Leveraging Social Media for Diaspora Connect

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Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) is celebrated on 9 January every year to strengthen the engagement of the overseas Indian community with the Government, reconnect them with their roots and celebrate their achievements and contributions. PBD is celebrated on January 9 as it was on this day in 1915 that Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest Pravasi, returned to India from South Africa to lead India’s freedom struggle.

In 2015 the Government of India revised the format of PBD and re-energized its engagement with the Indian Diaspora to enable sustained and more substantive engagement. Following the review, the PBD Convention will be held once in two years in a city outside Delhi. In the intervening year, smaller, outcome-based PBD Conferences will be organized in New Delhi on issues of concern to the Indian Diaspora. It was decided that Indian Missions and Consulates will also celebrate PBD every year.

Through the first series of PBD Conferences which commenced in February 2016 the Government is proactively engaging with the Overseas Indians in an issue-based dialogue.

As a run up to PBD 2017, 10 PBD Conferences (panel discussions) have been held in 2016 on issues of importance to the Indian Diaspora. Domain experts from the Diaspora, and stakeholders and policy makers based in India have been invited for day-long deliberations on various topics. Their recommendations have been submitted to the Government of India for consideration. At the 14th PBD Convention in January 2017, each PBD Conference will present their recommendations, and the Action Taken Report to PBD delegates for their suggestions and comments.

The 14th PBD Convention January 2017:

PBD 2017 which will focus on the theme “Redefining engagement with the Indian Diaspora will

  • Provide a platform for connecting with the Diaspora.
  • Address issues of concern to the Indian Diaspora and seek their insights and suggestions.
  • Deepen engagement with the young Diaspora and reconnect them with their roots.

Background for Plenary Session IV (i)

This session on “Leveraging Social Media for Diaspora Connect aims at discussing the role of Social Media in connecting with Indian Diaspora. The Indian diaspora has always maintained a link with the motherland. Today, digital technologies have democratised information, ensuring that India is only a click away. Social media is now part of Indian identity for Indians abroad. In recent times, social media has turned out to be tremendous force multipliers for the Government to reach out and establish a human connect with the vast number of Indians living, working or travelling abroad.

Governments across the world have also recognized the potential of this tool to communicate information about their policies and to receive feedback on strategies. The present Government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given a clear push towards the use of social media and other digital tools to remain engaged with the public.

The Ministry of External Affairs has been a pioneer in adapting digital tools. Starting in 2010, the Ministry’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, G+, SoundCloud, Flickr have a collective followership exceeding 4.5 million and weekly impressions (views, profile visits, etc) are usually five times the followership. External Affairs Minister, Smt. Sushma Swaraj is testimony to the extent that these disruptive communication technologies can be used to connect and practice diplomacy with a human face.

Under the PBD 2016 Conference in New Delhi experts from the diaspora, and policy makers based in India discussed on 25th October 2016 on “Leveraging Social Media for Diaspora Connect.

Chair of the session, MoS General (Retd.) VK Singh welcomed the participants and mentioned how the Missions had become responsive in dealing with the Diaspora using the power social media. MEA had not only used social media effectively for distress and crisis management but also for creating awareness about the flagship programmes of the Government. He mentioned that it was important to understand the advantages as well as the pitfalls of social media and invited recommendations on how social media technology could be leveraged further for the benefit of the diaspora.

Some important recommendations made by the participants were:

  • Ministry should be present on more social media platforms that business-persons and young people like. These include LinkedIn, Whatsapp and Snapchat.
  • IDF-OI needs to be broad based and more choices need to be put in for Diaspora to contribute in areas of their interest.
  • OCI registration could be a useful way to mine data about native places, villages, and to foster a sense of belonging and emotional bonds which in turn can help diaspora contribute to these villages through IDF-OI or other platforms.
  • Mobilise diaspora in specific ways: eg ‘Gathering’ project of Ireland promoted tourism among Irish diaspora; having an ‘NRI Sena’ to collect contributions of USD 1000 from 1000 enterprises at fixed intervals are just two such ideas.
  • Connect Indian youth with diaspora teachers who work in good universities. Indian youth can thus be guided by experienced professors and if required visit be invited to visit India physically to mentor Indian youth. Social media can provide the initial connect.
  • Through e-learning modules, teachers from India could virtually teach Indian languages to diaspora children. Missions should use their social media tools as platforms and become able facilitators of such a process.
  • Know India Programme and Bharat ko Jano Quiz competition needs to be institutionalized and tied to consulting or internship opportunities provided by MEA.
  • MEA can partner with other ministries to ensure that big events of cultural importance in India should be streamed live. This would be a unique opportunity for younger Diaspora to connect with India.
  • Grievance Redressal Mechanisms are very important. Rather than asking diaspora about their problems, they should be invited to suggest possible solutions.
  • Government should consider collaboration with Indian International Schools overseas by providing them qualified teachers from India on special assignments.
  • It is important to profile diaspora and target with a focus on psychographic and attitudinal understanding of the demography. Mapping conversations could be a good way to identify advocates and detractors.
  • Give social media a human touch through face to face interactions to tap into both physical and virtual communities at the same time. Example: Groups like “Indian Women in London can be tapped on Social media for taking cultural events to a success. This will help magnify conversations in the virtual space.
  • To bring greater ownership amongst diaspora, conversations have to be made two way through surveys, inviting bloggers and diversify from the one way broadcast mode.
  • Social media strategies to reach out to the Diaspora need to be non-partisan and systems put in place need to be carried forward through government agencies.
  • 65 plus section of the society are now getting to know the ropes on social media and they should be mobilised as they are the advocates for India, culturally, socially and even politically.
  • Social media platforms like customised apps should be introduced to facilitate online contributions to social and development projects.
  • Virtual Museum Tours of National Museums / UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India/ Places of Interests. Curated Videos/Documentaries on Mission Pages/ Social Media/ Online.
  • Steps should be taken to link digital technologies and the objective of cultural diplomacy with the diaspora.
  • Missions may conduct demographic and psychographic analysis of their followership and then target very specifically the messages that they want to communicate.
  • Missions should build on Start Up India & Make In India – connect to involve diaspora in social-development programs either as co-creators/ investors in PPP projects. Missions should also connect with startups, startup incubators, angel investor-networks etc. owned/ moderated by Indian diaspora. LIVE update on existing/ upcoming projects will attract more participation.
  • Missions should come up with periodic Newsletter to document their activities. Ideally, start with the students by reaching out to existing student councils and outreach with admission departments at colleges and universities.

The recommendations of the PBD Conference were submitted for consideration and follow up.

The Plenary Session in PBD 2017 will discuss the above recommendations, including the best ways to connect Diaspora through Social Media and steps already taken by the Ministry of External Affairs. The session proposes to focus on key priority of the Government towards bringing latest tools and technologies that can be employed by the Ministry and Missions to connect with the diaspora. It will deliberate on how diaspora and Missions may come together through social media to fully utilize the commercial and business opportunities available in other countries and facilitating linkages with Indian business houses and Chambers of Commerce.

Some of the important issues for discussion in the session include:

  • A granular understanding of the needs of the many different types of diaspora in different countries where there’s a large Indian presence
  • Social media as a platform to leverage contributions to development projects in India
  • Engaging the Diaspora through institutionalised programmes
  • Latest tools and technologies that can be employed by the Ministry and Missions to connect to the diaspora
  • Linking digital technologies and the objective of our cultural diplomacy with our Diaspora