Session Report

Plenary Session VII: Leveraging Social Media For Diaspora Connect

Chair:                                     

  • Mr M J Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs, Government of India

Session Coordinator:            

  • Mr Vikas Swarup, Additional Secretary (XP) and Spokesperson, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

Panelists:                               

  • Mr Rohan Agrawal, Regional Operations Manager (Japan), Western Union, Japan
  • Ms Smita Barooah, Addictions Therapist, Writer and Fine Arts Photographer, Singapore
  • Mr Pramod Kumar Buravalli President/CEO, YA Consulting Group Inc. USA
  • Mr Vikash Dhanuka, Entrepreneur, Singapore
  • Mr Arvind Gupta, Head, Digital India Foundation, India
  • Mr Deepak Kanth
  • Mr Amit Malviya, National Head - Informational Technology and Digital Communication, Bharatiya Janata Party
  • Ms Mayuri Parmar Management Consultant & Founder, Parmar Advisory, UK
  • Mr Ankit Patel Director, Deutsche Bank, USA
  • Mr Nihar Shashithal Software Engineer, USA
  • Ms Jacqueline Daniel Solomon, Senior Systems Analyst, Nova Instruments Ltd, Israel
  • Ms Rupa Subramanya, Co-author, Indianomix, Canada

The Context 

The plenary on “Leveraging Social Media for Diaspora Connect” deliberated upon the ways for the Indian government to leverage the increasing power of social media to connect with the Indian Diaspora. Social media platforms have proven not only to be force multipliers for Government outreach but also to connect with the Diaspora at a very personalised level imbuing it with a human connect with the vast number of Indians living, working and travelling abroad.

Recognising this dimension, the Indian Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given a clear impetus to social media platforms to engage with the people. Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has been one of the pioneers in adapting digital tools to not only redress grievances but also reach out to Indians in distress overseas.

Recommendations & Action Taken

With that as the background, the PBD 2016 conference held on October 25, 2016 brought together experts from among the Diaspora, and policy makers based in India under the chairmanship of the Union Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen. (Retd.) Dr V K Singh and in the presence of Minister of State for External Affairs, Mr M J Akbar, and Mr Dnyaneshwar M Mulay, Secretary (CPV&OIA), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

Gen. Singh noted that the Ministry of External Affairs has leveraged social media platforms effectively for distress and crisis management and dissemination of information on the flagship programmes of the Government.

Mr Vikas Swarup, Additional Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, in his presentation cited the following:

  • The MEA has garnered over 1.2 million followers with over 13,000 tweets on the @MEAIndia account. On the @IndianDiplomacy Twitter account it has notched up more than a million followers with over 16,000 tweets. The Ministry has over 2 million likes on Facebook and over 50 million minutes of video watched on the YouTube channels it manages. The collective followership of all social media accounts crossed 4.5 million, creating 21 million Twitter Impressions and reaching 25 million on Facebook every month.
  • MEA is the first among foreign ministries of countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa in the use of digital diplomacy and holds the seventh rank in global rankings.
  • All Indian missions and posts have a presence on Facebook and almost all are on Twitter. Regional passport offices are on Twitter and leverage this tool with great efficacy to address queries and grievances. Care has also been taken to ensure that all mission and posts have standardised profiles (“India in” for increased credibility and easier navigation).
  • All missions and posts use the MADAD platform to address consular grievances. The e-migrate platform has been used to facilitate safe and legal migration of Indians going abroad.
  • An NRI-student database is being created to intervene effectively at the times of need or distress.
  • It was recommended by the expert panel to broaden and deepen MEA’s presence on the social media. In pursuance of that objective, it was recommended that the MEA should establish a presence on LinkedIn to connect with the business and professional community and Whatsapp platforms could be utilised for closed group communication.
  • It was also suggested that the IDF-IO programme’s scope be enlarged based on suggestions received on social media from the Diaspora to provide them an opportunity for broader engagement; a payment gateway be added on social media for ease of donating to particular projects of interest to overseas Indians.  It was also recommended that the OCI registration be used as a tool to mine data about native places, villages, etc., of the Diaspora and expose specific areas for assistance through the IDF-OI and other platforms.
  • It was also suggested that ‘Know India Program’ and ‘Bharat Ko Jano Quiz’ be institutionalised and synced to consulting and internship opportunities provided by the Ministry.
  • It was recommended that the MEA partner with other ministries of the Government to live stream events of cultural importance in India, enabling the Diaspora to connect with India.
  • Another suggestion was to generate demographic and psychographic analysis of MEA followers on social media platforms to create groups on Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger to assist communication at the regional and local tiers.
  • Further, it was recommended that a mechanism be set up to facilitate the teaching of Indian languages through online capsules and modes.

Mr Swarup also pointed out that there was a conscious attempt to standardise the profile, template and the look and feel of the various MEA digital assets for ease of orientation, navigation and search. He said that the Indian missions were “encouraged” to populate their social media tools with local content to more intimately connect with the local Diaspora.

He emphasised that the social media outreach has not been an academic exercise but a life saver at times of distress faced by the Indian Diaspora, especially in emergency situations, such as, in conflict zones or natural disasters across the world.

