Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Global Irish Economic Forum and the Irish Diaspora Strategy

The Global Irish Economic Forum takes place in Farmleigh over the weekend, bringing together business leaders from the Irish Diaspora to create a large think-tank to consider the ailing state of the Irish economy and how it might recover as well as to consider relations with the diaspora. A number of media commentators have in recent years been suggesting that Ireland does very little to engage its diaspora. It is certainly the case that there is more that could be done, but a gross exaggeration to suggest that the state and other agencies do practically nothing. Nearly every government department has a programme that reaches out to the diaspora. These programmes recognise that the Irish diaspora constitutes both an obligation and a huge potential resource. It is an obligation because Irish citizens, on the one hand, remain Irish citizens and, on the other, because many of them have served and continue to serve Ireland while overseas. The diaspora is a massive potential resource because the millions of people worldwide who claim some Irish ancestry possess an abundance of skills, knowledge, contacts, business acumen, and financial and political resources that could help Ireland as it tries to rebuild its economy. Indeed, one of the ironies of the negative press concerning Ireland’s engagement with its diaspora is the fact that many other countries consider it to be one of the world's leaders in diaspora engagement.

Earlier in the year I co-organised a two day workshop - Exploring Diaspora Strategies - that bought together 8 countries and the World Bank to discuss how countries protectively engage their diaspora. Resulting from that was a set of reports, including one that used the workshop presentations to think through what lessons Ireland could learn from other countries and to consider what new programmes might be implemented. This report was submitted to the Department of Foreign Affairs to feed into their on-going review of diaspora engagement. The Global Irish Economic Forum is a new and welcome initiative through with Ireland can engage with the global Irish business community, but it must be noted that it builds on a broad base of existing engagements - Enterprise Ireland already supports over 60 Irish business networks with over 30,000 members who work to support Irish businesses overseas and form a key social network for the Irish business diaspora. It is this broad base which differentiates Ireland from other countries who have also pursued the business elite route, such as Scotland and Chile, and in my view this is the great strength of Irish policy and should be strengthened and expanded as a priority.

The two tables below, taken from our report, detail the programmes that Ireland presently runs and ones that we think it should consider implementing to build and reinforce its diaspora engagement.

Table 1 – Summary of Irish State supported diaspora policies/programmes

* Department of Foreign Affairs – Irish Abroad Unit
* Network of embassies and consulates around the world
* Participation in EU, UN, WHO, OECD and OECD
* Government’s Emigrant Services Advisory Committee (formerly known as Díon)
* Enterprise Ireland and Business Networks
* President’s Office : Moral and Cultural support for engaging the diaspora

* Emigrant media including Emigrant News Online and RTÉ, plus a plethora of Irish newspapers and radio stations broadcasting online.
* Irish socio-cultural websites such as and
* Government supported online services, including Irish Network of Great Britain, * Crosscare Migrant Project and EAN

* Emigrant Support Programme (coordinated by Irish Abroad Unit)
* Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas
* The Department of Education and Science - overseas child abuse victim redress; grants for overseas Irish to attend Irish third level institutions

* Ireland’s Cultural Policy and Culture Ireland
* Irish clubs and local organizations abroad
* Worldwide celebrations of Saint Patrick’s Day
* Research Centres such as the John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies, Irish Diaspora Forum
* Irish University Alumni Societies
* Tourism Ireland
* National Archives of Ireland and Irish Ancestral Research Association
* Emigrant Support Programme community & heritage funding

* The Ireland Funds
* The International Fund for Ireland
* The Atlantic Philanthropies

* Enterprise Ireland, Industrial Development Agency (IDA)
* Specialist Knowledge Networks: the Irish Technology Leadership Group, Biolink USA-Ireland, Techlink UK-Ireland
* Professional Knowledge Networks : Irish Network New York, Irish Network San Francisco, Irish Professional Network of London
* Transnational Business Networks: “Irish-other nationality” business associations
* Global Knowledge Networks: Asia Pacific Ireland Business Forum, The Ireland Funds
Global Irish Economic Forum

