Author: Mirjam Keller

Open for Business: Diaspora Market Shapers and Business Builders

Business as usual? Not when diaspora communities have a say. The third Diaspora Learning Network (DLN) seminar aimed at exploring the significance of diaspora businesses as well as the dynamics, challenges and risks they face in Australia. Instead of only focusing on remittances, which is often the case in similar studies, this seminar looked beyond this factor to trade, investment as well as skill and technology transfer – “brain circulation” rather than brain drain is the key word.

Trade in commodities between home country and host country is an obvious aspect, however, diaspora communities’ contribution goes much further: the communities often bring valuable skills, experience and contacts to the table that can be transferred back to their country of origin. Mentoring and training can help to boost industries, seeding businesses as well as the entrepreneurial spirit.

Evans Mukonza from the Australia Zimbabwe Business Council agrees: “Diasporas are in a unique position to facilitate both business cultures and dual national perspectives. We have an understanding of local customs and investment insights that can help facilitate business ventures.

But there are also challenges. Shawfikul Islam, a Rohingya refugee, who arrived in Australia five years ago, points to the current migrant policy as an obstacle: “Many policies prevent the practice of acquired skills making it difficult to find employment or become independent”.

Language and education is a crucial factor as well and investing in language learning and skill-building and would, therefore, be beneficial to expedite integration. Integration, then, is crucial to build the necessary foundation of trust and security that enables business ventures. Some participants pointed to the fact that it is easier to connect businesses than individuals even suggesting business as a starting point for integration.

Furthermore, diaspora communities can act as a bridge between Australia and their home country since they have local knowledge about taxes, embargos, customs etc. as well as a network. Thus, multicultural events or volunteer-based cultural exchanges would be a way to start furthering collaboration, developing business ideas and fostering exchange between different diaspora communities and Australians.

The contribution of diaspora communities to our society is broadly acknowledged. Now, it is important to leverage their skills and expertise by connecting different communities, actors, the government and businesses to create a healthy and trustworthy environment that encourages investment that, ultimately, leads to thriving businesses that not only benefits Australia’s economy but also those of the countries of origin.

We would like to thank our speakers, Evans Mukonza and Shawfikul Islam and facilitator Saba Mebrahtu, Oxfam Monash partnership. Thanks also to Oxfam Australia and the Refugee Council of Australia; the participants for the fruitful discussions and ongoing support and our volunteers for all their unstinting assistance.

The Diaspora Learning Network is an initiative of Diaspora Action Australia sponsored by the Australian Government – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and supported by DLN Committee Members: ACFID, Australian Council for International Development, Australian Red Cross, Melbourne Refugee Studies Program (University of Melbourne), Oxfam Australia, Refugee Council of Australia and Research for Development Impact Network.

Read more about the DLN here.
Save the date:
Diasporas in Action conference
26 – 27 September, Old Arts, The University of Melbourne