By Augusta Waldie, Student at the University of Toronto and member of the UofMosaic @ UofT.

On Tuesday, May 14, 2013 the Mosaic Institute hosted the first-ever Diasporas@Toronto conference. Diasporas@Toronto brought together representatives from government, academia, business, community organizations and the not-for-profit sector to discuss the engagement of diaspora communities in Canada’s global affairs. Living in a country that can lay claim to one of the most diverse populations in the world, Canadians of all backgrounds have the unique opportunity to tap into diaspora networks and determine how enhanced diaspora engagement across civil society can translate into a better Canada and a better world. Diasporas@Toronto represents the springboard for this kind of cross-sector connection, capacity building and understanding.

The one-day conference was timed to coincide with the Global Diaspora Forum (GDF) in Washington, D.C., which is an annual conference organized by the United States State Department’s International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA).  IdEA is dedicated to engaging globally-minded diaspora communities in the United States in areas of entrepreneurship, volunteerism, philanthropy, diplomacy, and social innovation. The Mosaic Institute – which engages diasporic communities in peacebuilding and international development efforts – was invited by IdEA to expand its model outside of the United States, and to bring a uniquely Canadian perspective to promoting the engagement of diasporic communities in global affairs.

The May 14th event opened with a live video link-up to the GDF conference in Washington, where Thomas Debass, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary of State’s Office of Global Partnerships, publicly saluted the Mosaic Institute and those other organizations and individuals gathered for Diasporas@Toronto. Mr. Debass then introduced the day’s opening keynote speaker, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, Robert Hormats.  Mr. Hormats, in turn, was followed with a live address in Toronto by Mosaic’s co-Founder and Chairman, Vahan Kololian., who shared the story of his own personal involvement, as a member of Canada’s Armenian diaspora, in efforts to improve relations between Armenia and Turkey.

For many, the highlight of Diasporas@Toronto was a series of “best practices” presentations about “made-in-Canada” strategies for diaspora engagement from a truly diverse roster of speakers:

  • The Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation spoke of their research on the economic importance of diaspora communities, particularly in the context of increasingly interconnected global markets. Mowat seeks to understand how these international “diaspora networks” have the potential to buttress the Ontario economy.
  • Cheryl Perera, the young, intrepid found of OneChild, gave an inspiring presentation about her work to combat child sex slavery.
  • On behalf of Public Safety Canada, Charlene Larose discussed how the department’s Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security: Citizen Engagement on National Security engages Canadians in and informs policy-makers about national security matters in the context of Canada’s diverse society.
  • Craig Brown of TiE Toronto spoke of TiE’s mission of providing young people with the necessary training and access to resources and networks in order to realize their potential as entrepreneurs.
  • Alumni of the Mosaic Institute’s Young Canadians’ Peace Dialogue on Sri Lanka, now calling themselves BuildChange, spoke about their peacebuilding work – a combination of dialogues and community service projects – with Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim Sri Lankan communities in Canada and Sri Lanka.
  • Barbara Hogan of Cuso International discussed Cuso’s programs that engage diasporic individuals in volunteering in their countries of origin.
  • On behalf of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), Dr. Margaret Walton-Roberts discussed her research related to CIGI’s “Diasporas, Development and Governance in the Global South” initiative.

Each of these presentations illuminated the vast potential benefits for Canada of expanded engagement of diaspora communities in Canadian global affairs. Participants left the session eager to forge new relationships and innovate within and across various sectors of specialization.

After a working lunch, a strategic brainstorming session in the afternoon served to focus everyone’s thoughts on how to enhance the engagement of diaspora communities going forward. A short report summarizing key recommendations will be issued shortly, to be shared widely with both government and Canadian civil society. Overall, Diasporas@Toronto was well-received, receiving an average approval rating of 87.5% from those program participants who were surveyed.

We hope that Diasporas@Toronto will be just the starting point of an exciting journey ahead. We at the Mosaic Institute hope to build on the ideas and suggestions that emerged from the conference and work with other organizations to harness Canada’s diversity in an efficient, inclusive and meaningful manner across all areas of global affairs.

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