Diaspora actors can improve emergency effectiveness

Diaspora groups are already heavily involved in development activities in their home countries. A recently launched innovative project explores how they act as providers of humanitarian aid and improve coordination mechanisms between Diasporas and conventional humanitarian aid providers. Together with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO)/European Union, the Danish Refugee Council, AFFORD and the Berghof Foundation jointly investigate opportunities for diaspora communities as providers of humanitarian aid and relief in Somalia, Sierra Leone and Syria.


Diaspora communities are key actors in disaster and manmade crisis response, with an ability to quickly mobilise assistance and substantially contribute to development. The World Bank estimates that remittances up to a total of USD 436 billion are sent to their countries of origin in 2014. This sum accounts for three times as much as traditional development aid.

“We know that diaspora communities are becoming increasingly influential actors in humanitarian crises, often being the first to provide assistance in ways that differ from that of conventional humanitarian actors. In times of emergency, diasporas have access to first-hand information from affected population; they inject large amounts of cash support;  send skilled volunteers to their countries of origin; and access areas and communities that conventional actors sometimes have difficulty accessing ,” says Onyekachi Wambu, Director of UK based AFFORD.

Even though Diasporas play a crucial role in development and humanitarian aid, there is a need for exploring to what extent coordination could be increased with the traditional humanitarian system. Especially in the current context of rising numbers of humanitarian crises and the capacity of relief and aid actors to respond to those needs being stretched to the limits.

“Diaspora aid is often provided in parallel to existing systems and mechanisms that seek to inform and coordinate common responses to humanitarian crisis. This is mainly due to the fact that it is often provided on the base of voluntarism. Often conventional aid implementers and donors lack knowledge on means and methods of aid provided by diaspora-based aid providers and vice-versa. Hence, the need to explore the realities and not least opportunities for a better coordination and thus a better humanitarian delivery,” says Erik Mohns, project coordinator of the Berlin-based Berghof Foundation.

The 17 months-long project seeks to address these gaps of information, to enhance mutual understanding between diaspora-led and conventional actors of emergency response, and effect better coordination.

“The project will provide insight into current modalities of diaspora humanitarian interventions, conduct seminars for diaspora organizations and conventional aid actors to address identified gaps in knowledge and capacity and develop recommendations on means and methods for improved operational and strategic communication and cooperation between Diasporas and conventional actors,” says Mingo Heiduk, Programme Coordinator for Danish Refugee Council’s Diaspora Programme.

Jointly, the three implementing organizations have extensive experience in working with Diasporas, humanitarian aid and international cooperation. Each partner will work with a specific diaspora community in their respective country: DRC works with the Somali Diaspora in Denmark, AFFORD works with the Sierra Leonean Diaspora in the UK and the Berghof Foundation with the Syrian Diaspora in Germany.

The ’Diaspora Emergency Action & Coordination’ -DEMAC project is funded by the EU’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).