Kingsley Aikins’ Remarks at the 2012 Global Diaspora Forum


Thank you for that introduction. My name is Kingsley Aikins, and I’m delighted to be here at this Global Diaspora Forum in Washington. First of all, I want to congratulate the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for this initiative, we had as you all know the first event last year which was a great success, and I think the two days we’ve had here this year have surpassed even that as being an absolutely marvelous occasion. 500 people from 75 countries are represented here in Washington; it’s just a sign of the times. The interest in this topic around the world is growing dramatically and lots of countries are trying to figure out what they can do in this space. I also want to thank and congratulate my good friends Kris Balderston of the Global Partnership in the State Department and Thomas Debass for putting together this really quite remarkable confection here in Washington.

I think it’s exciting what’s happening here and in lots of other countries around the world that I mentioned. You know earlier this year, Africa had its first ever African Diaspora Summit in Johannesburg. Some 65 past and present leaders of African countries attended that. Indonesia had their first diaspora conference in Los Angeles. Over 3,000 people attended that. Uganda had a diaspora conference in London; again thousands of people attended that so this has become quite a hot topic around the world.

I’ve been working with the Irish diaspora for many, many years. I was the trade representative of the Irish government in Australia. I represented the Irish Trade Board and the Inward Investment Board (IDA), so I was familiar with how diasporas are powerful in that space. For 21 years I ran the Ireland Funds, a philanthropic organization, which started very modestly and then became a really significant organization around the world. I’ll talk a little bit about those things later.

Diaspora is a topic now that lots of countries are engaged in, and lots of countries are figuring out what are strategies – what’s the best way to do this sort of stuff? I’m a founding member of an organization called CASE, and CASE stands for Copy and Steal Everything. What I’ve done over the years is go to other countries, and listen to what they’ve done, and watch what they’ve introduced and see will that work in our case in with Ireland but with lots of other countries. What’s really great about occasions like this and the conference I spoke at in Israel a few weeks ago when there were 35 countries represented is that people are willing to share what they’ve learned, and there is this great kind of trade union of activists in the space who want to meet, congregate, and share the sorts of ideas that they’ve been working on.

“Diaspora” was a word that was always associated with Israel and the flight of the Jews from Babylon in the fifth century, but over the last decade or so, lots of countries around the world talk about their diaspora. So, we talk about the Jamaican diaspora, we talk about the Kenyan diaspora, the Australian diaspora, the Scottish diaspora. Diaspora is  actually two Greek words—dia and spero—meaning over and scattering. I think it really reached an important milestone last year in November, when The Economist had on its front cover the headline: The Magic of diasporas, how migrant business networks are changing the world. The article went on to say that diaspora networks are one of the few bright sparks in the global economy. So, this was an important sign that high-level people are starting to position this topic exactly where it deserves to be.

Based on my experience around the world with diasporas, I want to pose four really important questions: What made China one of the world’s great manufacturing powers? What made India a really extraordinary global technology hub? What made Israel the second largest venture capital country in the world? Just consider there are 127 Israeli companies of NASDAQ today and there were none in 1990. And then in our case in Ireland, how did the diaspora help to bring peace to Northern Ireland? I believe the answer to those really important fundamental questions is the same. The answer is networking with their diasporas, particularly in the United States, but also in other places around the world.

I believe there is such a thing as diaspora capital, just as there is financial capital, human capital. Now all countries have diaspora capital. The secret is how you tap into it. How do you convert that into some enthusiasm and in many cases compassion into active programs and policies and projects on the ground in the home country? We also have to ask not just what the diaspora can do for you, but also, what you can do for your diaspora? This is a two-way process. The global stats for diasporas are really quite remarkable. There are 250 million people living in the world now in a country other than the one they were born in. That is three percent of the world’s population, about one-tenth in the developed world and three million people annually migrate. That 250 million is about triple what is was in 1990. The phenomenon of our time is migration. People moving around the world. There are 80 million Europeans who live outside the country in which they were born. The US is this great melting pot although perhaps it could be called a mosaic now of people from all sorts of different countries. 62 million people first and second generation in the US, and this is a formidable and really interesting network and niche of people.

