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Kimberly Gibbons of OCIC introduces John Monahan (far left), Dr. Margaret Walton-Roberts, Alpha Abebe, and Danny Pelletier, participants in the opening panel of the “Cultural Communities for Sustainable Development” consultation held in Toronto on April 20, 2015. 
On April 20, 2015, the Mosaic Institute participated in “Cultural Communities for Sustainable Development”, a consultation event convened by the Ontario Council of International Cooperation (OCIC) in collaboration with Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFTAD).
This event was one of three consultation events being organized across Canada – the other two took place in Vancouver and Montreal – to gather ideas about how best to engage Canadians from diaspora communities in Canada’s international development efforts. Attendees included members from numerous diaspora organizations, DFATD officials, and representatives from civil society organizations working in the international development sector.
After a welcome by Kimberly Gibbons, Executive Director of OCIC, the day began with remarks from Newmarket-Aurora MP Lois Brown, who served as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development since 2011. Ms. Brown emphasized the need for Canada’s international development efforts to adapt in the face of a changing Canadian and global landscape, and invited input from diaspora communities on how new partnerships that will strengthen Canada’s overall international development efforts can be created and solidified.
The opening panel of the consultation was moderated by John Monahan, Executive Director of the Mosaic Institute, and featured Dr. Margaret Walton-Roberts, Associate Dean of the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ontario; Alpha Abebe, a PhD candidate at Oxford University and co-founder of the Young Diplomats Ethiopian Youth Development Group; and Danny Pelletier, Director of Partnerships with Cuso International. Later in the day, Mr. Monahan held a public conversation with Joseph Wuol, Chairperson of the South Sudanese Peacebuilding Organization in Kitchener-Waterloo, during which Mr. Wuol spoke from the perspective of a small, volunteer-led diaspora organization whose members are currently faced with the dual challenge of underdevelopment and civil war in their country of origin.
Ideas put forward by these panelists and experts included:
  • Conduct more qualitative research into the ongoing efforts of diaspora groups to engage in development activities in their regions of heritage. As Mr. Pelletier said, “we only know the tip of the iceberg about what diaspora groups in Canada are doing”;
  • See diaspora groups as integral actors in Canada’s development efforts. Diaspora organizations are unfortunately often overlooked as development actors despite their efforts in responding to natural disasters and humanitarian crises. This tends to happen because many of them operate in informal ways, making them “invisible” to policymakers. As Ms. Abebe noted, many of these communities are already engaged in development efforts through the sending of remittances, and many may have a number of innovative ideas to deliver aid and enhance development outcomes;
  • Take into account a realistic understanding of what diaspora groups can actually do in terms of international development. As Dr. Walton-Roberts pointed out, many of these groups have to deal with immigration and social exclusion issues, making international development less of a priority for them in some cases;
  • Engage in ongoing consultation with diaspora groups in order to maintain and raise levels of engagement. Government actors should play a lead role in convening meetings to consult with diaspora groups, at least in the early stages of engagement;
  • Build the capacity of diaspora groups to participate in development-focused discussions and programmes. Many diaspora groups lack the resources and professional capacity to effectively engage as development actors;
  • Keep in mind that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to engaging diasporas in development. Diaspora groups are far from being homogenous, and each diaspora group has its own unique characteristics. In that light, efforts to engage diaspora groups in development-focused efforts should take these differences into account;
  • Learn from the experiences of countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which have already begun to explore constructive ways to engage their respective diaspora communities in development initiatives;
  • Work to achieve policy coherence across multiple policy areas  of particular relevance to diaspora communities (trade, immigration, development, public engagement), as well as federal government departments and other levels of government; and
  • Explore new partnership models to harness the benefits of diaspora engagement. For instance, Mr. Pelletier highlighted a model that Cuso has been exploring that consists of tripartite agreements bringing together larger NGOs, diaspora organizations, and local NGOs in developing countries.
Overall, the principal conclusion that emerged from this panel is that Canada, as a country reliant on immigration for demographic and market growth, and with a population that is generally supportive of immigration and multiculturalism, should be a leader when it comes to engaging more closely with its diaspora communities in the identification and implementation of its international priorities.
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John Monahan of the Mosaic Institute and Joseph Wuol of the South Sudanese Peacebuilding Organization hold a public conversation at the all-day consultation event. 
The remainder of the day was devoted to thematic discussion groups that allowed attendees to work together to formulate more concrete ideas for enhancing the engagement of Canada’s diaspora communities within Canada’s official development assistance policy community. Wendy Sung-Aad, Mosaic’s Director of Fundraising and Development, and Lorenzo Vargas, Mosaic’s Senior Project Officer, helped facilitate and guide some of these discussions.
The thematic groups focused on knowledge, skills, technology and personnel transfer; public engagement for active global citizenship; matching funds for innovative projects proposed by cultural (diaspora) groups; policy engagement; and research partnerships.  A number of key themes emerged from these conversations. They included:
  • Diaspora engagement needs to be a specific element of the ongoing deliberations about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as of September 2015;
  • Increased transparency and more accessible information about government funding opportunities from which diaspora groups can benefit are critical. These funding opportunities should be designed based on a clear understanding of the many special challenges that diaspora groups can face;
  • Evidence- based efforts that lead to concrete action should be an integral element of diaspora engagement in development; and
  • A stand-alone mechanism or organization should be established through which diaspora groups can access information, increase their levels of capacity, influence research and policymaking, and communicate with government officials and other civil society actors. Such a mechanism would help meet the calls for increased cooperation and collaboration among diaspora groups that emerged from the consultation event, as well as provide a more efficient and cohesive interface with government.
To close out the day, Ariel Delouya, Director General, Engaging Canadians Bureau, brought remarks on behalf of DFATD. Mr. Delouya thanked everyone for their enthusiasm and underscored the importance of the event for his department.
Given its long record of leadership and involvement in efforts to enhance the engagement of Canada’s diaspora communities in Canada’s ODA policies and programs, the Mosaic Institute applauds the steps taken by DFTAD and OCIC to move this issue to the front burner. The Mosaic Institute looks forward to working with other stakeholders to make diaspora engagement in international development a tangible reality for Canada.