What’s Diaspora Got to do with it? It’s all about Social Capital – By Boko Inyundo
To the question in this blog’s inviting post “What’s Diaspora got to do with it?” I offer one answer– “social capital“. The World Bank defines “˜social capital‘ as “the norms and networks that enable collective action“ and states “increasing evidence shows that social capital is critical for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustainable“.
To further illustrate the value of social capital, note the distinction between “˜bonding‘ and “˜bridging‘ social capital. The former refers to connections within a social or ethnic group, whereas the latter refers to connections that “˜bridge‘ social and cultural divides. David Halpern’s inspired book “The Hidden Wealth of Nations“ argues that for wider social outcomes bridging social capital is preferred though it’s harder to foster. You and I may hail from opposite sides of the African continent and have had quite different life experiences, however, the fact that we are of African origin gives our relationship an under-girding of reciprocity and solidarity. Other communities, including the English, have long relied on such “˜bonding capital‘, famously acknowledged in the phrase, “the old boy network“. By dint of its dispersal away from its homeland, any Diaspora must develop both its “˜bonding capital’ and its “˜bridging capital’ and, in many cases, it does so in an international framework. This mix is a major asset especially as we witness increasingly global relationships of culture, people and economic activity.
In relation to nurturing bonding capital, members of the UK African Diaspora might: interact with those from their homelands through grassroots organisations; congregate at places like London’s Africa Centre to enjoy the arts and culture of Africa; attend seminars implemented by the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD);go to Diaspora-focussed events hosted by their respective Embassies and High Commissions; eat at those excellent restaurants that serve authentic food from home or shop for foodstuffs sourced from Africa via markets such as those in Shepherds Bush or Brixton; or attend churches which cater for the style of evangelical worship common across much of Africa or distinguished in approach such as the Ethiopian orthodox church.
However, as a “˜minority’ community we must also learn how the society here in Britain works, with its own rich historical tapestry of different peoples and cultures. By definition, we have to “˜bridge‘ the inherent social gaps between our homelands’ norms and values and those of the British as well as those of other communities living in Britain’s cosmopolitan cities.
As we build ties with these other constituencies we not only learn about them, but about ourselves. It is in that intersection of bonding and bridging capital in this inexorably globalising world that as members of a Diaspora we develop robust and defining characteristics that inform how we survive and thrive. We have seen evidence of “˜majority’ communities across the world sensing the tremendous potential benefits that these experiences of living in another culture can bring. Chinese professionals educated abroad, for example, have been actively encouraged to return home to take up lucrative senior posts in mainland China, a development commonly referred to as the “˜sea turtle’ effect – which is referred to as “˜brain gain’ in Africa.
Bridging social capital helps us to generate broader identities and reciprocity by linking us with people from communities outside our own and by enabling information diffusion across a wider network, whereas bonding social capital bolsters our narrower selves. With this mix of experiences, members of a Diaspora have the potential to develop into formidable assets for any community, whether that is their “˜home’ or amongst the “˜external’ communities in which they live. A Diaspora is a community of people dispersed from their homelands for a variety of possible reasons but whose collective characteristics aren’t informed by “˜escape‘ but, in fact, by “˜opportunity‘ and entrepreneurial zeal. Consider the Kenyan nurse who signs up to serve in the UK’s National Health Service. She is making a conscious choice about her career progression and the opportunity to build a future for her and her family. A Togolese footballer that signs up to play for Tottenham Hotspur is doing much the same. So is a Somali gentleman who spends years in the UK working as a school support teacher and community organiser and who, as a result of these experiences, is subsequently invited to return home to Somalia to assume high political office as the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Like a seed, we in the Diaspora have been scattered and sown across various lands and our innate instinct is to establish and grow roots within / beyond our communities in order to survive and thrive, whatever the weather. As we in the Diaspora seek to build and sustain ours, and our families’ lives we also actively build our bridging capital, which we continually hone as this enables us to learn from, and influence, the dominant and other cultures within which, and with whom, we live. Especially in our now more global village, that capacity is of immense potential net-benefit for all and is, to me, “˜what the Diaspora has to do with it‘.
Boko Inyundo is a member of the “˜Save the Africa Centre’ campaign team in the UK (www.savetheafricacentre.com) and trustee of Kenyan community-based organisation Khwisero Water Development Project (www.kwdp.co.uk)
 African Arguments blog by Royal African Society (10 January 2012) [What’s Diaspora got to do with it? – by Dele Meiji Fatunla, Editor of Diaspora Debate]. Retrieved from http://africanarguments.org/2012/01/10/what%e2%80%99s-diaspora-got-to-do-with-it-by-dele-fatunla/
 The World Bank (©2011) [Overview: Social Capital]. Retrieved from http://go.worldbank.org/C0QTRW4QF0
 The Africa Centre Limited is a charitable trust based in London and the pre-eminent arts and culture centre for the African Diaspora in the UK, see http://www.africacentre.org.uk/
 AFFORD supports entrepreneurs to sustain and create jobs in Africa. Retrieved from http://www.afford-uk.org/
 CNN World (28 October 2010) [“˜Sea turtles’ reverse China’s brain drain]. Retrieved from http://articles.cnn.com/2010-10-28/world/florcruz.china.sea.turtles.overseas_1_china-chinese-experts-overseas-chinese-students?_s=PM:WORLD
 BBC News London (9 September 2011) [Teacher Mohamed Ibrahim quits for Somalia deputy PM job]. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-14853043