In the old days, geography dictated your identity. Where you were living determined who you were. Now, because of technology and because of communications, things are different. You can be here and there. You can lead hyphenated lives. You can be Canadian and Polish, Australian and Greek, American and Scottish, Brazilian and Swiss. There are lots and lots of different hyphenated lives that people can lead. In the old days, absence equaled exile. If you left your country, you were gone, and you were gone for good. But now you can connect and you can connect in many different ways.

Remittances are a huge industry. This year about $450 billion will be transferred as remittances. Countries like the US to countries like Mexico and India. Remittances happen all around the world now. That’s a number which is going to grow dramatically. It’s about three times the amount of official aid that happens in the world. In the old days, 25 years ago, most capital flows in the world were government funds and now most capital flows in the world are actually private funds. If you throw in inward investment, or as I’ve come to later, diaspora direct investment, then you’ll see diasporas’ economic power.

In the case of Ireland, the statistics are pretty impressive. Something like 70 million people around the world are of Irish heritage. About 44 million people in the US census declared themselves of Irish ancestry. There are about 3.1 million Irish citizens living overseas. There is an extraordinary network of Irish people, not just in the US, but in Australia, in Canada, and of course in the neighboring country UK. Many, many years ago, I got involved with the philanthropic organization called the Ireland Funds, which was set up to tap into that network of people around the world to see could they connect with Ireland, particularly during what we call “the troubles in Northern Ireland.” Could they help resolve in a peaceful way the conflict there? This organization was called the American Ireland Fund and then became known as the Ireland Funds in thirteen countries around the world. It started, I have to say, very modestly. It was driven by two very charismatic, exciting individuals. One was called Tony O’Reilly; he was a chairman and CEO of the H.J. Heinz food company in Pittsburgh. The other one was also a fellow Pittsburgh man, Dan Rooney, who’s currently the US Ambassador in Ireland and the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They came together in the mid-70s and they had a vision: Could the Irish around the world connect with each other and with Ireland, the same way as the Israelis and the Jewish community around the world? It connected back to Israel. It was an unproven formula, and we joke in our organization that we started with a big black tie fundraising dinner in the Waldorf Astoria in New York, and the great and the good were there. The dinner was so unsuccessful that the only reason we had a second dinner a year later was to pay for the first dinner. But from that somewhat modest beginning, the organization began to grow. It has now raised over $350 million, which is being distributed to 1,200 organization throughout Ireland, north and south, in the areas of peace, culture and charity. And so it’s proven that when you start these organizations, you can get engaged philanthropically.

There’s a Russian economist with the World Bank called Yevgeny Kuznetsov who is developing an interesting theory about diaspora relations. He said it’s a pyramid, and at the bottom of the pyramid there are remittances. And as you move up this pyramid of involvement and engagement between a home country and a host country, it becomes more sophisticated. And after you move through the remittances phase, you move into philanthropy, which I just touched on. And then you get involved in business networks, you get involved in venture capital, it becomes more niche driven, people of lots of different areas.

I watched this happen in the Irish situation. We now have not just the success of philanthropy through the Ireland funds and other organizations, we now have business networks emerging. The Irish International Business Network is an example of that. The Irish Technology Leadership Group in Silicon Valley, which has over 800 Irish and Irish–related executives in California involved in the technology sector connecting back to Ireland. We have the Wild Geese Network of Irish Scientists which started last year in Washington. And the key to all of this is building these networks. And Ireland has been particularly successful in this space.

When you develop your diaspora engagement strategy, you need to have different policies and different programs for different categories. Tourism is one of obvious interest. About two years ago, Scotland started a program called the Homecoming, where they reached out to members of the Scottish diaspora. There are 12 million Americans of Scottish heritage. There are Scots in New Zealand, and Hong Kong, and Canada. During this program, they reached out to them, they re-invited them back to Scotland, and they had a summer of celebration there.

For its part, the Irish government has recently announced and started their initiative in the diaspora tourism same space called the Gathering . The first event they had was Notre Dame playing the Navy—two great, iconic American football teams—in Dublin. 35,000 Americans traveled for the game. It was a truly remarkable weekend. And that was the start of the Irish initiative called the Gathering, so I would ask you to watch this short video of this initiative called the Gathering to get a sense of how this is going to operate and how everybody, at every level of society in Ireland, not just leaders or business and leaders of parties, but everybody has a role to play and everybody could do something to make the Gathering a success.

