Building the plane as you fly it: young diasporan engagement in Ethiopian development

The engagement of diaspora communities in international development has emerged as a salient and contentious global issue, involving varying stakeholders with multiple competing interests. Within an African context, this has generated a lively discussion about the development opportunities and challenges presented by the diaspora. However, there is a dearth of literature or discussion related to the engagement of subsequent diaspora generations in development-related activities and the new complexities this introduces.

My doctoral research explores the relationship between identity, social interaction, and social practice, through a case study of young diasporans of Ethiopian origin (YDEOs) from North America and their engagements in Ethiopian development initiatives. Specifically, I examine the ways in which people of Ethiopian descent born and/or raised in Canada and the US construct a diasporic identity and engage with Ethiopian development initiatives through a mutually constitutive process.

My research involved over a year of fieldwork conducting in-depth interviews with YDEOs and attending community events in Toronto, Washington, DC, and Addis Ababa. All of the YDEOs I interviewed have actively engaged in initiatives intended to contribute towards the social, political, and/or economic development of Ethiopia. Some of these initiatives took place in North America, and others involved travel to Ethiopia.

In my analysis, I unpack YDEO motivations for engaging in Ethiopian development, the nature of the development activities themselves, and the ways in which these experiences have shaped YDEO relationships, identities, and trajectories in life so far.