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Diaspora investing: How to engage the Turkish diaspora for social impact?

Are you a global nomad, a third culture kid, a bi-national, a migrant? Or your parents are? Then you are in good company. Globally, around 215 million people live outside of their country of birth. A much higher number of individuals were born and raised outside their parents’ home country. Many are transnationals with personal and professional ties in their ‘host’ countries and their ‘home’ countries, being both ‘here’ and ‘there’.

Much is happening globally: Development financing institutions, social impact investors and support organizations are starting to think about how to harness the commitment, skills, and financial means of the diaspora community to contribute to the development of their home-country. Here are some examples:

  • Ashoka recently launched Ashoka’s Global Diaspora Initiative
  • The US development finance institution OPIC is partnering with African diaspora communities in investments on the African continent.
  • The philanthropic investment firm Calvert Foundation is currently thinking of ways to engage U.S.-based diaspora communities such as Mexico’s and the Caribbean’s to invest in their countries of origin by providing loans to local partner institutions through a dedicated fund.
  • The US development agency USAID supports the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (iDEA).
  • Members of the diaspora themselves are actively mobilizing their peers and engaging with their home countries through philanthropy, venture capital, and social investment strategies. Technology helps to connect despite significant geographical distances and time zones.
  • The World Diaspora Fund, an investment vehicle developed by the West-African Diaspora, invests in Microfinance Institutions in Africa promising repayment of principal and a decent return.
  • Give2Asia, a social enterprise, serves as a catalyst for philanthropic investment in social organizations in Asia.
  • Several initiatives focus on entrepreneurship development in home regions of diaspora communities: VC4Africa, a fast growing social network for investors and entrepreneurs with currently over 10,000 members; IntEnt helping migrants to the Netherlands start businesses in their home-country; Zafén, a crowd-funding Haitian diaspora website that provides zero interest rate loans to small Haitian businesses; the Indus Entrepreneurs that started as a dinner group of Indian expats in the US in 1992 and is now a global entrepreneurship organization with more than 11. 000 members in 12 countries worldwide.
  • nd there are, of course, various volunteering (e.g. see DAV for organizations in the UK) and mentoring initiatives (e.g. mentorcloud).
  • Governments in several countries have issued diaspora bonds to engage the wealthy diaspora communities with infrastructure finance (Israel, India) or development finance in the times of crises (Greece).

And in the Turkish diaspora?

With 4.3 million emigrants Turkey is amongst the top 10 emigration countries worldwide (World Bank 2011). Many Turkish emigrants maintain a close connection to Turkey supporting family and friends in their home-country. In 2011, Turkey received a total of USD 1,087 million in remittances mostly from Germany (66%). Smaller total contributions came from France (6%) Netherlands (5%), Austria (4%) but only around 3% from the US and UK. Many with Turkish roots have never sent any remittances. They rather look for ways to network with people who share similar experiences, to do business, to engage in mentoring and to support social projects in Turkey. There are an increasing number of organizations that cater for these needs: starting with the American-Turkish Society founded in 1949 enhancing business, economic, political, and cultural ties between Turkey and the United States to more recently launched initiatives such as the fundraising platform Bridge to Türkiye, the Turkish Philanthropy Fund, professional women networking organization TurkishWIN, and Alumni Turk.

What is common to the most active Turkish diaspora organizations and initiatives is that they are based in the US. Interestingly, I found it difficult to identify similar organizations in other countries with a high percentage of Turkish diaspora such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, or the UK. I was told that this was because the socio-economic background and therefore their interests and income differed significantly from that of the Turkish diaspora in the US. I was also told that compared to, for example the Indian Diaspora, there was little connection between Turkish communities in different countries – even when people return to Turkey (or arrive here for the first time).

But let’s just assume that there were at least some in the Turkish diaspora with great professional experience, networks, financial wealth, and a commitment to contribute to the development of Turkey. Important questions we need to ask are: What exactly are they looking for: what are they ready to contribute (money, time, expertise, networks) and what do they expect to gain from any engagement? How can we raise their interest in the field of venture philanthropy and social investment to match these needs and expectations and make their involvement as convenient and easy as possible? Are there any legal barriers for diaspora investing? And: what can the government do to facilitate diaspora engagement for social impact?