Witkowski, Director of the ASC Prof. Timothy Longman, and Dr. Daivi Rodima-Taylor of the DSI, the organizer of the workshop.

048The discussions explored the skills and ideas for building and managing professional networks, developing meaningful relationships, and using networking skills for effective fundraising. “I met interesting people engaged in community building and fundraising, and I learned a lot in the process,” said Elizabeth Amrien, Assistant Director of the BU Center for the Study of Europe. “I appreciated very much the discussion of networking as a skill and the introduction to the concept of ‘smart power.’”  “The international, inter-ethnic, and interracial composition of the group, the choice of speakers, and the openly collaborative content and tone of the conversations were definite assets to this innovative workshop,” remarked Prof. Parker Shipton of BU ASC and Anthropology.

The event provided an opportunity for DSI diaspora partners from several nations of Africa and Europe to share their experience in building connections and mobilizing resources. “The workshop was an excellent introduction to networking and fundraising for diaspora organizations with very practical and useful advice and tools which any organization can use to enhance its fundraising,” said Mark Kosmo, Chair of the Massachusetts Albanian American Society. He added that the event was attended by a cross-section of diverse diaspora and migrant organizations and provided useful insights to learn from the experience of others.

There is a growing global recognition that diaspora can be an important agent in development of both the countries of origin as well as destination. “The concept of diaspora is about self-identification and intentionality – the intentionality to forge and maintain certain types of connectedness,” said Rodima-Taylor.  “The growing interest in the subject of diaspora is fascinating,” remarked Dalitso D. Mwanza, President of the Zambian Association of New England. “This engaging workshop helped me understand the essential networking and fundraising skills that are vital to community development.” Similar opinions were voiced by other local African diaspora leaders.  “The African Union considers the African diaspora to be the 6th region of the continent. When it comes to remittances, tourism promotion, education and economic development, the diaspora matters,” said  Voury Ignegongba, President of Africans in Boston. “We were very much delighted to be part of the interactive workshop on diaspora and community building that took place today at Boston University. As we continue setting up a regional and national platform for Africans in the diaspora, we are encouraged and reminded of the importance of our work.”

Workshop participants also discussed the meaning of belonging to the diaspora, and the commitments and expectations entailed in that concept.  Dr. Dhimitri Skende stated that Albanians have a long history of migration and have retained some type of connection or sense of affiliation with their country of origin. In recent years, however, the diaspora-homeland relationship has shifted, partly in connection with the ‘new wave’ of Albanian migrants of the 1990s post-socialist transition. Skende suggested that to understand the new realities, more discussions, research and engagement is needed to examine the myriad ways in which the country impacts, and is impacted by the diaspora.  Reflecting on the history and integration of the Albanian migrants in the United States, Franklin Zdruli pointed out that vibrant cultural gatherings, church activities, and social involvement of the Albanian migrants help them forget the times spent in total isolation and hardship during the communist regime.  The biannual Albanian Festival that he co-organizes at St. Mary’s Church in Worcester draws thousands of participants from all over the U.S., including people of diverse heritage. Activities such as this oldest and largest Albanian festival in the country help build cohesion among the diaspora, while also enacting a positive change in the host community. “The Albanians in the diaspora are often described as the best ambassadors Albania can have, as they strive to keep their best values while gaining the best from the society where they live,” said Zdruli.  “Our migrants proudly proclaim their love for America, while keeping alive their heritage and vibrant traditions.”044

The central role of cultural and social activities in diaspora engagement was also highlighted at the Roundtable gathering at the Consulate of Ireland on October 17. The forum was convened by the BU Diaspora Studies Initiative and the Consulate of Ireland, and attended by a number of Irish American diaspora organizations and actors. The discussions revealed the important role of cultural activities in consolidating diaspora networks and stimulating engagement – including language classes, folk dance sessions, concerts and performances. Such joint activities would often function as a catalyst for diaspora engagement, effectively reaching those more vulnerable and marginal.  Providing help to other diasporas in need can also consolidate the diaspora community – examples were drawn from joint projects with African diaspora members.   Generational differences in diaspora engagement were highlighted, including the disconnect between more established diaspora members and the newly arrived.  The Irish American diaspora organizations discussed effective strategies for engaging diverse diaspora groups and the importance of keeping alive ties with home communitiesthrough cultural and educational exchange.

The Irish diaspora is one of the largest in the New England area and could be seen as a success story in engaging its members through a variety of cultural, social, and economic activities and networks. “Diaspora’s role in fostering the peace process in Ireland in the 1990s should not be underestimated,” said Prof. John Harris of Boston University. “This is an unusually longstanding and successful diaspora, comprising 5-6 generations of Irish Americans.” A long-time leader of the oldest Irish organization in North America, the Charitable Irish Society, Prof. Emerita Catherine Shannon highlighted the historically central role of civil society organizations in supporting the Irish diaspora in New England and facilitating diaspora contributions to the development of the communities in Ireland.  She pointed out that civil society engagement can significantly impact the peace process and post-conflict reconstruction. Diaspora organizations can contribute to these processes by providing neutral venues and common activities for mediating and resolving painful memories and contentious issues.

These forums were part of the ongoing activities of the BU ASC Diaspora Studies Initiative on studying and facilitating diaspora engagement in post-conflict and forced migration contexts. The December 7 workshop was co-sponsored by BU ASC, BU Research, Center for the Study of Europe, and African American Studies.