By Maura Kelly
President Bill Clinton gave the keynote address at the second Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin Castle Oct. 8. The Forum is an Irish government initiative to engage with the Irish diaspora in developing Ireland's global businesses and create new options for Ireland's economic recovery.
Considering the diaspora as a national asset is not a new phenomenon, nor is it unique to Ireland, but one of the major participants at the forum, The Ireland Funds, is a model that many governments review when looking to engage their own global citizens.
The Ireland Funds is recognized as a leader in the area of diaspora philanthropy, explained Mr. Kieran McLoughlin, president and CEO of The Worldwide Ireland Funds. "The global Irish making a difference together" is the branding slogan of the organization. The global Irish is a scattering of over 70 million people of Irish decent worldwide. Irish America -- 36.9 million U.S. residents who claimed Irish ancestry in 2009 -- comprises the largest percentage and proportionately imparts the most influence. "The potential of the Irish diaspora is staggering, and many want to connect with the land of their ancestry in meaningful ways," he added. The Ireland Fund started in 1976 to do just that and today operates in 39 cities and 11 countries, and has raised over $370 million for worthy causes in Ireland.
"The majority of the large gifts come from individual philanthropists in the U.S.: Irish Americans who are interested in the wellbeing of Ireland," states Kieran. "Our priority now is the Promising Ireland campaign. The goal of the campaign is to raise $100 million by 2013 for Ireland's charities. The title of the campaign was chosen carefully and is intended to express concern for Ireland but also confidence in its future." He added that as Ireland experiences deep economic and social challenges, we have to do everything we possibly can to keep key programs alive.
"The generosity of our donors is a remarkable testament to the concern of the extended Irish family," says McLoughlin. "To be so ahead of our target at is very encouraging, and it is also wonderful that Irish-born donors are stepping up and playing their part." Interestingly, in 2009, only 12 percent of charities made a surplus, and The Ireland Funds was one of them.
The Funds take a proactive approach and seek out worthy projects throughout Ireland and abroad in core areas: peace and reconciliation, education, community building and the arts. "We seed them with small grants so the idea can grow," says Mr. McLoughlin. "If the project shows a lot of promise, we match it with like-minded donors."
Among the programs funded this year is the "Forgotten Irish" campaign, a project that originated in Great Britain and is now instituted in several U.S. cities. He noted that this is an example of cross-fertilization of ideas. The London Fund met older Irish who had emigrated there in the 1950s. They sent money home for years, and now they are elderly and isolated. "The campaign allows us to assist and honor those contributions who should never be forgotten," he added. A new initiative soon to be announced is "No Mind Left Behind." The program is designed to assist disadvantaged students across Ireland in gaining access to a higher education. The strategy is to connect individual donors on a more local level with underserved youth -- in their county of ancestry.
I'm sure there will be no shortage of news ideas on how to involve the Irish diaspora this weekend at the Global Irish Economic Forum at Dublin Castle. The key will be to prioritize and fund the best ones and support existing ideas that are still rolling out. I'm glad that the Ireland Fund is at the table -- sharing their best practices that span more than 40 years.