The Key to Connecting the Ukrainian Diaspora in Czechia - Interview with Larisa Lara

IOM recently organized a networking and training event for 40 representatives part of the Ukrainian diaspora in Czechia. The training touched upon topics such as management, fundraising and further effective cooperation. 

What are the strengths and challenges of diaspora initiatives? What is important to keep in mind when building the diaspora’s capacities? And what help can diasporas receive from IOM? These and more questions are answered by Dr. Larisa Lara, Transnational Communities and Digital Communications Officer, who led the one-day training in Prague.  

How did you personally find interest and expertise in migration and diaspora policies – or how did it find you?

I think my interest in migration is related to my homeland and identity. I am originally from Mexico, so migration has always been part of my everyday life. Everyone had a cousin or an uncle who went to the US and that was also my case. My grandfathers were part of Bracero programme which was one of the first bilateral agreements between USA and Mexico, so both of them were migrant workers. I was 8 or 9 years old when I first started looking up migration issues. I remember it was a magazine that was talking about human trafficking in Mexico City. The fact that children and young people were trafficked was really shocking to me. Since then, I have been truly interested in this topic. 

What challenges should we consider when networking via diasporas and specifically the Ukrainian diaspora?  

The first challenge is building trust with institutions and governments of origin and destination, second is access funds and third is sustainability. When you work with diasporas in conflict, you have to be much more thoughtful. In a stable situation, you already have a little bit of knowledge of the networks that are there, that are institutionalized, but in the context of war or any humanitarian crisis, the situation is much more complex. In crisis situations, it is crucial to understand the dynamics and stakeholders on the ground to maximize the distribution of aid and contribute to the de-escalation of conflict and the strengthening of peace processes. 

Is trust between the diaspora and national population in the country of origin or migrant population something that we should take for granted?  

They have different interests on both personal and political level so the way they communicate back to the country of origin is very diverse. Trust is not something we can build in one day and it can be broken very easily. Therefore, it is important to think long-term and really invest in different actions that we can do collectively.  

What is also important in this process is empathy and listening to the needs of the different members of the diaspora and to integrate them from the beginning in developing projects. At the starting point, it is important to have institutionalized ways to connect with them through committees or consultations – something that has been proven to work. 

Diasporas also have different capacities. Some of them might be stronger in communication, others might not be so well aware of how to monitor or evaluate projects. When we partner with diasporas that is a big asset for them. They know the ground – they know where to invest, who to directly support, who to talk to and they know what their community needs. It is strongly linked to the Objective 19 of the GCM (Global Compact for Migration) – Creating conditions for migrants and diasporas to fully contribute to sustainable development in all countries.  

What are some of the contemporary trends in global diaspora support and how has it changed over the years? 

The narrative has changed from traitors to heroes in some countries. Since the 90s there has been a huge shift: creating conditions for the diaspora to return to the country of origin and granting double citizenship, investing in improving their talents and then having those capacities be transnational actors. More countries are now aware of the benefits of migration, mobility and circulation. There are offices specializing in diasporas in certain countries and there is a global trend in recognizing them as key actors in development humanitarian responses. We know what is happening on the ground and they are quick in deploying support. They do not have to go through all the processes that many international organizations have to; they know who to reach out to. 

In which sectors do you see the main contribution to diaspora engagement? 

In context of general contributions and the most tangible there would be remittances, but it goes beyond that. If we look at all the Sustainable Development Goals, diasporas contribute very efficiently for instance in education, health and partnerships. IOM has a lot of experience in different contexts across the globe demonstrating that diasporas are partners in these key sectors. In the future, we will focus more on climate change because we know that diasporas have knowledge in agriculture, mitigation and adaptation responses. I think in upcoming years there will be much more interest in objectives 13, 14, 15 (Climate ActionLife Below WaterLife on Land). 

What kind of specific assistance and support can IOM offer?

I think the training we have organized in Czechia is just the beginning of what the Ukrainian diaspora could benefit from here in terms of capacity building. In this particular training, we focus on modules on communication, partnerships, and fundraising. Diasporas are like small organizations that need our support on advocacy, networking and linkages with key actors and recognition. I think that is the base – recognition. They contribute and we have to partner with them and support the positive narratives on migration that they represent. Countries of origin and destination benefit diaspora populations. They are the bridges that connect societies and there we can definitely support. 

Why would or should people want to participate and support their own diaspora? What would be their motivation?

I think diaspora is a complex term, but the importance of it is that it relies on the self-identification of each individual. Diasporas feel connected to their homelands or imagined community; they contribute because they have a deep sense of belonging to it. They want to contribute to it and learn and connect from their peers.

Could you share some of the good examples or stories of specific Diaspora organizations you have witnessed so far?

There are truly many of them but let me name at least two – one would be The Global Diaspora Confederation. That is a very interesting group that was set at a global level, and they are organizing action at the global level. For example, they are going to have consultation on how to develop a humanitarian hub and they have worked with IOM Washington, IOM HQ so they have understood how to connect with key partners, and they are catering needs of their community which and are trying to become the bridge that connects all the dots on the global level.

Another one more tangible would be an African association led by Dr. Charles Senessie who is originally from Sierra Leone and works directly back in Sierra Leone. He lives in Switzerland but every year he organizes a group of doctors who go back to Africa to deliver health services to people who need their support.

What are your thoughts on the training for the Ukrainian diaspora in Czechia that you just conducted?

I was very pleased to learn from the experience of the Ukrainian diaspora. They were very engaging to learn more about how to structure and systematize their transnational initiatives. We had the chance to share best practices on diaspora engagement, fundraising, leadership, networking and communication. Overall, I think it was a very successful day because the diaspora could learn some key lessons to maximize their engagement but most importantly because they were able to meet their peers and networking is fundamental for successful transnational initiatives.

*Interview by Filip Stowasser, IOM Public Information Officer in Czechia 

SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities