Social Innovation Incubator

Recent interest in the engagement and potential of diaspora stems from the fact that diaspora remittances are estimated to have reached US$440 billion in 2010. Stakeholders such as governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector, are recognizing that diaspora are valuable contributors to the development of their countries of attachment because of their contextual knowledge, extensive networks and appetite for higher risk investment.

In 2010-11, Simon Fraser University (SFU) ran a series of dialogues, workshops and interviews as part of its Engaging Diaspora in Development public engagement project. Unsurprisingly, we found that members of the diaspora are contributing to the development of their countries of attachment in a variety of ways – from leading small-scale, community-based initiatives to heading up large international NGOs. In order to create an enabling environment, the diaspora we engaged through the project told us that they wanted to be recognized as legitimate agents of change; this means they require four things:

  1. Recognition of their contributions to policy and practice in international development, trade and investment;
  2. Access to programs and expertise that will enhance their work;
  3. Access to funding to develop or scale up their initiatives; and
  4. Opportunities to share their experiences among themselves and with a wider audience.

The Institute for Diaspora Research & Engagement (IDRE) at SFU will establish a Social Innovation Incubator that supports diaspora-driven innovation for development in their countries of attachment. These initiatives may include development projects, social innovation initiatives, and social enterprise.

The incubator would enable a coordinated approach to capacity-building, incubation and investment in initiatives and will offer three core services[1]:

Capacity Building

The Incubator will offer responsive capacity building programs that will enable diaspora to scale-up or improve their work. Topics might include project design, planning, and management, proposal writing, and communication.

Advisory Services

The incubator would match diaspora with professionals and/or academics who could provide advice or mentorship to support their goals. Attention will be given to developing a cadre of advisors/mentors who are also diaspora.


Once concepts for initiatives are ready for implementation, the diaspora leaders will have the option to access funding support. In order to provide this, the incubator will:

  1. Establish a granting fund to seed or scale-up diaspora-led development projects.
  2. Develop an angel investment network and/or investment fund to seed or scale-up diaspora-led   social enterprises and innovation.