* FÁS sponsored international recruitment fairs
* The Department of Social and Family Affairs – funds emigrant advice services (including for returning Irish)
* Crosscare Migrant Project (Emigrant Advice)
* Safe Home programme
* Dept of Environment capital assistance programme
* The Aisling Return to Ireland Project - annual supported holiday to Ireland for long-term, vulnerable Irish in Britain

* IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation) Export Orientation Programme (EOP)
* Ireland’s International Development work (e.g. Irish Aid)

Table 2 – Summary of possible extensions to and new diaspora policies/programmes

* Irish State to consider formally appointing the DFA (perhaps IAU) to be co-ordinator of Ireland’s diaspora strategy (a role which critically requires light networking and not a muscular command)

* A state-sponsored website portal should be created that provides links to (but not content) all diaspora programmes and the networks/projects that they support and all other sources of information, advice, social and business networking, etc.
* A diaspora forum should be established that meets twice a year – once in Ireland, once abroad – to discuss the relationship between Ireland and its diaspora
* Rewarding diasporeans who make a significant contribution to Ireland and the diaspora through an awards scheme

* IAU budget to be expanded, focus continuing to broaden to other vulnerable Irish abroad including youth, homeless, and undocumented Irish, and geographical reach continuing to widen

* A programme should be developed to help finance websites and Internet ventures that seek to better inform and mobilise the Irish diaspora at different scales
* A dedicated social networking fund should be established
* A homecoming style event should be considered
* The state should consider specific funding for RTE to develop services for the diaspora, including satellite broadcasting abroad
* Extend the Aisling Project, or creating a similar parallel scheme, to enable vulnerable Irish abroad of all ages to visit Ireland
* Invest in and develop genealogical supports for those researching their family tree
* Develop a supported programme of summer schools for higher education students from the diaspora
* Continue promoting the Irish language through language workshops and summer schools organised outside of Ireland, parallel to the Ciste na Gaeilge intensive summer courses
* Develop school curriculum and project materials concerning Ireland and the Irish diaspora suitable for second-level teaching and project work in diaspora communities
* Establish a research programme that creates and populates diaspora community archives, undertakes oral histories, and examines present-day life of the diaspora as a means to stimulate interest in Irish identity and culture. This should be supported by the creation of a diaspora research fund that organisations can apply to support their activities

* A strategy should be formulated to develop philanthropic relationships with non-elite members of the Irish diaspora

* Facilitate the creation of more ITLG type networks, wherein successful Irish entrepreneurs and business leaders are encouraged to invest in and nurture Irish start up companies or existing small-to-medium sized businesses who demonstrate high potential for growth
* Establish networks of other professional groups such as doctors, lawyers, finance, and other producer services
* The state markets specific investment opportunities (including PPPs) in infrastructural projects or specific businesses to diaspora investors
* Implement a highly skilled professional partnering programme
* Implement a scheme similar to GlobalScot and ChileGlobal targeting high achieving diaspora members.
* Implement a student mentoring scheme that places the brightest Irish graduates with top diaspora companies

* Facilitate professional mobility for people of Irish descent, who are not European-Union passport-holders and who are willing to come and work in Ireland, temporarily or permanently, through a special visa regime
* Market developments in Irish education to attract both families with younger children to return as well as children of diasporeans who might wish to return to study in Ireland.
* Extend the possibility to apply for subsidized accommodation to any returnees – beyond the vulnerable elderly diasporeans willing to come back to Ireland targeted by the existing Safe * Home programme – on a temporary basis, so as to give them some time to find suitable housing and/or a job for themselves and their families.
* Host a Homecoming event like Scotland to attract a significant volume of diaspora members to visit Ireland and to encourage them to consider making the move more permanent.
Prepare a ‘welcome back’ package for diaspora visitors that encourages them to consider moving to Ireland.
* Prepare a scheme that eases the relocation of belongings from abroad.

* Develop a scheme that places foreign-national postgraduate students with Irish companies
* Develop new Ireland-Other Country Associations that could help Irish businesses expand into new markets
* Support the work of other countries’ diaspora organisations in Ireland
* Develop a ‘Team Ireland’ ambassadorial scheme that recruits foreign national business people to represent and act on behalf of Ireland
* Work with Irish universities with regard to overseas alumni that might help Irish businesses in local contexts

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