Interview Otieno Ong’ayo - The Outreach of Diaspora Communities: from country of origin to country of residence

Dr. Otieno Ong’ayo is an academic researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. In his postdoc-project he investigates how diaspora communities have organized transnationally in order to influence local policies. To what extend are transnational diaspora networks politically engaged in countries of residence and origin? And what influences can they generate through these transnational practices?

In this research project, Otieno studies Ghanaian and Ethiopian diaspora communities in the Netherlands. A second research project explores the role of diaspora communities in humanitarian interventions. The focus lies on refugee settlements in Northern Uganda and this research enhances a nuanced understanding of the interconnections between people and places as influenced by both global and local social processes. 

What research methods do you use?  

In my research the methodological approach is mainly qualitative, with a focus on participatory and transformative methodologies. I combine content analysis with semi-structured interviews with key informants as well as focus groups discussions and workshops involving major players and stakeholders (leaders of diaspora organizations, community leaders, development agencies and policy makers).

How interdisciplinary is your research?

In my research activities, I collaborate with several researchers from different disciplines (political Science, development studies, migration studies, public administration, anthropology, sociology, law, gender, economics) both within ISS of Erasmus university and outside (Leiden and Tilburg Universities). 

The interdisciplinarity is twofold, on the one hand I have a background in Political Science, Management of Health and Psychosocial Science and Labour studies and Management which is visible in my research, which I combine with input from other scientific disciplines, through collaboration with other researchers within and outside ISS. On the other hand, a core element of my research is co-creation, which means I work together with respondents derived from my study groups such as diaspora communities, development NGOs,  local and national governments officials and companies. This approach ensures that, among others, the target groups are directly involved in the research process and outcomes. To me it is important that the values of all perspectives are included to reach a common ground from which change can be realized on the basis of shared development of ideas and pursuit of solutions informed by direct experiences of the target groups. 

How does your research impact society?

Diaspora communities and organizations as well as municipalities in the Netherlands make use of our research output in their lobby and advocacy but also in policy debates. They are involved in the research process through co-creation, which is actively embedded in the research design. So, it is not imposed on them, they actually are a part of it. In this way it is possible to create a greater impact and to create a place for people to share their perspectives.    

My research is increasingly featuring in the public space in the Netherlands where I have been able to present my findings and offer expert opinion to policy makers (the Dutch parliament, ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice) and development agencies (Cordaid, Partos). I also give interviews to the media (de Trouw) with a focus on migration dynamics and policy debate in the Netherlands.  I also give input to Dutch policy through my research and memberships to government agencies  and NGOs.  Policy officers are often ignored in the discussion and by involving them and diaspora organizations their view is incorporated in the research process and outcomes. It is like building a bridge between diasporas and governments. For this I organize meetings or discussions per thematic area, where investors in society participate (e.g. companies, governments, students, social organizations). 

In what way would you like to make an impact in the future?

By continuing my research and initiatives. It is all about how to synchronize ideas and translate them into concrete initiatives. It is an ongoing process, so ideas go into practice and back. It is about reflection, because things are always shifting in context of complexity. So, how do you see transformation and connection between them to figure out what’s going on. I don’t want my studies to be an island, the goal is transformation.  

Vital Cities and Citizens

With the Erasmus Initiative Vital Cities and Citizens Erasmus University Rotterdam wants to help improve the quality of life in cities. In vital cities, the population can achieve their life goals through education, useful work and participation in public life. The vital city is a platform for creativity and diversity, a safe meeting place for different social groups. The researchers involved focus on one of the four sub-themes:

•    Inclusive Cities and Diversity
•    Resilient Cities and People
•    Smart Cities and Communities 
•    Sustainable and Just Cities

VCC is a collaboration between Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB), Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) and International Institute of Social Studies (ISS).