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Unlocking Transnational Potential

06 February 2024

Unlocking Transnational Potential

Author: Larisa Lara

I have a little secret: in my free time, I love reading about organizational psychology and leadership. One of my favorite authors is the incredibly insightful Adam Grant. Last year, he published his new book, 'Hidden Potential,' and it didn't come as a surprise that the book is extraordinary. True to Adam Grant's style, it offers science-based insights, excellent examples, and valuable advice for enhancing character, skills, and leadership development. What sets this book apart from others I've read is how it inspired me to write this brief blog post, which I am excited to share with you, initiating a discussion on how diasporas can tap into and integrate their hidden potential. 

I will adopt a structure closely mirroring Dr. Grant's argument, which underscores the inherent connection between untapped potential, personal character attributes, motivational frameworks, and opportunities within systems. While reading the book, I kept thinking about  ways  to measure the potential of migrant and diaspora populations. As an expert on this topic, I can assure you that I have written, read, and heard more than once that diaspora populations have the potential to accelerate development. But how? 

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) defines diaspora as 'migrants or descendants of migrants, whose identity and sense of belonging have been shaped by their migration experience and background' (IOM Glossary on Migration, 2019). In short, diasporas are individuals with the ability to adapt and readapt to various societies, to belong and understand multiple settings and cultures, and to thrive in diverse contexts.  

The first element to measure and unlock hidden potential is through building character skills. According to Grant, character is our capacity to become a creature of discomfort, absorb, and adapt. As I flipped through the pages, I couldn't help but think that diaspora and migrants are, by definition, people who are exposed to multiple environments. They are constantly immersed in different languages, cultural systems, and social structures. Diasporas navigate and intrinsically adapt through resilient and adaptable responses.

Both pioneer migrants and diaspora members are proactive agents seeking new knowledge, skills, and perspectives. When interacting in their host societies while maintaining connections with their homeland values , they continuously negotiate their sense of belonging and abilities. Additionally, if the best way to accelerate growth is to embrace, seek, and amplify discomfort, diaspora communities are at the forefront of adapting and reacting to practical challenges. They navigate complex administrative systems, find employment in another country, keep in touch with their families, and support their communities back home. 

The second element explored to maximize potential is creating structures of motivation or scaffolding to overcome obstacles. One of the main predictors used by U.S. intelligence agencies to determine how teams work and their success is how often colleagues teach and coach one another. As pointed out by Grant, teaching others can build our competence, and coaching elevates our confidence. Scaffolding structures can help us unlock hidden potential in ourselves and around us. 

Translating this into migration studies, diaspora communities work as scaffolding structures in the adaptation and empowerment of newcomers. Diaspora communities guide and share knowledge across mobility pathways, from pre-to post-arrival orientation services, as well as integration and community empowerment. Diaspora communities act as solid motivation powerhouses that enable members of their communities to overcome obstacles in their new residence by sharing their inspirational stories, helping newcomers understand and navigate new systems, acting as community conveners, supporting in topics such employment, housing, health, and education, and even serving as sponsors, entrepreneurs, and community leaders. 

The third element in unlocking hidden potential involves the creation of systems of opportunity. In essence, this means generating new, large-scale opportunities for individuals who are often underestimated and overlooked. Diasporas play a pivotal role in fostering these opportunities for progress. Diaspora entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and leaders actively open doors and offer new opportunities to their community members through training, hiring, coaching, and unwavering belief in their potential. Successful diaspora members also serve as inspirational role models for underrepresented groups, catalyzing positive change and inspiring the next generation.

From both a development and organizational psychology perspective, diasporas contribute unique elements to societies. They not only act as catalysts for change but also possess inherent qualities and abilities to proactively, compassionately, and decisively drive progress. Moreover, they function as supportive pillars, actively inspiring and facilitating opportunities for the advancement of their communities. 

If unleashing hidden potential “is about more than having the best pieces – it's about having the best glue" as highlighted by Grant, I cannot wait to see what else diasporas will keep bringing to our societies, solidly bound by cultural capital based on passion and love for their homelands. Their unique cultural capital isn’t only the glue, it’s the fuel for change.