International Network on Strategic Philanthropy – Diaspora philanthropy: existing models, emerging applications

Diaspora philanthropy is an increasingly important part of the global philanthropic landscape, but perhaps one of the least well understood. Flows of global remittances have topped US$100 billion, yet the potential for some of this funding to assist development through philanthropic investment is only slowly being recognized and encouraged. A new study from INSP[1] analyses current initiatives and the future potential to engage, expand and strengthen diaspora giving.

With increased rates of migration, and growing ease of travel and communication, notions of ‘community’ are being redefined. People living outside their countries of origin often maintain strong familial, cultural, economic and political ties to their homelands. Many are relatively prosperous compared to their communities of origin and often wish to ‘give back’ to those communities, to which they frequently plan to return.

The increasing scale of diaspora giving

According to the World Bank, diaspora communities transferred over $100 billion (twice the level of official development aid) to their home countries in 2004 in the form of remittances. The lion’s share of this goes directly to families, but an unknown portion goes to what could be considered ‘social’ or ‘philanthropic’ investments. Only relatively recently have organizations emerged to encourage and facilitate this aspect of diaspora giving. In the US, organizations such as the American India Foundation, the Brazil Foundation and Give to Colombia are seeking to engage relatively wealthy donors in giving to these countries, while initiatives such as the Digital Diaspora Network and Give2Asia (US) and the newly established Asian Foundation for Philanthropy (UK) encourage regional giving. On a smaller scale, some immigrant communities are organizing themselves into local groups – often referred to as ‘hometown associations’ (HTAs) – to raise money for social and economic investment in their home communities. To a lesser extent, existing institutions such as community foundations and professional associations also facilitate diaspora giving.

In the home countries, too, there are direct efforts to cultivate ties with the diaspora and encourage their philanthropic investment. In Mexico, some philanthropic investments are matched by federal, state and local governments, while the Government of India has established a special office to encourage diaspora engagement and holds a high-level annual conference to highlight this involvement. At the same time, community foundations, educational institutions and other non-profit organizations seek diaspora support for their programmes and goals.

Unanswered questions

Yet the impact of these efforts and the broader potential of diaspora or ‘homeland’ philanthropy are not well understood. What approaches to facilitating diaspora giving exist, and how effective are they? What are the key influences on the giving practices of diaspora groups? What impact do such philanthropic investments have on development and equity in home countries? How can the quantity and impact of diaspora giving be encouraged and supported?

While there are several excellent studies that explore these questions within the context of individual countries, very little research has analysed the impact or potential of diaspora giving more broadly. The INSP study will codify, compare and contrast existing initiatives, pushing beyond individual experience to help develop new and stronger strategies to promote greater, and more effective, diaspora giving.

1 The new INSP study, Diaspora Philanthropy: Existing models, emerging applications, is written by Paula Johnson and published in mid-November. See or

Paula Johnson is Senior Fellow at The Philanthropic Initiative in Boston, Massachusetts and Research Fellow with the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. She can be contacted at

For more information about INSP, see or contact Dirk Eilinghoff at

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