Diaspora Investments: A Case Study of Rwanda

Author: Steven Weirich, Research Intern (Summer 2019), Center for Strategic and International Studies

Overview of Remittances and Wealth Investments

Global migration is an ongoing phenomenon for policy professionals to contemplate. By the middle of 2019 the total international migrant stock was nearing 272 million people, which was an increase of around 23 million people from the same time in 2015.[1] These migrants, who leave their home countries for a variety of reasons, are often strongly committed to investing in their countries of origin if they have the resources to do so. If there are actions by which development organizations could encourage these migrants to channel more capital to their home countries, then the development community should certainly pursue them.

These groups, who end up living and putting down roots in places often far away from their home countries, are known as diaspora communities. Historically, the main capital-moving mechanism for these migrants has been remittances to their families and close friends. With improved data collection, there is now a greater understanding amongst scholars and policymakers on the impact remittances can play in global financial flows. The World Bank estimated that for 2018, there was $396.1 billion paid in remittances around the world, and that this number has been rising steadily over time since the 1970s.[2]

Remittances can be used for a variety of purposes by the recipients. Many recipients use the remittances to smooth their budget constraints over time, protecting themselves from economic downturns and providing a potential lift out of poverty. On the macroeconomic side, the flows can be used to replenish critical foreign exchange reserves, which will be useful if there are larger economic downturns or if the recipient nation wants to improve their credit standing for external borrowing reasons.[3] The current COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, has brutalized the balance sheets of many low and middle-income countries. In order to pay off their public debts, the governments of these remittance recipient nations will be looking for any revenue sources possible.

There has been a significant amount of formal research done on the various impacts of remittance flows. Giuliano and Ruiz-Arranz found remittances could play a key role as an alternative to formal investments throughout the developing world when financial sectors were underdeveloped.[4] These remittance payments often led, in turn, to economic growth. The remittances could serve as substitutes to financial instruments in places where banks and other financial institutions did not have the operational capacity. When researchers looked at the African continent specifically, they found comparable results as well. Nyamongo et.al. investigated the effects of remittances on financial development within 36 African nations, and they found evidence remittances acted as a complement to the development of the financial sector.[5] Their other results showed remittances contributed overall to positive economic growth, but the volatility of those financial flows could have a negative impact at the same time.

Outside of remittances, another important source of diaspora financial support comes from their investments. While remittances are based off a migrant’s income, investments are more likely to come from a migrant’s accumulated wealth. Transnational loans and diaspora bonds are two of the more common investment instruments diaspora groups use to leverage their wealth. Transnational loans are used by migrants to invest in home improvement, mortgage lending, and business expansion in their origin countries while they live abroad.[6] Migrants are then able to retain control of the loan from abroad, while simultaneously supplying credit to their families. Various countries have experimented with transnational loans including Mexico and the Philippines, where citizens in both countries were given increased access to mortgage funds and home loans.[7]

Diaspora bonds are sovereign debt instruments that act to provide capital to origin countries for infrastructure investment or other spending goals. To attract the interest of diaspora communities, nations occasionally set lower interest rates for diaspora bonds. Investing in these bonds is often viewed as an act of patriotism by the diasporas, as they allow their origin countries to raise more capital without having to commit massive amounts of government revenue to development projects.[8] There have been large-scale diaspora bond initiatives in Israel, Ethiopia, Ghana, and India. Israel, which has been offering them annually since 1951, has found there is an increase in demand for the bonds when they are being attacked by their neighbors. This is evidence the purchasing of the diaspora bonds can indeed be driven by patriotic sentiment.

Rwanda Case Study

            Rwanda has an incredibly large diaspora community around the world. Driven primarily by the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi people, many Rwandans fled to other countries to seek refuge. Although it is estimated around 3.4 million Rwandans refugees have returned to their country of origin, there are still many who have chosen to live in foreign countries.[9] The total Rwandan diaspora still numbers in the thousands, and the top destinations for the emigrants are France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.[10]

While lots of developing countries have not been able to take advantage of their diaspora groups, the Rwandan government has taken many concrete steps in order to do so. The diaspora itself has also been committed to pushing for development strategies from their home country and have willingly participated in several of the largest programs targeted at them.

The Agaciro Development Fund (AGDF) is a Rwandan sovereign wealth fund which was proposed at a meeting of the National Dialogue Council in 2011. It was officially implemented a year later. The fund was created as a way to both engage the diaspora group and to protect local Rwandans from external economic shocks, such as the global financial crisis of 2007-2008.[11] It receives its inflows from members of the Rwandan diaspora, as well as citizens within the country and anyone else who wishes to invest in the fund. The AGDF holds most of its investments in the form of equity, fixed income government securities, and term deposits.[12] The fund aims to promote sustainable development in Rwanda by maximizing returns on its investment holdings, while minimizing its risk and exposure to outside economic fluctuations.

Initiatives to spur outside investment have also come from members of the diaspora group themselves. The Rwanda Diaspora Global Network (RDGN) has been managing an investment fund since it was first implemented in late 2014.[13] The fund was designed as a way to build off of the success of remittance payments to Rwanda. Remittances from the diaspora have long been an important resource for poverty alleviation and foreign currency reserves in the country, but the hopes were that larger amounts of capital could be channeled from the diaspora for various development projects.[14] The RDGN was also responsible for creating the One Dollar campaign, which helped to build an orphanage in the capital city of Kigali in 2014.[15]

One of the leading concerns about workers who leave their home countries to work abroad is that they contribute to the “brain drain” problem. It is often argued that even if diasporas are sending remittances or finding other ways to help their home countries, the greatest contribution they may have been able to make was to never leave and become an active contributor to the economic and political health of their nation. In an effort to find a solution to this issue, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) started a program with the Rwandan government to help expatriates serve as official UN volunteers. The initiative was called the Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Networks (TOKTEN). They recruited Rwandan nationals with technical backgrounds in areas such as technology, health, and agriculture to work with groups on training and skills transfer.[16] The evaluations conducted after the program was completed demonstrated they met the majority of the objectives. 47 volunteers returned to Rwanda to participate in the program, and nine of them ended up returning permanently when the work was finished.[17]

While it can be a struggle for developing countries to engage effectively with their diaspora groups, Rwanda provides several examples of how this process can be done. There is no one option for accomplishing this goal, but by pursuing a variety of efforts, it is possible for both a national government and the diaspora group at large to make tangible contributions to the development of their origin country.


