How to engage overseas Pakistanis in development?

How to engage overseas Pakistanis in development?

I have always held a strong opinion that diaspora’s intellectual and experiential assets have proved more valuable to Pakistan than their remittances. We have numerous examples showing a single overseas Pakistani coming back and creating hundreds of jobs. It is their professional acumen that could improve our industries and make them more productive. However, Pakistan, as a system, has always lacked a workable plan to engage its diaspora in socio-economic and intellectual development.
To make the most of the diaspora’s talent and expertise, we require a multi-pronged strategy, comprising four measures.

1. Setting Goals for the Engagement

Before initiating efforts for engaging overseas Pakistanis, we must decide why and for what do we need them. Unfortunately, so far, our aim for this engagement has solely been poverty alleviation; therefore, our policies mainly focus on remittances, banking and investments. If we rather target the improvement of country’s economic profile, we will be encouraging and convincing the overseas Pakistanis for sharing skills, experience and knowledge for up-scaling the homeland’s institutions and industries.
As a second step, we need to make favorable governance as a backbone of our engagement policy. China, Korea and India are globally lauded for how efficiently they managed to tap the diaspora’s skills into homeland’s development. The key to success was a fine development strategy that prioritized investment in higher education, research and development and fostering entrepreneurship. To set goals for diaspora’s role in the development, the opinions of overseas Pakistanis should necessarily be considered during planning and implementation.

2. Knowing Overseas Pakistanis across the World

Once the government has decided the sector(s) where the diaspora’s help could be sought, it is time to know how and to what extent they could be helpful. It not only requires extensive information about the location and number of the diaspora’s members but also a compilation of inventories of their skills, experience, qualifications and capacity to give back to Pakistan.

Similarly, through a systematic approach, the government could consult the diaspora to know what and how could they offer to Pakistan and what facilitation do they actually require.
The Congress-led government in India in 2002 researched on these lines which took it two years to analyze demographic as well as potential development capacity of the 20 million nonresident Indians (NRIs) and persons of Indian origin (PIOs). The government remains consistently engaged with them in both the country of origin and destination; which results in the capacity building of the various local institutions and industries, in addition to annual remittance of $69 billion.

3. Trust Building

Although, numerous investment opportunities are available in Pakistan, the Pakistani diaspora from across the world prefers to invest billions of dollars in Dubai’s real estate sector. It indicates trust deficit on both sides, for which the government has to redefine its approach. Overseas Pakistanis are a major contributor to national foreign reserves whose input in policymaking and implementation is not only necessary but highly productive.
Consistent communication with the diaspora would help the government to develop efficient legal, regulatory, and institutional frameworks that would enhance overseas investment in the country. Mexican government developed a Consultative Council of the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (CCIME) with 100 members elected by its diaspora in United States and Canada. The council is mandated to critique and appreciate the government’s policies and recommend policy reviews. Think tanks from both the parties identify problems, decide priorities and allocate resources. It eventually enhances communication and mutual trust level. The recent decision of giving voting rights to overseas Pakistanis will surely act as a stepping stone in this direction.

4. Mobilization of Overseas Pakistanis for Development

After ensuring the three earlier measures, it’s time both for the government and the diaspora to mutually benefit from each other; keeping development of the country as the primary focus. To mobilize the overseas Pakistanis community for any collaboration, we must have a robust communication strategy. For example, Indian government organizes high-profile events like ‘non-resident Indian day’ where the diaspora is invited from the whole world. Notable overseas members are awarded with various appreciations and acknowledgments; and are given an opportunity to explain how they contributed/intend to contribute to the society.

Secondly, the government could facilitate groups of professional overseas Pakistanis which plan to initiate any development project in Pakistan. For further assistance, tri-partite collaboration could be established between these professional groups, NGOs working in the same domain and the government of Pakistan to capitalize on each other’s potential. Suggested projects could be up-scaling of R&D activity in science and technology and agriculture; entrepreneurship programs; talent support initiatives; expanding corporate domain by introducing or promoting various small and medium sized enterprises etc.
Thirdly, as we know that the present government is interested in empowering local governments; this collaboration – between overseas Pakistanis and the government – could play a major role. The diaspora members belonging to any union council could shake hands with the local government and plan projects.
We are glad to see that the incumbent government is convinced that engaging diaspora in the development has become inevitable. However, all efforts could go futile if any systematic approach was not adopted in doing so.

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