Good morning. It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all here today to launch the United States’ Diaspora Invest Project.
I would like to extend a warm welcome to members of the diaspora from Bosnia and Herzegovina who are with us today and others joining us virtually from across the globe.
The diaspora is well positioned to drive change in Bosnia and Herzegovina by fueling the private sector-led economic growth that is critical to the country’s long-term prosperity. The United States has been working to tap this potential. Over the last five years, we have leveraged from $1.8 million in U.S. government resources more than $28 million in private sector investment from BiH’s diaspora, which in turn, has created more than 1,500 jobs in BiH. We are here today because we are eager to build on that success and accomplish even more.
We are proud to continue the work of connecting members of the BiH diaspora with their homeland.
This follow-on project will encourage diaspora investment in BiH businesses; facilitate ways for members of the diaspora to share their vast knowledge and experience from their years working abroad; and amplify their voices and influence in demanding the reforms necessary to build a more prosperous BiH and facilitate its integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions.
The new Diaspora Invest Project aims to leverage at least $50 million in new diaspora-led private investment, create 2,000 new jobs in diaspora-related companies, support 600 diaspora micro, small, and medium enterprises, and encourage at least 30 local communities to seek out diaspora knowledge and capital. We are also working to create a stronger business environment through high-level public-private dialogue with diaspora members, local businesspeople, and governments, and to expand access to finance for diaspora-related businesses.
BiH has one of the largest diasporas in the world relative to its 2.6 million residents, with more than two million people living and working abroad. The reasons for this migration are diverse and complex. The war set off an exodus that unfortunately has continued to this day as BiH struggles to overcome political dysfunction fueled by unrepentant ethnonationalism and rampant corruption.
An estimated 55,000 people are leaving every year, taking their skills, talents, and knowledge to countries that offer the stability and opportunity they cannot find at home. In fact, brain drain is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s biggest challenges, with a recent study finding that over 50 percent of young people in BiH are interested in moving abroad.
But there is a silver lining to this cloud. Even though they are not always physically here, many members of the BiH diaspora remain resolutely tied to their homeland and eager to contribute positively to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s development. The BiH diaspora includes people from all walks of life. They are artisans, vice presidents of multinational corporations and financial institutions, businesspeople, respected scientists, academics, and medical doctors, just to name a few. It is clear by how many from the diaspora have joined us for this launch event today that they are ready to engage in and support positive economic change in BiH.
The diaspora from Bosnian and Herzegovina send billions back home every year. They travel from all over the globe, some of them every year, to visit their friends and family, and often visiting their hometowns.
Some buy property in BiH, in hopes of someday returning to the country. They ardently follow information coming from the country.
They also share what they have learned and experienced abroad with their communities here. A great example is the Bosnian-Herzegovinian American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which every year brings hundreds of medical doctors, scientists, professors, artists, and other professionals of Bosnian-Herzegovinian heritage together to share their knowledge and expertise with colleagues and students in BiH.
BiH diaspora members are starting new businesses and opening production facilities in BiH, while connecting BiH companies to value chains throughout the world. BiH diaspora executives working abroad are influencing their companies’ investment decisions to outsource operations in BiH. One member of the diaspora, Ivo Klaric, found success in Norway working for a supplier of HVAC and refrigeration systems for marine and offshore installations. But he never forgot his roots. In 2015, Mr. Klaric launched a new joint venture with Norwegian partners to establish Eagle Technology, a new company in his hometown of Žepče that currently employs more than 50 people and exports its entire production.
Diaspora members are also bringing new technologies to BiH. The first commercial solar plant in BiH was designed and installed by EMT Solar, a company founded in BiH by a member of the diaspora living in Germany.
The United States’ new Diaspora Invest Project will make more of these connections and encourage more of these investments. A key component of this project will support diaspora engagement in smaller communities, which are most at risk of poverty and emigration, struggle to attract more traditional investment, and are hard pressed to offer viable economic opportunities to their citizens. We will map the BiH diaspora and help municipalities connect with diaspora from their communities. Additionally, we will work with municipalities to provide incentives to diaspora-led businesses such as grants, access to finance, and business advisory services to encourage diaspora members to invest in their communities.
The old and the new Diaspora Invest projects are just one of the ways the United States has been working to make BiH a better place to do business.
Private sector investment is a force for good in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is too often crowded out by the public sector, which unfortunately has been captured by political parties and operated for the parties’ political benefit rather than for the benefit of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I will not sugarcoat the current situation in BiH. This country has a lot of problems and a lot of work to do to convince the world to invest here. Corruption remains a debilitating scourge on BiH’s economy, political system, and social fabric. It is a driving factor in people’s decision to leave BiH, and it scares off the reputable foreign and private sector investment that the country so desperately needs. But again, I turn to the diaspora as a beacon of hope.
For the last 30 years, members of the diaspora have seen what is possible when you live and run a business in a functioning market-based democracy. They can be agents of change in Bosnia and Herzegovina. One way that the new Diaspora Invest Project will do that is by creating a business advisory council made up of prominent businesspeople in the diaspora to give them an influential platform from which to promote reform in BiH and advocate for an improved business environment.
The United States is determined to help Bosnia and Herzegovina escape the cycle of corruption and political dysfunction that is holding this country back. By harnessing the skills, influence, and commitment of BiH’s diaspora, we will make one of BiH’s biggest challenges – the rapid exodus of people seeking opportunity elsewhere – into an advantage. Through the Diaspora Invest Project, the United States will stand by BiH and support its secure, prosperous future in the Euro-Atlantic community.