Make home a better place through diaspora programmes: Engaging the Albanian diaspora during the pandemic
By Bardha Qokaj
Picture: Courtesy of IOM Albania
Albania has one of the highest migration rates in the world. Nearly 1.7 million Albanians live outside the country, mostly in Europe, but also with a significant presence in North America as well as other regions. Migrant remittances have been a significant source of capital over the years, averaging 1.15 billion euros per year during the period 2008-2017, equal to approximately 12% of the country’s GDP. Nowadays policy-makers in Albania and development agencies have realised that the diaspora is becoming increasingly important for the development of Albania.
The diaspora programme ‘Engage the Albanian Diaspora to the Social and Economic Development of Albania’ was implemented by IOM Albania in 2018, with funding from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, as well as operational involvement from the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) in Albania.
Manoela Lussi joined the IOM in 2018 as Diaspora Programme Manager. She has extensive experience in working for the Italian Government and international organisations, mostly designing, managing and monitoring development programmes. Manoela holds a PhD in Transborder Policies from IUIES, a double Master’s degree in Analysis and Management of Development Projects and European Project Design and Management, and a BA degree in International Political Science from the University of Padua, Italy. She also holds several postgraduate certificates in areas including European Union Law and Policy on Immigration and Asylum.
The impact of COVID-19
As Diaspora Programme Manager, Manoela Lussi recalls, ‘We were in the middle of implementing and launching new mechanisms to engage the Albanian diaspora, when we were faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, which changed our way of life in many unexpected ways. And considering that our Programme mainly targeted the Albanian diaspora in Italy, one of the most impacted countries early on, we can say that the pandemic also impacted the Programme’s “lifestyle”. Then, as many other actors, we were challenged on how to continue by utilizing non-traditional means. We worked with positive thinking and prompt creativity.’
The first exercise for the Diaspora Programme to be adapted to the new normal was the training of trainers on the Project Cycle Management and Fundraising, which aims to support the newly created Albanian Diaspora Engagement institutions and strengthen their capacities to better engage the Albanian diaspora abroad. The training was planned to be delivered in person at the Albanian School of Public Administration (ASPA) to the relevant officials, but the lockdown and social distancing made this impossible.
Lussi adds, ‘In agreement with the Programme donor and institutional partners we were able to adapt all the offline training and activities to online. We are proud to consider ourselves a pioneer in using, for the first time, the technology utilized by ASPA to deliver training which has now become a common practice used by ASPA throughout this pandemic.’
Establishing Connect Albania, a new foreign investment boosting mechanism, to support the engagement of the Albanian diaspora into homeland development was another exercise that the Programme went through during the pandemic. This was another initiative where technology was used.
Connect Albania engages the Albanian diaspora as development agents to boost direct and indirect investments into Albania. It rewards the diaspora in this capacity with a bonus for each employee hired by businesses established through their support. ‘Launching Connect Albania in the context of the global crisis was a tough activity for the IOM Diaspora Programme in Albania, but not impossible. After many discussions and preparation with the Albanian diaspora donors and partners, we launched Connect Albania on 18 December 2020. Connect Albania is now fully operational, facilitating the engagement of Albanian diaspora members as interested Development Agents. Through technological support, we were able to convert the offline events for Albanian diaspora and potential investors in Italy to online, followed by a digital campaign reaching over 300,000 diaspora members. We are very glad that the Albanian diaspora have shown interest in the new Connect Albania mechanism, applying to become Development Agents. The certificates have already been issued for several Development Agents from the diaspora,’ says Manoela.
Engaging the diaspora remotely
The pandemic proved to us that the Albanian diaspora is not only a resource in the host country, contributing to critical sectors such as healthcare, the food supply chain and other important services, but they can also be engaged in the development of their home country from wherever they are, through skills and knowledge transfer. For example, the most recent EU fellowship scheme of the Programme is designed and implemented with the purpose of engaging and mobilising 35 highly skilled diaspora professionals wherever they live. They will support and give their expertise in priority areas that Albania must adopt as part of the EU accession process.
In addition, there are fellows, Technical Advisory Board members and secondees supporting the engagement of Albanian diaspora institutions and diaspora communities – the majority of them remotely. ‘Engaging Albanian diaspora, staff and consultants in different countries would not be possible without the innovative tools that technology offers nowadays, enabling and facilitating daily work and communication. And this started to be particularly evident during the pandemic,’ highlights Lussi. The Programme also highlighted some of the contributions of the Albanian diaspora during COVID-19 in some regions of Italy.
Lussi concludes, ‘I am very glad to guide such a great initiative, aiming to set the roots and the best practices for diaspora engagement and apply innovative technological approaches such as with Connect Albania. And I am also proud to say that thanks to the IOM Diaspora Programme, for the first time, the EU Progress Report for Albania from June 2019 has highlighted the efforts of the Albanian Government on diaspora-related matters, emphasizing that the efforts to engage the diaspora should continue.’
Bardha Qokaj is from Albania. She holds a University Degree in Albanian Language and Literature and an MSc in Media and Marketing from the University of Tirana. She is an experienced communication expert with a demonstrated history of working in the broadcast media industry with donors and communities. She is interested in a range of topics, including human rights, advocacy, communication for development and migration.
This article is part of the issue ‘Empowering global diasporas in the digital era’, a collaboration between Routed Magazine and iDiaspora. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or Routed Magazine.