On Tuesday, I spoke at the Global Diaspora Forum, a gathering at the State Department that brought together representatives from diaspora communities around the world, from Haiti to Tanzania.  I had the opportunity to talk about ways USAID is rebuilding our engagement with diaspora—in areas like philanthropy, entrepreneurship, and volunteerism—under the framework of the Diaspora Network Alliance.  And I shared my appreciation for the unique relationships, knowledge and skills that diaspora communities bring to development.

In the aftermath of the last year’s earthquake in Haiti, diaspora volunteers worked with Tufts University to help translate text messages from people trapped in rubble—information we fed to our search and rescue teams on the ground in Haiti that helped save lives.  In South Sudan, we worked with skilled, educated Sudanese diaspora volunteers to develop local capacity in health and education.  As the referendum for independence approached, we supported polling stations abroad so that members of the southern Sudanese diaspora could participate.

I was reminded at the Global Diaspora Forum of my own family’s experience.  My parents immigrated to the United States, and I still recall the pride my father took in sending money in blue aerograms back home to our family in India.  In 2010, global remittances were valued at over $340 billion, but I know firsthand how much more they’re really worth.  So often a result of long hours and sacrifice, they mean the chance for a child to afford her school uniform, or the chance for a young person to take out a loan and open up a business.  And when they allow a family to buy food or medicine in a difficult time, they mean the difference between life and death.  That’s why we’re committed at USAID to making sure each dollar saved and each dollar transferred reaches its recipients at the lowest transaction cost possible.

You can learn more about our work with diasporas and remittances.

I was inspired by how many potential new partners I saw at the Forum and the possibilities going forward to learn from each other, share innovative ideas, and deliver meaningful results for developing countries.