The wide world of Albania
At a recent visit of the Albanian American National Association (AANO) to Albania, UNDP had the opportunity to present some recent additions to its programme that relate to the Albanian Diaspora, in particular the Brain Gain programme.
UNDP met with AANO members to discuss the role of the Diaspora in the development of the country. Special guest Ms. Edith Harxhi, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, presented the Government’s strategy and future activities to engage with the Albanian Diaspora.
During the last decade of the 20th Century, Albania has had one of the highest rates of emigration in the world. According to Albanian census figures, as many as one out of five Albanians emigrated between 1990 and 2001. Almost half of the professors and researchers in the country emigrated between 1990 and 2003, along with more than 65 percent of doctoral students who received their education in the West, and thousands of university graduates.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Edith Harxhi outlined the Government’s present and future plans for engaging the Diaspora in the development of the country. She presented the General Strategy on National Migration and the National Diaspora, prepared with IOM and the EC, which contains a plan to identify target groups of Albanians throughout the world in order to bring back their expertise and experience.
“The Institute of National Diaspora within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will reach out to all Albanians, and our future plans include Cultural Centres in foreign countries where there are large communities of Albanian immigrants,” said Ms. Harxhi.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also planning on identifying the majority of the Albanian Diaspora abroad, and registering them in a central database in order to bring valuable resources back to the country.
UNDP presented the overall development situation in the country – outlining Albania’s goals of EU integration and NATO membership, as well its economic challenges – despite growth of approximately five to six percent, and a low inflation rate.
“Although decreased, there is still a large percentage of the population living under the poverty line. It is still very considerable,” said Human Development and Data Team Leader Eno Ngjela. (The percentage of those living under the poverty line has decreased from 25% to 18.5%.)
Albania has a large inflow of remittances, (the latest figure is 14 percent of GDP) but it has been varying for the last 15 years, and new ways of building on social and human capital are being explored. People living abroad have networks, capacities, and education that can be made available to the country of origin.
The Brain Gain programme is one of four joint initiatives between the Government and UNDP, along with combating extra-legality, promoting eco-tourism, and the e-School Programme.
“This Diaspora database will help us identify those people who can contribute to higher education, public administration, and those with successful businesses. We want their expertise in Albania - at least for a visit,” said Mr. Zeneli.
For this reason, the Brain Gain programme works closely with the Ministry of Education on issues related to higher education reform. Other partners include the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that is working on a demand survey identifying required skills for development in the country; the Council of Europe with higher education; Open Society Institute with the development of an employment strategy; and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that is looking at specific programmes that target new lawyers returning to the country.
“When it comes to support for universities and academia, we are piloting the project in the new university that is opening up in Durres - Alexander Moisiu University,” said Mr. Zeneli. “The Brain Gain programme is supporting its academic management team - the rector, the vice-rector, and the three deans. The people there are already looking for very qualified teaching staff, and it would be a great help if we could identify professors or people that have been engaged in the education field, either in the United States or Canada, or elsewhere.”
Short-term lectures are already underway with senior lecturers from the United States coming to teach in Albanian universities and participating in summer programmes.
According to Mr. Zeneli, a long-term strategy for employment is needed, and a clear vision for the future development of the country.
“The Diaspora will be extremely useful in helping to build a successful market economy. We foresee a lobby that will put pressure on the Government to make the climate even more welcoming, as well as sharing ideas on where the country is going in 20 or 30 years.”
The e-School Programme was also presented to AANO. The e-School Programme is providing computer labs for all primary and secondary schools, as well as high-speed Internet connectivity, curricula, content, and training. The Programme builds off the success of other similar programmes in Estonia, Georgia, and several Asian countries.
The computer labs will consist of 15 computers for large schools, and seven for smaller schools and the Programme will provide the infrastructure.
“Most primary schools are in remote areas so this will be a good development tool for them,” said Mr. Sokol Haxhiu, ICT Programme Manager. ”We intend ECL student certification, so that when a student finishes high school they will have internationally recognized certification.”
Communities will also benefit from the e-schools, which will be available to them after school hours, and for sustainability the private sector will take over eventual management of what will essentially be after school Internet cafes. Villages will be connected to markets, and ICT can be used as a tool for improving services. After UNDP and the donors provide support, the private sector and local government will become more involved, with the responsibility and authority for maintenance of the e-Schools.
The “adopt-a-school” approach was also presented to AANO members. Donors, potentially from the private sector, can choose one (or more) small or large school to finance and watch its progress online.
Also on hand at the AANO event, were representatives of additional UNDP projects that relate to the Albanian Diaspora - namely, the Support to Trade project, which facilitates Foreign Direct Investment, Exports and Trade Agreements; as well as the Image of Albania project, which works with the Government and the media to improve the public relations of Albania abroad.
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