UNICEF USA Underscores the Importance of Diasporas on the Hill

June 5, 2017

Imagine for a moment that you are a Member of Congress. Your schedule would include meetings with constituents and staff similar to the meetings held on UNICEF USA’s Advocacy Day. You’d need to keep an eye simultaneously on your local district and happenings in Washington, DC. You might even need to vote on bills. But what other activities would frequently occupy your time as a legislator?

This month, Semhar Araia, UNICEF USA’s Managing Director of Diaspora and Multicultural Partnerships, was afforded the opportunity to testify in a hearing on Capitol Hill. Hosted by the Multilateral, International Development, Multilateral Institutions, and International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy Subcommittee, the hearing called on representatives from across various organizations and institutions to speak on the topic of "Global Philanthropy and Remittances and International Development." Subcommittee hearings provide a means of continuing to educate and inform lawmakers on timely topics. Members of this particular subcommittee sit on the larger Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is charged with developing and influencing U.S. foreign policy.

Pictured: Brad Bowman, National Security Advisor to Chairman Todd Young (R-IN), Semhar Araia and Martin Rendon, Vice-President of UNICEF USA's Office of Public Policy and Advocacy

Semhar was joined by Dr. Una Osili, Professor of Economics and Director of Research at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Mr. Daniel F. Runde, Director of the Project On Prosperity and Development Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Mr. Sam Worthington, Chief Executive Officer of InterAction, an alliance of U.S.-based international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) who focus on disaster relief and sustainable development programs. Working with our UNICEF USA Office of Public Policy and Advocacy, we shared how UNICEF USA continually works with diaspora communities to promote philanthropy. With this opportunity, UNICEF USA explained why diaspora communities are so vital to both international disaster response and long term development. Here is a snippet of Semhar’s testimony:

“Whether it’s natural or man-made disasters, or systemic development challenges, diasporas are often among the first responders. They provide financial, humanitarian, and social support to affected communities…UNICEF USA believes in partnerships and works with diasporas for disaster response and long-term development. For example, after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Haitian-Americans mobilized to raise funds for UNICEF’s post-earthquake recovery programming. UNICEF USA worked with communities and organizations with sizable Haitian-American membership, such as The Links, the Mass Emergency Relief for Haiti and the SEIU 1199. Together, these efforts in partnership, with UNICEF USA resulted in over $1 million being raised by diasporas for UNICEF Haiti’s post-earthquake recovery programming.”

Testifying before members of this subcommittee also proved to be a prime opportunity to elevate pressing emergencies. During the question and answer session, UNICEF USA reminded Chairman Todd Young (R-IN) and Ranking Member Jeff Merkley (D-OR) about the looming famine affecting 13 countries across Africa and the Middle East.

In the thick of humanitarian crises such as these, it is diaspora communities like the African, South Asian, Indian, and Arab diaspora populations in the U.S. that UNICEF USA can mobilize to help bring relief.

At the end of the day, UNICEF USA left a positive impression of our work that the subcommittee won’t soon forget. As the face of philanthropy continues to evolve and expand, UNICEF USA will always be ready and willing to educate and inform our law makers about the most pressing issues in development.

You can watch the full hearing and download our written testimony here.