How to mobilize Ecuadorian diaspora in a digital era?

By Belén Sánchez

Can Web 2.0 and the new social media tools help us bring together Ecuadorians living abroad?  Can we use them in order to mobilize initiatives that can promote development in our country?

The estimations of the number of Ecuadorians living abroad ranges from 1.5 million (according to the publication of the Latin American Social Sciences Faculty and the United Nations Population Fund) to 3 Million (according to the Government).  They are dispersed around the globe with important concentrations in the United States, Spain and Italy.  During the last 10 years of my life I have been part of the Ecuadorian diaspora in Germany, Honduras, United Kingdom and now the United States.  Finding a platform that allow us to be connected, share our ideas and initiatives, and capitalize on our knowledge, experience and networks in order to foster development in our country is still missing.

Since the early 2000s, the world has experienced an ever faster rate of innovation on ICT development and adoption, which has provided a wide range of new tools that are allowing us to stay more connected through online communities.  As explained by Tim O’Reilly in his article “What is Web 2.0”, after the dot-com collapse in 2001, the world had at its disposal a new platform (Web 2.0) which does not have an owner and which is tied together by protocols, open standards and agreements of cooperation.  This platform differs from a more traditional platform by taking distance from the single monolithic approach, the massive installed base and integrated operating system and the control of a single vendor via software APIS (Microsoft being a good example). Furthermore, Web 2.0 operates under an architecture of participation where users add value and are trusted as co-developers.  Additionally, it harnesses collective intelligence and fosters the development of lightweight user interfaces and business models with cost-effective scalability.

The social tools and applications developed on Web 2.0 have been impacting the dynamics of group formation and the coordination of collective action.   Clay Shirky, in his book “Here Comes Everybody”, shares his views that these new social tools offer us ways to coordinate at a low cost and in a large scale, and how this has made it possible to envision and create large-scale coordination efforts while delivering serious and complex work without needing institutional direction.

These tools and applications have opened a world of possibilities through which sharing, collaborative production and even collective action are feasible.  A good example highlighted by Shirky is Flickr, an online photo management and sharing application that has allowed coordination efforts like those reported during the Mermaid Parade, the London Transport bombings in 2005, on the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 and during the military coup in Thailand in 2006.  In all these events, amateur photographers and citizens (often for the first time) shared their pictures in real time with the public at large to provide up-to-date perspectives of events as they were happening.

Web 2.0 and the new social tools that we have available are proving that it is possible to mobilize action through loosely structured groups operating without a managerial direction and outside of profit motive.  One of the main reasons why this is possible is the collapse of transaction costs and the amateurization of different media and digital professions like editors, publishers, web bloggers, photographers, etc.

I certainly believe that Web 2.0 and the new applications developed on top of this platform are democratizing the access to opportunities worldwide by letting all of us have access to the same information and the same capabilities.  However, organizations are still confronting several challenges in this technological transition.  One of them is the use of these new tools in order to empower innovation which can push organizations to adapt or develop new business models, define new ways to engage with costumers, and form or develop new labor skills like data analysis and management.  Another important challenge in front of O´Reilly´s optimistic view is security.  The security threats, like data leaks, to which organizations and individuals are now exposed through the use of Web 2.0 demands a continue adaptation of the strategies and policies.

In spite of these challenges, individuals and organizations who are trying to bring together diaspora around the world, are already taking advantage of the benefits of these new social dimensions in order to effectively engage diasporas communities.  For instance, Azimo is a leading online money transfer service that is changing the way people send money around the world; and Homestrings has developed an online investment platform that enables diaspora to invest in projects they care about back home.

In the case of Ecuador, the dynamics among our diaspora have been focused on networking and sharing, specially within specific geographical areas (states, provinces and some countries) but still away from the virtual space.   Applications like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn seem to be the most used tools.  However, seeing other diaspora populations taking advantage of a more diverse array of Web 2.0 tool to engage in new forms of cooperation and collective action, begs the question of the Ecuadorian diaspora of whether we need to further explore these tools as well.

Can the Global Ecuadorian Hub generate a space where Web 2.0 tools are used support cooperation and collection action amongst the diaspora in new, secure and innovative ways?  Do we need to develop our own platform or would it be possible to bring together our networks and efforts through existing tools like Facebook,  Linked-In and others?  Leave your ideas and comments below and help us identify the best way to get Ecuadorians living abroad together.

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