“We’re the only country with a physical infrastructure in every town in the world,” said Kingsley Aikins. Speaking of the ubiquitous Irish bar, he said Ireland should be networking with the worldwide Irish as a means of digging out of the recession back home.
As a former CEO of the Worldwide Ireland Funds, Aikins is well used to dealing with the Irish abroad.
In a very interesting talk full of examples and personal anecdotes, Aikins said Ireland is not in the top tier of countries leveraging their diasporas. He said the best at it are Israel, India, China and Taiwan.
Ireland would be down a level from them, he said. Although Israel is a small country like Ireland, their efforts are so far ahead that India would be more relevant since their official emigrant outreach is less than 10 years old. Over 60 countries have diaspora strategies, he said. Some are very successful while other efforts have amounted to little.
However, connecting with and leveraging the diaspora takes work, Aikins said. “There is a nudge factor in the diaspora we can use … but only if the deal is very close.”
In the meantime, contacts need to be developed. “We need to do it in a structured and strategic way,” Aikins said. His four recommended steps were:
Not all of Irish descent are automatically interested in the old country, Aikins noted. They need to be cultivated. He suggested starting small with them, but “you still have to ask. If you don’t ask, you won’t get it,” he said. Many noted American philanthropists have donated sizable amounts of time and energy to helping the land of their ancestors. Examples include Loretta Brennan Glucksman.
Meanwhile, others, like Dr. Stanley Quek, have no obvious Irish links but have lived or studied here before returning home. Aikins called them the affinity Irish.
Aikins suggested approaching influential descendants or emigrants initially through philanthropy.
Image of kids at New York St. Patrick’s Day parade courtesy Will Murphy on Flickr.