Empowering Global Diasporas, Promoting Global Collaboration

By: Selma Bardakci, Turkey (Class 20, Host Organization: John D. Evans Foundation)

People in the diaspora automatically become “citizen diplomats” since they are showing a human face to their country. As an Atlas Corps Fellow, living amongst many people outside their home countries, I see a need to redefine the word “diplomat” within “citizen diplomat.” Whereas diplomat traditionally suggests loyalty and support for one’s government, it means something much broader in terms of diaspora populations. Moreover, while nation-states recognize the importance of the diaspora, the diaspora is not a monolith – in fact, it is made up of diverse people with a range of opinions about their own governments.

Realizing the diversity within diasporas means realizing the complexity of nation-state power in an increasingly transnational, borderless world. Indeed, most contemporary international relations literature recognizes that recent globalization has changed the nature of traditional nation-state power. Globalization makes borders more fluid, nation-states less discrete. States are no longer the only prominent actors in international relations and diplomacy. NGOs, civil society organizations and individuals are changing the power dynamics of our complex world.

Through the framework of globalization, diasporas are where interests and values intersect. On the values side, the peaceful coexistence of multiple diasporas paints an idealistic picture of global community in an increasingly borderless world. At the same time, nation-states realize that engaging with their own diasporas is in line with their foreign policy interests and soft power initiatives. For example, countries seeking power in the international arena, such as India, China, and Russia have institutionalized their relationships with their diaspora populations abroad.

In all three cases, the diaspora from these emerging countries benefit from increased resources and services of their host countries. The emerging countries, then, see this as an opportunity for gaining more influence and investment beyond their static borders. By maintaining ties through multiple social, economic, and political avenues, home states, rather than their diaspora, become the primary agents in shaping diasporic relations with the host state.

Delving into the complexities surrounding and within the diasporas of states shows that in a world where relations are multidimensional and shared by different actors, the diaspora can become an important tool. This tool is not only for nation-states, but also for individual change makers, entrepreneurs, international organizations, and innovators. Likewise, disparate diaspora communities can come together through their common goals—regarding human rights, mutual understanding, and shared experience—superseding their home country’s interest’s altogether, and creating new solutions for overcoming traditional obstacles.




Selma has five years of experience in Turkey’s non-profit sector. She earned a Bachelor’s of Political Science and International Relations from the Bahcesehir University in Turkey, during which she was an Erasmus exchange student at European University Viadrina in Germany for one semester. She also holds a Master of Global Politics and International Relations from Bahcesehir University. She most recently served as Deputy Director of International Leadership Application and Research Center. There are two departments in this center: the School of Government & Leadership, and the American Studies Center. She worked closely with the government to facilitate dialogue among policy makers, experts, civil society leaders and academics on regional and global issues. She also helped to organize Bahcesehir University’s School of Politics U.S. program, which is a two-week program for graduate school students to meet with political and business institutions including nonprofits, the U.S. Congress, think tanks, media organizations, and lobbying groups. Selma also organizes the Global Leadership Forum, which gathers international policy makers, academics and experts from around the world. In 2012, Selma led the Young Turkey – Young America Program, representing both Turkish young professionals as well as her own university. Selma enjoys focusing on the topics of leadership development, global politics,diplomacy and youth empowerment. She is also a Co-Opinion Young Professional Fellow, which is a policy-oriented youth solidarity network that advocates an integrated approach for youth policies in the Middle East and North Africa region to improve the agency of youth and to enhance their economic and social prospects. She has a strong passion for human and social capital development. Through these experiences, she has developed strong project coordination, implementation and management skills. In addition to her professional roles, Selma works on a social project to help Syrian refugees. Selma has been continuously contributing opinion pieces and interviews to Project on the Middle East and the Arab Spring (POMEAS), an online open forum for reflecting on and analyzing the various dimensions of the Arab Spring and its echoes in the region today. Selma has a passion for soccer, theatre and urban exploration.