Fostering Global Diaspora Engagement in COVID-19 Response and Relief
A new initiative implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Washington, DC in cooperation with the local IOM Country Offices is supporting a variety of innovative projects by six diaspora organizations in the following three countries: Lebanon, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe. The local IOM Country Offices are facilitating the projects on the ground, ensuring proper coordination and monitoring the quality of the services provided to the intended community members.
The selected organizations are working to increase the reach and effectiveness of relief assistance to vulnerable communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in their countries of origin. Depending on the scope of their project activities, all organizations intend to complete their projects by the end of 2022 and share best practices and lessons learned before the end of the initiative in February 2023. Funded by USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, the diaspora organizations are based in the United States of America, Europe, and Africa. Here are some brief insights into the work and projects of the seven diaspora partners:
1) Society for Advancement of Science and Technology in the Arab World (SASTA), is an organization based in California, the USA, and working on strengthening rural and suburban NGO-run Primary Health Care (PHC) centers in the delivery of healthcare services via telehealth technologies. Telehealth status in Lebanon was rather weak during the pandemic when it was only launched for mental health, with no initiatives related to primary health care. During the next 5-month implementation period SASTA aims to increase the level of knowledge of primary healthcare providers about telehealth, vaccinations, and pediatrics in Lebanon; conduct trainings and assess the readiness of the PHC personnel for telehealth; and implement telehealth in 5 PHC. The organization’s main objective is to strengthen emergency preparedness, which will beside the COVID-19 relief, also relate to the economic crisis and brain drain, thereby offering more sustainable solutions.
2) Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) is also based in the USA and works on a three-pronged approach designed to create and maintain community resilience in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in Lebanon, with the youth as designated community change-makers. In addition to building the capacity of more than 90 youth, the project is expected to reach over 1,000 Lebanese and Syrian community members. Through its innovative project “ACT Simplified Mastering of Awareness Raising through Theatre,” SAMS focuses on creative thinking to help the youth develop problem-solving skills and explore issues exacerbated by the pandemic such as public health, increasing unemployment, and the resulting rise in community tensions. Through its strong connections with medical institutions and the community, SAMS aims to develop a directory of services in the Bekaa region in Lebanon and provide changemakers with electronic copies of referral pathways and QR codes for download, which will be updated based on coordination and feedback with working groups while changemakers will in turn disseminate the pathways in their communities at large.
3) Pontes Ricerche e Interventi (Pontes) is an Italian-based organization focusing on constructing a community of action for health communication in Tunisia and developing an information and awareness raising campaign regarding lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis. Partnering with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Tunisia (a new stakeholder who has a wide network of young volunteers), as well as nine civil society organizations, Pontes aims to reach 1.5 million people in rural areas who have been reluctant to get vaccinated while also regaining the public’s trust in government institutions. This research project aims to help medical professionals and researchers to better understand the reasons for refusing to vaccinate and adhere to preventative and protective measures, and tailor more targeted messages for such audiences for future pandemic situations.
4) Located in France, Fédération des Tunisiens pour une Citoyenneté des deux Rives (FTCR) is creating a diaspora-specific online donation platform for Tunisian diaspora. The creation of this innovative technical solution will allow diaspora donors to benefit from the tax laws in the country of residence and local associations in finding new channels of funds. Tunisian associations that work on thematic projects related to post-COVID-19 recovery, with strong diaspora connections and transparency and accountability background will be targeted under this project. 50 local Tunisian associations and NGOs will be trained iI-on digital marketing tools, media literacy and promotion of their activities for fundraising, specifically targeting diaspora audiences in France and hopefully beyond.
5) Citizens Initiative (CI) is an organization based in the USA and implementing a project in the Binga district in Zimbabwe. It first started as a crowdfunding campaign to address the humanitarian crisis in the country but grew into an organization of like-minded driven diaspora individuals. This project addresses the pressing need for access to quality education for the learners in the rural community. Specifically, the organization seeks to construct a new classroom block with the help of the local community to improve school attendance and provide continuation to the successful pilot project. The direct target beneficiaries of the project are current and future learners. On average a class at the school has 30 students. After the completion of the classroom block the school will apply to be registered as a fully functional school, and hopefully, will showcase their ability to work collectively and approach other funding partners.
6) Genesis Entrepreneurship Trust (GET) is a Zimbabwean organization born out of a commitment to youth empowerment. Focusing on a vulnerable community in Zimbabwe, Glen Norah, GET’s project objective is to equip 30 youth with entrepreneurial skills and steer them toward business-generating activities. Through thoughtfully designed trainings for youth between the ages of 18 and 35, who are already engaged in income-generating or those with acquired vocational skills or talents, which they wish to turn into a business, the organization is helping reduce the number of people considered to be extremely poor by ensuring that they can start and run sustainable businesses. The beneficiaries are 16 youths who have already started their journey of honing their entrepreneurial skills and generating income.
Notwithstanding their distinct nature, all projects are designed with the intention of being sustainable in the long term beyond their project implementation period. For instance, SASTA is ensuring that upon project termination PHCs will still be positioned to continue service delivery through telehealth modality, SAMS is following a step-by-step exit strategy that focuses on establishing Youth Boards and building their capacity to address community-wide problems, GET will facilitate coordination among the trainees for at least three years after completing the project, while TAYP will maintain on-going communication between artisans (project beneficiaries), mentors, and the new customers/buyers with the goal is to create synergy between the artisans and their ecosystem.
The project is well on track in fulfilling its purpose and demonstrating the unique power and position of diasporas to respond to protracted crisis situations in their countries of origin or heritage, galvanizing transnational communities for immediate humanitarian response and contributing to the longer-term development.
The overall project, uniting all seven diaspora organizations, is called “Supporting COVID-19 Response and Relief at the Country Level Through Disbursement and Facilitation of Sub-Grants for Selected Diaspora Organizations,” and is funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA).
Note from the authors: the Tunisian American Association of Young Professionals (TAYP) was also selected as a finalist for this project, but was not able to complete their sub-grant activities.