E.g., 09/23/2023
E.g., 09/23/2023
Migrant Hometown Associations and Opportunities for Development: A Global Perspective

Migrant Hometown Associations and Opportunities for Development: A Global Perspective

For many migrants, their first priority is staying connected to families and friends left behind. They do so by calling relatives, visiting home, and sending remittances. Emotional connections with the homeland are not limited to family ties, and migrants may also maintain their cultural identities by patronizing migrant businesses or purchasing nostalgic products from their countries of origin, such as tortillas, rum, or spices.

Another type of engagement — hometown associations, also known as HTAs — are organizations that allow immigrants from the same city or region to maintain ties with and materially support their places of origin.

At the same time, HTAs create a new sense of community among recent immigrants with similar backgrounds. They also represent a transnational identity rooted as much in the migrant's country of origin as in the migrant's adopted home.

HTAs are active throughout major migrant destinations, such as the United States, Europe, and parts of East Asia. The total number of HTAs is unknown as these associations change in number every year. Mexican HTAs number somewhere around 3,000, and Filipino groups may amount to 1,000, whereas there are about 500 Ghanaian organizations.

What HTAs Do

HTAs are usually led by a board of directors or elected officers. For the most part, these groups are completely voluntary and do not have official nonprofit status, such as 501(c)3 status in the United States. Those associations that achieve a higher level of institutional maturity are more likely to adopt formal nonprofit status and seek funding from organizations and governments.

Due to the voluntary nature of groups and the working-class profiles of their members, the amount of time devoted to HTA activities is often limited.

For any HTA, the primary activity is fundraising for ongoing programming or special needs, such as a natural disaster in the home country. Most HTA projects are focused on the promotion of health or educational activities.

Groups working in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa donate school or medical supplies to local institutions, or provide basic infrastructure through the construction of clinics, classrooms, parks, and homes. HTAs will also donate money for special occasions or circumstances, such as a religious celebration or to repaint or repair a local church.

Oftentimes, HTAs liaise with local organizations in the home community in order to implement their projects. For example, in Guyana, the most common local partners are local nonprofits and churches (see Table 1). In Mexico, 80 percent of HTAs report approaching municipal leaders to discuss their projects, coordinate efforts and distribute resources.


Table 1. Local Partners for HTA Project Implementation in Guyana
Local associations 26
Churches 24
Notable people 13
Mayor’s office/township 8
International organizations 3
Local businesses 1
Other 25
Source: Manuel Orozco. "Distant but close: Guyanese transnational communities and their remittances from the United States." Report commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development, January 2004.

HTA fundraising activities can include cookouts, cultural events and concerts, raffles, and sports tournaments. Groups are often able to secure corporate sponsorship for their activities, including sponsorship by immigrant businesses. Although levels of success vary, these HTAs operate with limited resources and usually raise less than US$20,000 a year.

In some cases, fundraising is not limited solely to the immigrant community. The group Comite Ixchiguan in Delaware reached out to local media in the aftermath of Hurricane Stan in 2005 to collect donations for affected families in Guatemala.

Yet activities such as concerts and beauty pageants are more than fundraisers: They also promote culture and solidarity in the receiving communities.

Many HTAs have also started to develop projects and services aimed at immigrants, such as assisting with voter registration, providing legal and social services, or teaching a native language or culture to the children of immigrants.

The Fante Benevolent Society of Chicago, a Ghanaian HTA in the United States, has made its mission promoting Ghanaian traditions and values in the diaspora by helping with the "neighboring and outdooring ceremonies" when a child is born. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, Ghanaian HTA activities often focus on burial traditions.

HTA Members: Who are They?

The percentage of remittance-sending migrants who belong to HTAs varies from one origin group to another. For example, on average, only about 9 percent of remittance senders in the United States of Latin American origin belong to an HTA. Surveys have shown that 29 percent of remittance senders from Guyana who live in the United States belong to an HTA, while 16 percent of Jamaicans are HTA members (see Table 2).


Table 2. Remittance Senders in Latin America who Belong to an HTA
Country Percent
Guyana 29%
Jamaica 16%
Ecuador 10%
Haiti 10%
Honduras 7%
Colombia 6%
Nicaragua 4%
El Salvador 4%
Mexico 4%
Dom. Rep. 3%
Guatemala 3%
Bolivia 1%
Average 9%
Source: Manuel Orozco. Surveys carried out by the author.

Among African migrants, 16 percent of Nigerians in the United States participate in an HTA, compared to 15 percent of Ghanaians. However, in the case of Ghanaians, this figure is relatively higher among migrants living in Europe (see Table 3).


Table 3. Percent of West African Remitters who Contribute to an HTA
Country of residence Country of origin
Ghana Nigeria
United States 15 16
United Kingdom 28 --
Germany 37 0
Source: Manuel Orozco. "Diasporas, Development and Transnational Integration: Ghanaians in the U.S., UK, and Germany." USAID, October 23, 2005.