Development organizations should be using the example of Rwanda as a guide on how to engage with large diaspora groups. Specifically, they should attempt to create channels for investment back into these developing countries using capital from the diaspora. An organization such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has tools at their disposal which could work to accomplish this goal. They have a platform called the Managed Co-Lending Portfolio Program (MCCP) which serves to encourage investment by creating portfolios of private sector loans. These loans are then used by groups looking to begin making investments in emerging markets. The portfolios for the investors are the same as the ones maintained by the IFC during the investment process. The partners agree at the start on how exposure and risk will be allocated between the two.[18]Since the first investment partner came on board in 2013, around seven more organizations have entered into partnerships with the IFC through the MCCP. They include Allianz Global Investors, Liberty Specialty Markets, and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. The capital raised through these partnerships is much more than the IFC could raise on its own for development and market creation projects. According to its data from 2018, the MCCP was able to amass $7 billion in capital.[19]

Although most of the partners in the MCCP have been state banks or large private companies, it is possible an expansive and committed diaspora group could serve as a partner. As the RDGN demonstrated, a highly motivated group is capable of coming together to structure large-scale wealth investments. There are other ways development organizations could channel these capital resources. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has also been supporting more innovative forms of impact investing. They have recently pursued ventures like the Utkrisht Impact Bond, which they claim is the first development bond tailored specifically for newborn and maternal health.[20] Much of the up-front private capital backing in this bond originates from USAID’s partner organization the UBS Optimus Foundation. The bond is meant to help improve medical facilities and healthcare services in Rajasthan, India. USAID and another partner, Merck for Mothers, are on the hook to pay back the initial investment only if the implementing organizations meet predetermined targets on improving the health facilities catering to mothers and newborns.[21]

A program similar to the Utkrisht Impact Bond could be an option for a large diaspora group looking to invest in areas more related to human development. The key step, however, is for a development organization such as the ones mentioned above to approach these groups and help facilitate the investment process. If there are substantial amounts of diaspora members out in the world wanting to use their capital more productively, then development agencies should be active in courting their support. Considering all of the positive effects remittances can have on developing countries, the international development community should seek to make greater strides toward facilitating a wave of diaspora wealth investments.

[1] United Nations, “Total International Migrant Stock,” United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/data/estimates2/estimates19.asp.

[2] World Bank, “Personal Remittances, paid (current US$),” The World Bank Group, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/BM.TRF.PWKR.CD.DT.

[3] Gloria Moreno-Fontes Chammartin, “The Effective Use of Remittances in Promoting International Development,” International Labour Organization, https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/policy/publications/general_assembly/eitconference/2aprpm_moreno.pdf.

[4] Paola Giuliano & Marta Ruiz-Arranz, “Remittances, financial development, and growth,” Journal of Development Economics 90, no.1 (September 2009): 144-152, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304387808001077.

[5] Esman Nyamongo, Roseline Misati, Leonard Kipyegon & Lydia Ndirangu, “Remittances, financial development and economic growth in Africa,” Journal of Economic and Business 64, no. 3 (May/June 2012): 240-260, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0148619512000021.

[6] Aaron Terrazas, “Diaspora Investments in Developing and Emerging Country Capital Markets: Patterns and Prospects,” Migration Policy Institute, August 2010, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/diaspora-investment-developing-and-emerging-country-capital-markets-patterns-and-prospects.

[7] Ibid., 15

[8] Ibid., 16

[9] IOM, “Rwanda,” International Organization for Migration, https://www.iom.int/countries/rwanda.

[10] OECD, “Connecting with Emigrants: A Global Profile of Diasporas,” Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, July 26, 2012, https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/social-issues-migration-health/connecting-with-emigrants/key-statistics-on-diaspora-from-rwanda_9789264177949-graph171-en#page2.

[11] IFSWF, “Agaciro Development Fund,” International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds, https://www.ifswf.org/members/rwanda.

[12] Ibid.

[13] James Karuhanga, “Diaspora group starts investment fund to help fast-track national development,” The New Times, January 6, 2015, https://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/read/184688.

[14] Rwanda Global Diaspora Network, “Remittances,” Rwanda Global Diaspora Network, http://www.rwandaglobaldiaspora.org/diaspora/.

[15] Diane Mushimijimana, “Rwanda: One Dollar Campaign Complex Inaugurated,” allAfrica, October 29, 2014, https://allafrica.com/stories/201411032568.html.

[16] IOM: UN Migration, “Rwandan Diaspora,” International Organization of Migration, September 2018, https://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/country/EEA/info_sheet_diaspora.pdf.

[17] Ibid., 3.

[18] IFC, “Managed Co-Lending Portfolio Program,” International Finance Corporation, https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/corp_ext_content/ifc_external_corporate_site/solutions/products+and+services/syndications/mcpp.

[19] Ibid.

[20] USAID, “The Maternal and Newborn Health Development Impact Bond,” United States Agency for International Development, November 30, 2018, https://www.usaid.gov/cii/indiadib.

[21] Ibid.

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