E.g., 06/24/2024
E.g., 06/24/2024
Connected through Service: Diaspora Volunteers and Global Development
August 2010

Connected through Service: Diaspora Volunteers and Global Development

Nearly 1 million U.S. residents spend time volunteering abroad each year, including nearly 200,000 first- and second-generation immigrants. Researchers recently found that immigrants are 46 percent more likely than native-born U.S. citizens to volunteer internationally. One group of volunteer programs that these immigrants participate in focuses on attracting highly skilled expatriates for relatively short but intensive volunteer missions aimed at transferring knowledge and building capacity in developing countries, while another focuses on attracting diaspora youth who spend time in the ancestral country working with community groups or grassroots organizations.

As skilled migration and the number of U.S. youth with ancestors in the developing world grow over the coming years, the potential for both skilled diaspora volunteers and youth diaspora volunteers will increase. Though many will undertake volunteer work on their own initiative, there is also a clear opportunity for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other U.S. government programs such as the Peace Corps and the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids, Malaria, and Tuberculosis Relief to cooperate with these volunteers to maximize their development impact. Although these programs are, for the most part, small scale and it is impossible to draw comprehensive conclusions, a number of them demonstrate promising approaches to attaining development goals. This study does not attempt a comprehensive evaluation of the impact or effectiveness of these programs, but draws informed conclusions and identifies promising practices that merit further inquiry. 

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. International Volunteering: Definitions, Motivations, and Impacts

III. What Role for Diasporas?

A. Diasporas Provide Discounted Technical Advice

B. Diasporas’ Linguistic and Cultural Familiarity Makes Aid More Effective

C. Diaspora Volunteers Counter the Effects of “Brain Drain”

D. Volunteering Is an Entry Point to Long-Term Engagement

E. Overcoming Coordination and Collective Action Challenges

IV. The Mechanics of Diaspora Volunteering

A. Highly Skilled Diaspora Volunteer Programs

B. Diaspora Youth Volunteer Programs

C. Multipurpose Diaspora Volunteer Programs

D. “De Facto” Diaspora Volunteer Programs

V. Lessons Learned and Policy Conclusions