Varying levels of membership are also seen in Southeast Asia, suggesting that migrant communities may be more organized in certain places than in others. While more than a quarter of Malaysians living in Japan contribute to an HTA, only 4 percent of their counterparts in Singapore do (see Table 4).


Table 4. Percent of Southeast Asian Remitters who Contribute to an HTA
Country of residence Country of origin
Indonesia Malaysia Philippines
Japan 43 26 30
Hong Kong 75 -- 63
Singapore 9 4 31
Malaysia 88 -- 46
Source: Manuel Orozco with Rachel Fedewa. "Regional Integration? Trends and Patterns of Remittance flows within South East Asia." Inter-American Dialogue, Washington, DC. August 2005.

It is difficult to pinpoint the factors that may lead certain people to participate in an HTA, but these may include political culture, family links, material circumstances, cultural identity, and levels of integration.

Overall, it seems that more recent arrivals tend to become the core members of HTAs while HTA leaders tend to be more established immigrants. Central American remittance senders who live in the United States and belong to HTAs tend to be over age 40, have U.S. citizenship, and visit their home country once a year or more (see Table 5).


Table 5. Features of Central American Remittance Senders in the United States and HTA membership
Type of activity Belongs to HTA
Yes No
Is over 40 years old 60 44
Visit country once a year or more 56 30
Helps family in home country with other obligations 55 20
Has been in the United States more than 10 years 44 29
Remittance sender is a U.S. citizen 38 22
Sends over US$350 31 18
His or her income is $32,733 $20,659
Source: Manuel Orozco. "Diasporas, philanthropy and hometown associations: the Central American experience." Inter-American Dialogue, March 22, 2006.

The example of the Filipino diaspora further highlights the way in which migrants' personal and cultural circumstances may impact their tendency to donate to an HTA. Filipino migrants can be found throughout the world and on nearly every continent.

According to the Ateneo Center for Social Policy in Manila, over 90 percent of philanthropic donations from the Filipino diaspora come from developed countries in North America, Australia and New Zealand, and Europe. In these countries, Filipino populations are largely professionals, are more likely to have some sort of legal status, and earn higher incomes.

Filipinos working in places like Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore tend to be contract-based workers, including lower-paid service workers, and while these migrants do contribute to HTAs, they tend to do so in smaller amounts (see Table 6). However, their participation in HTAs is equally active, reflecting a cultural tradition among Filipinos to remain dedicated to their communities of origin.


Table 6. Features of Filipino Remittance Senders and HTA Membership
  Belongs to an HTA
Japan Hong Kong Singapore
Yes No Yes No Yes No
Is over 30 years old 70 50 72 63 67 64
Maintains family business in the Philippines 24 16 12 7 23 11
Has been abroad more than five years 49 44 75 64 56 47
Sends over US$200 77 85 30 21 56 45
His or her income is $18,763 $19,486 $5,163 $5,264 $11,641 $7,333
Source: Manuel Orozco. Survey of Southeast Asian remitters commissioned by author, 2005.

It is important to note that the reach of HTAs in a given immigrant community extends beyond formal membership, as nonmembers often attend fundraising events and make donations. For example, Guyanese HTAs in the United States are usually made up of less than 20 members, but they usually receive contributions from more than 100 people, meaning that some 40,000 (or 20 percent) of all Guyanese immigrants in the United States have donated to a Guyanese HTA.

HTAs as Development Players

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) defines development as a condition that creates "an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy, and creative lives." A development player aims to find solutions to human needs and to offer alternative ways to promote self-sustainability.

The work of HTAs generally targets the most vulnerable populations, sometimes overlapping with development but not always. Indeed, HTAs have largely attracted attention in the development community for projects in the home country that are ongoing or support income generation (microenterprises, agricultural activities, etc.) rather than one-off projects such as the rebuilding of a church.

For example, the Sankofa Foundation, a Ghanaian diaspora organization in the Netherlands, is currently undertaking a long-term, income-generation project in rural communities in Ghana. The Sankofa Family Poultry Project mobilizes investments from Ghanaian migrants in the Netherlands to provide start-up materials and technical training so that women in Ghana can raise poultry and operate their own businesses, with the goal of becoming economically independent.

These types of projects are significant because of the potential they have to promote equity, an important component of development philosophy. They may often impact more people than remittances alone, and provide aid in communities where the capacity of the local government has fallen short.

The case of Mexico is striking in this respect. In Mexican hometowns with fewer than 3,000 people, HTA donations are equal to more than 50 percent of the money in municipal public works budgets. In towns with populations under 1,000 people, HTA donations can amount to up to seven times the public works budget, according to the findings of political scientist Manuel Orozco.

