THE BLOG

The Real Remittance Crisis: Skills, Human Expertise and Intellectual Capital Are Critical for Africa's Long-Term Growth

13/08/2013 20:13 BST | Updated 13/10/2013 10:12 BST

The diaspora's contribution to Africa is almost exclusively associated with the transfer and impact of financial remittances. Barclay's recent decision to close around 100 UK accounts held by cash transfer businesses has highlighted the continent's reliance on the diaspora and its resources. Perhaps it's unsurprising then that official figures for recorded remittances are projected to exceed $64billion in 2013.

But increasingly this risks ignoring another crucial channel of remittances that is largely un-quantified: the transfer of skills to local populations. The African diaspora have a vital role to play in combatting the skills crisis in Africa, and this is crucial to alleviating poverty and building the foundations for sustainable growth.

One personal experience in particular brings this to life.

A few years ago, my mother was seriously ill in hospital, spending the two-week period before she passed away, in two NHS Trust Hospitals in South London. During this time she was treated by no fewer than ten nurses from Sierra Leone.

Once they had heard our distinctly Sierra Leonean name ('Daramy'), they paid her dedicated attention. My daily visits to the hospital gave me the opportunity to speak to these nurses. As chair of the Sierra Leone Diaspora Network I was curious: what had led so many of these women to the UK? But perhaps more importantly, what might this trend mean more widely for our home country? They told me that less than 5% of their graduation class had remained in Sierra Leone, with the vast majority opting for the more secure environments of the USA, Europe or even more prosperous states in Southern Africa.

Overall it's estimated that over 30% of skilled nationals left the country before, during and after the civil war, which left over 2 million people displaced.

Amongst many professionals within the diaspora, there is often a sense of guilt at having left Sierra Leone. As a nation, it remains badly in need of their knowledge and expertise. The Government has recognised the accelerated need for economic development, and identified the intellectual capital of the diaspora as the driving force behind this growth.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is currently working to equip the population of Sierra Leone with key skills that can be used to help mobilise small-scale economic transformation. It's also conducting research to map the scale of Sierra Leonean Health Professionals working in the diaspora.

Here in the UK, the recently founded Organisation of Sierra Leonean Healthcare Professionals Abroad (TOSHPA) is a prime example of the diaspora's motivation to contribute their professional expertise in a manner that looks beyond financial exchange as the prime accelerator for growth.

It became one of the first diaspora groups in the UK to address the critical threat that the 'brain drain' continues to pose to Sierra Leone, equipping those working in healthcare with a practical means of 'remitting' their skills back home.

Since its inception, TOSHPA members have regularly travelled back to Sierra Leone as groups to assist in clinics and hospitals. These nurses sacrifice their own holidays and salaries to do this work along with support from the NHS, who allow them to take time off to do so.

As the development debate draws away from 'traditional aid' and moves towards long term progressive and sustainable development, it's never been more important for Africa to retain the talents, skills and entrepreneurial drive of its population, both at home and abroad.

On 3 and 4 October 2013, the UN General Assembly will be holding the second High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in New York, calling for policy makers worldwide to recognise the contribution of migrants and migration to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of society.

For a progressive post-2015 development agenda, it's vital that we harness the skills of people and communities alongside hard and fast economic investment. Crucial to this is a holistic view of remittances, which sees the sharing of knowledge, skills and expertise between communities as fundamental to Africa's prosperity in the long term.