Global Diaspora Forum can help drive State’s recovery

Opinion: Dublin gathering has potential to harness enthusiasm and expertise from around the world


When Hillary Clinton was United States secretary of state in President Barack Obama’s first administration she reached out to diasporas central to her approach to “21st-century statecraft”, as she liked to call her approach to government. She noted that, in the US, more than 1,500 diaspora communities from 190 countries regularly interacted with the state department.

Globally, the ripple effect of this endeavour was enormous as dozens of countries began to look seriously at how to engage their diaspora communities. Under her leadership the state department organised two global diaspora forums in Washington, in 2011 and 2012, that each year attracted more than 500 delegates representing 75 countries.

One of Mrs Clinton’s last acts in office was to request of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste during her visit here last year that Ireland, as holders of the presidency of the EU, would co-host this year’s Global Diaspora Forum in Dublin on the same days as this year’s Washington event.

The European strand of the forum will take place, with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, in the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel in Killiney tomorrow and Wednesday. Under the aegis of the Irish International Diaspora Centre Trust, which has ambitious plans to build a centre on the Carlisle Pier in Dún Laoghaire, this forum has attracted more than 50 speakers, experts in the field from around the world.

World leader

Ireland being chosen as the first co-host of this prestigious forum is indicative of two developments. The first is the burgeoning interest in diaspora around the world and the second is a realisation that Ireland is regarded as a world leader in this space.

In the old days emigration was final, brutal and sad, and in some cases today it still is. Although very many countries are developing diaspora strategies and policies, Ireland is seen as a “thought leader” and part of the Big Four along with Israel, India and China. Countries are coming to Ireland to research and experience the initiatives emerging here.

Many of these initiatives have been developed only in the last few years, since the first Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh, in 2009. Ireland now has the opportunity to become the go-to country in this field and, if successful, will attract global attention and open up possibilities for research, training and capacity building.

Technology and communications arechanging a massive diaspora sector. People can now be “here and there”, live hyphenated lives and keep in close contact with their home countries while being committed to their host countries. In the old days absence meant exile and countries lost their best and brightest forever, but now there is a clear circularity to migration.

Despite the economic doom and gloom, more than 100,000 Irish people have returned to live here since 2008. More than 215 million people now live in a country other than that in which they were born (including more than 80 million Europeans). This population has tripled in 25 years. If this were the population of a country it would be the fifth largest in the world.

Internationally there is a growing awareness that there is such a thing as “diaspora capital” and that this is a resource that needs to be researched, cultivated, solicited and stewarded. Many see this as a way of addressing domestic economic challenges and core to economic recovery.

The key to all of this is networking and building global networks of trusted contacts. Prof Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University has written extensively on the role of diasporas and their power in networking. She believes the measurement of power is connectedness and that the countries and regions with the most networked power can set the agenda. It is all about connected clusters of creative people. Where you are from, she says, means where you can – and do – go back and with whom you network.

In all this, Ireland has a huge advantage that demonstrates that the countries that lost most to emigration stand to benefit most from diaspora engagement. The Irish diaspora is of the order of 70 million and rising. And the vast array of Irish and Irish-related organisations around the world are the envy of many countries and provide us with a platform of penetration that can help with remittances and philanthropy, trade, investment and tourism.

What is exciting about the sector internationally is that it is non-competitive. Accordingly we should share as much as possible and research each others’ policies, programmes and projects. This is at the heart of this week’s forum and why so many people are coming to Ireland to participate and network. To learn more or register for the forum, go to

Kingsley Aikins is co-chair of the Global Diaspora Forum , a trustee of the Irish International Diaspora Centre and founder and chief executive of Diaspora Matters. kingsley

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