It is essential to keep in mind, however, that while these donations are channeled primarily to the poor, these resources alone do not constitute a solution to the structural constraints of the poor. Also, HTA money often fails to create financial security for households or sustainable development in a community.

While HTAs are undoubtedly improving the quality of life in the communities they serve, their influence is further limited by both funding and organizational restraints.

Group leaders, for the most part, are not necessarily trained or experienced in the organization, implementation, or evaluation of development projects. Many HTAs do not work effectively with local community stakeholders and therefore do not understand their development priorities; they also cannot ensure that the community will properly care for new facilities or donations.

Orozco has identified a series of criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of a migrant HTA as a development player (see Table 7).


Table 7. Development Potential of an HTA
Ownership Correspondence Sustainability Replicability
Community members participate in decision making; community members participate in implementation; and community members have control of project after completion. Project meets basic needs; needs met are a development priority; and implementation occurs in association or coordination with other institutions. Project enables development goals; does not constitute a burden or entail added costs; and has a long life cycle. Resources for the project are available in other communities; and institutional environment facilitating implementation is available in other communities.
Source: Manuel Orozco. “Hometown Associations and Development: Ownership, Correspondence, Sustainability and Replicability.” New Patterns for Mexico: Observations on Remittances, Philanthropic Giving, and Equitable Development, edited by Barbara J. Merz. Global Equity Initiative, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA: 2005.

In his 2005 evaluation of Mexican HTAs operating in Jerez, Zacatecas, Orozco finds that the development impact of these associations is more effective when they are more organizationally mature. In other words, the development potential of HTAs grows over time. In addition, HTAs are more effective as development players when they conduct their work in partnership with other organizations, foundations, or governments.

Opportunities for Donors and Governments

International organizations, foundations, governments, and the private sector have the potential to link their development priorities to the work of HTAs, helping them define their goals and better implement their strategies. Contributions can be both in material and manpower. Also, it is important for states and other donors to work with HTAs and other migrant organizations to develop a joint agenda that will address issues of common concern.

Both nongovernmental (NGOs) and international organizations have already formed innovative partnerships with HTAs in order to promote development. Oxfam Novib, the Dutch arm of international NGO Oxfam International, works with the African diaspora in the Netherlands to fund HTA economic development projects in places like Somalia, Ghana, and Burundi.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) of the United Nations has also spearheaded work with HTAs, teaming up with the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank to fund the work of HTAs in Mexico, Honduras, and Haiti. A second round of funding for HTA development projects will be completed through IFAD in 2007, with a focus on HTAs based in Europe.

Governments have also become involved in the development work of HTAs, and perhaps two of the most successful government-HTA collaborations have taken place in Mexico and in El Salvador. In 1993, the state government of Zacatecas, Mexico, introduced the program Dos por Uno (Two for One), in which both the federal and state governments match one dollar for each dollar that HTAs contribute to development projects in Zacatecas.

By 1999, the program had expanded to include local governments and became Tres por Uno (Three for One), encompassing not just the state of Zacatecas but also other Mexican states such as Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Michoacan. In 2005, Mexican HTAs raised about $20 million for development projects throughout Mexico, which was matched by $60 million in Mexican federal, state, and local government contributions.

In El Salvador, the national development agency FISDL developed a similar program to match the funds of Salvadoran HTAs, called Unidos por la Solidaridad (Unity for Solidarity).

Through this program, HTAs submit proposals to FISDL, which then evaluates their feasibility and responsiveness to community needs. In order to participate, HTAs must match at least 10 percent of the total cost of the project. Between 1999 and 2003, 45 projects with HTAs were executed in 27 Salvadoran municipalities, representing a total investment of $11.3 million — $7 million from FISDL, $2.3 million from municipalities, and $2.1 million from HTAs.

Finally, the private sector also has the potential to play an important role in the work of HTAs. In 2003, the Salvadoran bank Banco Agrícola launched an innovative program that matches remittance transfers made through the bank with a donation to a fund for community projects led by migrant associations.

Through this program, entitled Manos Unidas por El Salvador (United Hands for El Salvador), Salvadoran HTAs were able to bid on grants for development projects. In 2006, donations made by Banco Agrícola to HTA projects in El Salvador totaled more than $200,000 according to the Pan-American Development Foundation.

Remittance industry giant Western Union has also followed suit in Mexico, unveiling its four-for-one program in 2005. This program, modeled after the Mexican government's Tres por Uno initiative, adds an additional tier of matching funds to donations made by Mexican HTAs, up to a cap of $1.25 million.

While these partnerships are promising, there is potential for more and deeper collaboration between HTAs and both public and private donors.

Both HTAs and donors need to find a space for interaction and communication to overcome the fact that HTAs are predominantly volunteer organizations. Governments need to develop confidence-building tools and initiatives that make migrants recognize that their home-country governments are serious and committed to working with them.


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