'Giving back' through mobility trajectories: motivations for engaging in development encounters in Ghana among transnational youth

J Ethn Migr Stud. 2021 Aug 2;48(9):2018-2036. doi: 10.1080/1369183X.2021.1959304. eCollection 2022.


Literature on diaspora engagement in development activities has centred on the contributions of migrating adults to the 'homeland', which range from private transfers to single households, to community development projects. While such studies often focus on the impact of such activities on the country of origin, relatively few have focused on what transpires during development encounters and how this affects migrants', and especially young people's, motivation to engage transnationally over time. This paper combines migration and development, transnational migration studies and second generation 'returns' literature, to address these gaps. It studies the motivations of transnational youth to engage in development encounters, which they referred to as 'giving back', in the context of their mobility trajectories. Drawing on 17 months of multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in the Netherlands and accompanying young people during trips to Ghana, we show that giving back contributes to a sense of purpose that connects them transnationally. Young people's expectations of giving back were embedded in community narratives, which framed this as a means to 'become successful' in culturally valued ways. While young people sometimes encountered unexpected surprises, emotions experienced during development encounters led to learning that ultimately resulted in enhanced intentions of transnational engagement.

Keywords: Ghana; Transnational youth; development encounters; diaspora engagement; migrant youth.

Grants and funding

The MO-TRAYL study received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 framework program for research and innovation (grant agreement No. 682982).