In times of an emergency, the MEA immediately sets up a helpline that is then disseminated through social media – like Twitter, which then enables the Diaspora to access the Indian Missions and ascertain the well-being of their loved ones.

Mr Swarup pointed to the innovative and rigorous use of social media by Ms Sushma Swaraj, the Union Minister for External Affairs, as a guidance for the entire Ministry. “Sushma Swaraj, the Minister, tweets every day, monitoring her mentions and effectively addressing the concerns of Indians in distant corners of the world.” The response has been overwhelming, he added.

Based on the recommendations of the expert panel formed to ideate on the MEA’s pitch on the social media front, Mr Swarup said that one of the recommendations accepted was the opening of a LinkedIn account for the Ministry. “We are already working on it and it will showcase India’s professional achievements.” he said.

He also pointed out that the Government has already tied-up with Google Cultural Institute, a repository of cultural material on India, to “showcase India-specific content through a kiosk at the Indian Missions so that people who walk in for their visas have the opportunity to browse through this collection.”

Mr Swarup said that the introduction of a payment gateway on the IDF-OI was also being considered.

He said the Indian students’ database will also be used to capture the coordinates of Indian students going abroad to enable the Government to reach them in times of need. E-migrate was another facility, he said, that was of immensely effective in making sure that “all Indian migration was legal, orderly and safe”.

Plenary Session & Q&A            

Answering a question from the assembled delegates on creating an “Indian platform”, panelist Mr Arvind Gupta, Head, Digital India Foundation (India), said, “Platforms like Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook, etc., are pervasive and it make immense sense to leverage them”. Platforms like MyGov.in and the Indian Prime Minister’s (Narendra Modi) personal apps have also developed immense engagement and reach.” However, he said that India should have the ambition to build its own platforms.

Mr Amit Malaviya, National Head - Informational Technology and Digital Communication at Bharatiya Janata Party, responding to a query about bolstering a positive India narrative, said, “It is up to us to build that narrative. There is a lot positive information out there. We have to be positive in identifying the positive stories, blogging about it, and disseminating it to strengthen the positive narrative.”

Ms Rupa Subramanya, co-author, Indianomix, opined that the “Government has to be clear and positive in its messaging as it was a challenge for the lay person to sift facts from fiction considering the information overload”.

India’s ambassador to the UAE, Mr Navdeep Suri, said, “We have to use the traditional methods of communication along with digital to address the Indian Diaspora, especially in the GCC countries as most of them are blue collar workers who may not be adept at 21st century tools of communication”.

In his concluding remarks, Mr M J Akbar, Minister of State for External affairs, Government of India, said, “The nuclear pace at which technology is being leveraged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to serve the poor will catapult India to the leadership of the 21st century”. Mr Akbar said it has been a fallacy to think that “technology and the poor cannot be merged. But what Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi is doing is to take technology to the length and breadth of India’s demography.”

“The harvest of this ‘project technology’ is going to be bountiful and I am not indulging in hyperbole when I say that it will take India to the leadership of the 21st century. Believe me, it will unfold before our eyes,” Mr Akbar said.

Saying that “the Indian is at the heart of all the efforts of the Ministry of External Affairs,” he congratulated the Ministry for its effective leveraging of social media to serve the overseas Indians.

The Minister said that the ministry “deserved an award and global recognition” for their use of social media and technology to reach out to “the Indian”.

Participants

  • Mr M J Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs, Government of India (Chair)
  • Mr Vikas Swarup, Additional Secretary (XP) and Spokesperson, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India (Session Coordinator)
  • Ms Vani Rao, Joint Secretary (OIA2), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India
  • Mr Rohan Agrawal, Regional Operations Manager (Japan), Western Union, Japan
  • Ms Smita Barooah, Addictions Therapist, Writer and Fine Arts Photographer, Singapore
  • Mr Pramod Kumar Buravalli President/CEO, YA Consulting Group Inc. USA
  • Mr Vikash Dhanuka, Entrepreneur, Singapore
  • Mr Arvind Gupta, Head, Digital India Foundation, India
  • Mr Deepak Kanth
  • Mr Amit Malviya, National Head - Informational Technology and Digital Communication, Bharatiya Janata Party
  • Ms Mayuri Parmar Management Consultant & Founder, Parmar Advisory, U
  • Mr Ankit Patel Director, Deutsche Bank, USA
  • Mr Nihar Shashithal Software Engineer, USA
  • Ms Jacqueline Daniel Solomon, Senior Systems Analyst, Nova Instruments Ltd, Israel
  • Ms Rupa Subramanya, Co-author, Indianomix, Canada

Key Recommendations of the Plenary Session

In the interactive session with PBD delegates following suggestions and recommendations were made:

  • Ministry should consider setting up LinkedIn accounts that would allow for professionals amongst the Diaspora to connect more closely with India and learn about India’s foreign policy and strategic engagements.
  • Examine ways to ensure a feedback mechanism for the Diaspora’s engagement in India’s development programmes through social media – arrange for integrated payment gateways within social media tools.
  • Ask Missions to generate demographic and psychographic analysis of social media followers on various platforms to create Diaspora groups on Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger to assist communication at the regional and local tiers.
  • Missions to use digital technologies to showcase India’s cultural heritage. Partner with other Ministries for livestreaming cultural events of importance.
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