Diaspora actors can improve emergency effectiveness


DEMAC was funded by ECHO and co-funded by DANIDA from June 2015 until September 2018 to improve diaspora emergency response capacity and coordination with the formal humanitarian system. To date, efforts have been driven by a small, dedicated team made up of staff from the Danish Refugee Council, AFFORD UK, and the Berghof Foundation. The team has been supported by a board of advisors from IOM, UNHCR, OCHA, Save the Children, UNDP, ECHO, and diaspora representatives. DEMAC will welcome additional members in 2020 to ensure additional relevant expertise and representation from each target diaspora.

DEMAC contributed to transforming the humanitarian landscape by laying the ground for a deeper understanding of diasporas as a "non-traditional" humanitarian actor group with different modus operandi for the implementation of aid in practice, identifying and opening potential spaces for engagement, cross-fertilization and increased coordination between diaspora and institutional relief providers.


Work with diasporas has shown that diaspora organisations are multi-sectoral, fast responding actors who work transnationally, including in countries facing humanitarian crises. Having a connection and understanding of their origin country plays a vital role in humanitarian relief and assistance where diaspora organisations often are part of the first response in the aftermath of a disaster. They are also key actors when it comes to raising the alarm in times of crisis; as was the case for the Sierra Leonean diaspora in the UK at the outset of Ebola in their home country, which led to the creation of the diaspora Ebola Task Force. The ease and frequency of communication between local communities and diaspora organisations means that they can be alerted in real-time, and their capacity to collect and disburse funds rapidly ensures that they unlock the first responses in crisis settings such as the 2017 attack in Mogadishu. Their support went directly to the victims, the hospitals and the ambulance services, and continued even after the end of the emergency situation. In hard-to-reach places where access may be an issue, diaspora organisations have a unique advantage due to their local connections and ties. They use their transnational position to respond to the growing demands for remote management and cross-border response in countries where international actors have a limited presence.


Supporting diaspora, as a part of a broader humanitarian community, to play a key role in the humanitarian responses and provide vital support to communities in countries of origin is linked with the localization agenda, one of the major themes of the World Humanitarian Summit and one of the main commitments under the Grand Bargain. Localization aims to strengthen the resilience of local communities and to support local and national responders on the front line. OCHA has called furthermore for an indispensable opening of the resource base of humanitarian action by integrating `non-traditional actors' - such as diasporas - to enhance the effectiveness of the humanitarian response and render it interoperable.

Diaspora organisations are part of and playing a central role in localization. Many can be considered frontline responders themselves, making direct and concrete contributions to emergency responses in their home countries. Many others work closely with local authorities, local organisations and community groups, providing technical and financial support, playing a role in advocacy and linking local actors with additional sources of support. They are heterogeneous – they have different capacities, values and approaches – and as part of a broader humanitarian community, can play a valuable and agile role in the humanitarian responses. However, assistance provided by diaspora organisations and the formal humanitarian actors often follows parallel tracks, resulting in a lack of mutual understanding and recognition, and thus a lack of coordination and collaboration that would be of benefit to the overall response.


DEMAC’s aim is to facilitate increased common ground between diaspora and formal humanitarian action. Through DEMAC coordination, diaspora organisations were able to achieve representation and visibility, consensus building and common messaging at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in 2016. Diaspora representatives were part of the pre-summit session with the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG), spoke at the Member States and Other Stakeholders Announcement Plenary, delivered a speech at the Special Session on “People at the Centre”, and submitted a joint diaspora commitment statement endorsed by 43 organisations. In addition, DEMAC has formalized Diaspora Liaisons within the United Nations Assistance Mission in Mogadishu and the Syrian NGO Alliance in Gaziantep to improve coordination since March 2018.