How can local communities reach out to their diasporas?

New Local Diaspora Toolkit shows how to engage with Irish people overseas

Irish people are world-class diaspora connectors. That is one of the lessons learned from the success of the Gathering in 2012, which illuminated the great capacities for local communities to engage local diasporas. Building on that insight, we are studying and sharing knowledge about local diaspora engagement across Ireland.

UCD's Clinton Institute was commissioned by the Minister for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan to produce a Local Diaspora Toolkit, to help local authorities to reach out and engage with their communities overseas. Launching the Toolkit yesterday, Mr Deenihan noted that "Irish people have a keen sense of attachment to their place of origin. For many Irish people abroad, it is not just a question of being from Ireland, but which county town and even townland a person is from."

The Toolkit recognises this sense of attachment and the growing potential for local communities and counties in Ireland to reach out to their own diasporas and build new relationships, to benefit local and regional development.

We wanted the Toolkit to have a dual purpose, both to act as a how-to-guide for local diaspora engagement, and to provide examples of good practice in established forms of diaspora engagement from across the country. We hope it will prove useful both to those already advanced in engaging local diaspora and those who are taking or thinking of taking first steps in this direction.

READ MORE

The Toolkit provides how-to guidance on the key stages of diaspora engagement, from defining your local diaspora (who are they? where are they?), through strategic planning and communication with the diaspora, to making the engagement sustainable. It also provides information on the role of local diaspora engagement in business networking, and skills and knowledge transfer, and provides listings of helpful resources for those planning local initiatives.

Some local authorities have developed diaspora engagement strategies that are now relatively mature - the Donegal Diaspora Project, for example, is built on a long-term plan that is still evolving - while others are only beginning to consider the strategic opportunities. At the launch yesterday, my colleague Madeleine Lyes remarked that there is "already considerable innovation and much variety in the local projects under way across the country", but often limited knowledge about these outside of their region of origin.

As we researched already existing local initiatives and projects, we found there was a strong desire among those involved to hear about what like-minded people where doing elsewhere in the country. The Toolkit provides many examples, and at the launch, much of the conversation was about the need to share this knowledge. That openness to collaboration is a key element of diaspora engagement, and also makes good business sense, for given the strong attachments to particular places this need not be a space of competition.

While the Toolkit details the ingredients of successful diaspora engagement projects, there is one common element: the need to commit time and careful strategic thinking to the engagement. As one interviewee remarked, “it’s slow burner stuff, incremental activities that can aggregate into more substantial results.”

There are no quick fixes; relationships need to be built and nurtured in the interests both of the homeplace and the diaspora.

Professor Liam Kennedy is director of the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin. Download the Local Diaspora Toolkit from taoiseach.gov.ie