Mexico’s 3×1 Diaspora Programme; Lessons for Zimbabwe?

Mexico’s 3×1 programme has been numerously cited is an exemplary case of diaspora/State partnership for development and the Home Town Association (HTA) model likewise. In fact various other diaspora groups such as the Zimbabwe Diaspora Focus Group (ZDFG) are attempting to emulate these models, however a better understanding of the 3×1 context may enlighten how, and critically why it is successful in Mexico. The Mexican Ambassador to the UK, HE Diego Gomez Pickering elucidated the programme at an ODI public event.

As a federation, Mexico consists of 3 layers of government; the local Municipality, the State and above all, the Federal government. The 3×1 programme matches each dollar from the diaspora with a dollar from each level of government to be channelled toward social development and infrastructure projects in their hometown, hence the name. Contextually, (i) Mexico has a large diaspora population of which 12 million are Mexican born, 19 million are born in the USA but are still Mexican nationals and considering 3rd generation the estimate totals as much as 40 million in the USA alone, which accounts for the large flow of remittances. (ii) This figure represents 98% of the Mexican diaspora globally and they are concentrated in one country, mostly in dense communities and geographically close to Mexico which makes it simpler to organise at scale. While Zimbabwe’s diaspora is estimated at 10% of that, 4 to 5 million,  these diaspora are geographically spread out, about 3 million in South Africa, half a million in the UK, then Botswana, USA, and Australia account for the balance. Financially, they jointly contribute USD1.6 billion noted in Zimbabwe’s 2014 budget. A surprising 60% of this figure originates in the UK despite being a sixth of South Africa. This is attributed to the economic difference between the two countries, the Pound Sterling vs Rand exchange rate and it is presumed that those migrants who could afford to travel that far were economically better off in the first instance. These considerations partially explain why Zimbabwe’s UK diaspora is considered the most influential.

In the 1980s Mexican migrant groups began initiatives to improve living conditions in their home towns and to take part in some decision making processes. Through these HTAs, between 1992-2001, about 400 projects valued at USD15 million were implemented in partnership with the Municipal and State governments only (2×1, diaspora provided 5 of the total 15 million). In each case, migrants decided what projects were carried out in their hometowns since they are closer to those communities than the government. By 2002 the Federal government joined the partnership and institutionalised the 3×1 programme under the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (IME) within the Mexican Foreign Ministry which works with 51 Mexican consulates in the USA. This enabled IME to represent migrants both in the USA and through the Ministry of Social Development at the Federal level in Mexico, which actually executes the projects. IME has five objectives, (i) channel collective remittances for social development; (ii) benefit migrants’ communities in Mexico; (iii) Support hometown association across the USA; (iv) strengthen civil society/State partnership and (v) reinforce community networks abroad.

Evaluation and approval of projects is carried out by a Committee for the Validation and Attention to Migrants (COVAM) composed of diaspora organisations and representatives from the three levels of government. Each partner contributes 25% of project budget but the Federal funds must be repaid by the beneficiary community within five years. Between 2002 and 2013, the programme has generated USD748 million for projects in 28 of the 32 Mexican States. On average the budget is USD40 million per year, though it was USD38 million in 2008 due to the financial crisis which affected the diaspora, but not Mexico, it is currently back at USD42 million. The number of participating HTAs was 921 in 2008 and 735 in 2013, and this is due to a wave of return migration, presumably associated with the financial crisis. Overall the project reflects a good example of how diaspora/State partnerships can be configured, however, there are some points of concern.

Centre: HE Diego Gomez Pickering. Right: Dr Covadonga Meseguer at  the ODI public event.
Centre: HE Diego Gomez Pickering. Right: Dr Covadonga Meseguer at the ODI public event.


Various scholars have expressed reservations over the project, in this instance Dr Covadonga Meseguer, pointed out several misgivings. (i) Despite the diaspora potential, poverty and migration do not correlate; Similarly in Zimbabwe’s case, migration and remittance patterns follow a “bell” curve. The richest communities are usually too invested to migrate and when they do, it is generally not for survival therefore they remit minimally. Conversely, the poorest communities cannot afford to migrate and if they manage it, their earnings are generally low. Therefore the middle income communities migrate and remit the most, thus the 3×1 programme, while meant to target the poorest, is shown to work predominantly in the middle income states. (ii) Since the programme requires a partnership with the State, the HTAs have to be highly organised, and again this occurs mostly at the medium income levels.(iii) The project selection process within the COVAM is not objective, migrants have to lobby 3 levels of government to have their hometown project selected and this draws in political bias. It was observed that the States that are run by the ruling party have a higher level of projects than the rest of the country. (iv) By magnitude, this programme only represents less than 1% of the total remittances sent to Mexico, therefore migrants still keep their funds private and presumably for consumption. Also, the programme represents less than 1% of, and, does not replace government expenditure for infrastructure development. It therefore predominantly engages the diaspora in decision making and community building more than being a developmental spearhead.

By comparison, most SSA States would be ill equipped to copy this model though its general premise is well worth noting. To organisations such as the ZDFG, it is critical to delve into the unique advantages of our home communities and not copy such models wholesale or abstractly without due consideration of the reasons for their success. In addition, the 3×1 programme has been 30 years in the making, it is uniquely Mexican and to this extent, it is home grown. For this reason, The Global Native recognises the agricultural potential of Zimbabwe and is has tailored Turning Matabeleland Green’s (TMG) Community Shares based on the composition and character of our communities. Four years in the making, TMG presents a holistic development approach that leverages communities’ human and natural resources as a starting point; its focus is to (1) train farmers in Conservation Agriculture to increase productivity (2) provide logistic and market support for rural farmers and finance this through Community Shares which present the diaspora an opportunity to invest in their hometowns while building savings abroad. In retrospect, it is at times necessary to break popular wisdom to truly discover something better, and while HTAs are an inspired model, there are various irregularities within the Zimbabwean State that would present serious difficulties to this model; even though the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Published by

Mbongeni Ngulube

A Mundus Urbano Scholar under the EU's excellency program, Mbongeni lectures at several universities, including the Technische Universitat Darmstadt, Germany; Universitat Internacionale de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain and University Pierre Mendes, Grenoble, France. He is a doctoral researcher at the Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa located at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. His current research focuses on the effect of the African Diaspora and Social Movements on development practice and theory. He also regularly engages in conferences, seminars and high profile policy debates, such as the one at the British Parliament’s House of Commons. Ngulube completed and published a co-edited book titled Reflections on Development and Cooperation published and released in January 2011.

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