31 January, 2015 – Washington, DC. Around 20 Albanian professionals of the DC Metro Area gathered at the RenaissanceHotelto establishthe DC Albanian Diaspora Group. This group will have as a primary objective the identification and development of a strategy for engaging the Albanian Diaspora in the economic development of Albania and Kosovo,an initiative led by the Center for International Development at Harvard University. The objective of this initiative is twofold: (1) to facilitate the building of the relations between the Albanian Diaspora Unit and relevant ministries on the one hand, and the Albanian communities abroad on the other; and (2) to support the Diaspora Unit in developing a strategy for engaging the diaspora in the home country’s development.The proposal has been sent to several high level Albanian officials including Prime Minister Edi Rama, the Minister of Foreign Affairs DitmirBushati, and the Minister of Economy ArbenAhmetaj.
The meeting started with the participants giving a shortintroduction about themselves, while some of the representatives of the Albanian-American organizations of DC – Albanian Professionals in DC, VATRA, Albanian-American National Organization, Albanian-American Academy –gave a general overview of the history, structure and mission of these organizations.The discussion was focused on two levels:
1. DC Diaspora efforts in the short-run, in function of the Harvard-led project.
2. Longer-term: the creation of an institutionalized, inclusive organization that will address Diaspora issues (local, national and global level), as well as to consolidate the efforts of the Albanian community of professionals and intellectuals in DCand further.
There was a general understanding and agreement that DC has a huge potential of professionals and intellectuals who can be an important pillar of this Diaspora initiative. Hence, it becomes necessary that innovative ways are found to bring all the constituencies and individuals together so as to have a fully inclusive process. The meeting concurred that it is time to identify the potential within the community as well as the most common ways and intensity the Diaspora wants to engage with the home countries.
One of the main objectives of this initiative is the identification and mapping of professionals and intellectuals in the wider DC metro area. Acknowledging also that there is no national registry of Albanians and Albanian-Americans living in the US, the initiative will create a directory which will collect, on a voluntary basis, information about as many members of the diaspora as possible. An outreach and communication campaign will be carried forward that would make possible the compilation of this directory in the most inclusive and representative way possible.
Especially at a time when the National Albanian-American Council (NAAC) closed down, participants of the discussion agreed that there is a vacuum for an institutionalized, inclusive representation of the Albanian professional and intellectual community of DC. Efforts should be made to consolidate the diaspora groups in order to come up with one voice when it comes to organizing events with professionals and intellectuals from other Diaspora hubs, Albania and Kosovo. The call for a future “national intellectual union” was suggested and backed by all participants.
While univocal in its support to the Harvard initiative, the participants highlighted that it will be crucial for the DC Diaspora Group to come up with a solid agenda representing its own perspectives, ideas and commitment to this initiative when meeting with the Albanian government officials, Harvard and the other diaspora groups during the scheduled Spring meetings. As a principle, since this is a voluntary initiative, the diaspora should have an upper hand when it will come to negotiating the terms of engagement and collaboration with the Albanian government counterparts, and will work with all actors to match the needs of the country with the skills and investment potential of the diaspora by creating a mutlistakeholder engagement action plan of a strictly non-political nature. Looking at past and current diaspora initiatives, drawing lessons learned and coming up with innovative ways of engagement were some other themes which will require further development.
The DC Diaspora Working Group will hold several meetings to discuss the main points of the upcoming Spring meetings, work jointly with Harvard on the agenda, as well work out the logistical details for having an open and inclusive event with the Albanian community. Additionally, participants agreedto provide suggestions on non-Albanians to invite: politicians, businesses, non-Albanians who had working relationships with NAAC, universities, international institutions, not for profits working on Diaspora issues and ideas, the USAID Diaspora Program etc.The role of the Albanian and Kosovo embassies was also discussed – the incoming Albanian Ambassador to the US, FloretaLuli-Faber, has been notified about the meeting and another meeting will be held upon the Ambassador’s official arrival in office.
The meeting concluded withthe participants unanimously voting for Ermal Vila to be the Head of the DC Albanian Diaspora Group. The group will consist of around 20-25 members of the DC Metro Area community to hold meetings every beginning of the month. A Working Group of 8 people was also created, with one representative of each of the four Albanian-American organizations and other non-affiliated participants. The Working Group will consist of:
• Ermal Vila–Working Group Lead
• Alfred Papakostandini– (VATRA)
• Alban Pruthi – Albanian Professionals in DC (APDC)
• BlediPrifti – Albanian-American Academy (ASHA)
• Iris Maluka – Albanian-American National Organization (AANO)
• Daniela KristoNesho – Albanian Consul in DC
• GuljedBirce – Albanian Human Rights Project
• Alma Ford – non-affiliated
This working group will work closely with other diaspora counterparts in Boston and New York City to help develop and implement this diaspora initiative with an immense untapped potential.
Ermal Vila is a Governance Analyst at the World Bank, the world’s largest international development organization. Ermal’s work focus is on issues of Public-Private Dialogue and the better involvement of the private sector into the development agenda. Previously Ermal worked as research assistant at the Center for Transatlantic Relations and before that worked for the President of the European Parliament and the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ermal holds a Master’s Degree in International Development and Economics from Johns Hopkins University SAIS and a Bachelor’s Degree in Diplomacy from the American College of Thessaloniki in Greece.
* E dergoi per Diellin Merita B McCormack