Migrants are really important for countries. Migrants are the greatest starters of business in the United States, from Alfred Hitchcock to Sergei Bring and Larry Page. It is migrants who are the drivers of innovation, creativity, and new businesses.

A country that I’m particularly interested in within the diaspora space is India, which up to the year 2002 was fairly indifferent to her diaspora. Then there was a very large international inquiry into the Indian diaspora report written for the government, and since then the Indian government have been extremely active in that space. There are 27 million people in the Indian diaspora around the world. They are highly educated, highly successful. Their wealth equals two thirds of the GDP of India. Between 1985 and 2000 13,000 Indians got PhD’s in science and engineering in American universities. What happened was that these people, many of them stayed in the US but they had friends and colleagues and family back in India and they connected back to India enormously. Now you have Indians who are in the executive suites of US companies and serving on their boards. One in four startups in Silicon Valley is run by an Indian. I noticed the other day that Forbes Magazine who lists the top 50 most powerful women in the world, has number one was Hillary Clinton, number two was Angela Merkel and number three was Indra Nooyi. Indra Nooyi is a fascinating woman born in 1955 in Chennai in India. She went to high school there; did her master’s degree there, worked for Johnson and Johnson in India, then went to get a degree at Yale in the United States, then joined the Boston Consulting Group, then finally joined a client company in 1994, and Pepsi now, is CEO of Pepsi. So here you have an Indian woman with a lot of connections back in India with over 300,000 people working for her in Pepsi. She’s head of the US-India Business Council and she’s developing all sorts of relationships between India and the US. The Indian business network TIE is one of the biggest and most successful business networks in the world. So there’s a country which is really doing a terrific job of tapping into its diaspora. They’ve introduced a new passport, called the OCI – Overseas Citizen of India. Nearly one million people around the world have taken out that passport. They run annual conferences, they bring back successful CEO companies around the world to India. And it’s not just ingenuity – there is an Indian as the CEO of Citibank, of McKinsey, of MasterCard. So that is certainly a country to watch.

I think that this kind of proves a point that I touched on earlier – the power of the diaspora in terms of inward investment. I noticed this when I read a book by Professor AnnaLee Saxenian of the University of California Berkeley entitled The New Argonauts, which talked about four countries in particular—China, India, Israel and Taiwan—and how they had used their diaspora to drive their home economies. She told the story of Dov Frohman, who is a very brilliant scientist with Intel. Frohman told Intel in Phoenix that he had decided to go back home to Israel. He was leaving the company and taking a job with Haifa University. The company said, We daren’t lose you. You’re not going to take that job. You are going home, but we’re going to go with you, and you’re going to head up our operations of Intel as we locate in Israel. So this one individual, driven by a desire to go back, resulted in Intel setting up an operation in Israel, which has been incredibly successful. I knew it in Irish circumstances, as well, because Henry Ford, the great Ford company of Detroit—the first car company, an American car manufacturer—set up the first plant they ever set up outside the US in Cork, Ireland, where his forebears came from.

Having worked with the IDA Industrial Development Authority, I knew many stories of how individuals can push inward investment in a certain direction based on their heritage. I always feel that when deals have 80-20 odds against them, they will never happen. But when a deal is very close, these are important “nudge factors.” Life is a game of interests, the difference between first and second in many things—in sport particularly—can be very, very close, and the implications of that are massive when it comes to investment. You need everything on your side that you can get. One of the implications of that are you need to know what I call the tipping agents in companies around the world. You need to know people who are in a position to make things happen, in a position to open doors, make introductions, do referrals, and encourage their company to set up overseas. And for all of us who are now living in the US, this is indeed a glittering prize. Only one percent of US companies have operations overseas. Only one percent of US companies export, but as we become increasingly global, this has become and is going to become a much bigger phenomenon. In the old days, it used to be go big or go home, now it’s go global or go home. Facebook was in 75 countries just 18 months after starting. And so all of us in these different countries around the world should be using every advantage we have to make this happen.

And there is a very interesting initiative happening in Ireland right now, a company, an organization called ConnectIreland, and this was set up by a very charismatic and successful young Irish businessman called Terry Clune, who had a business called Taxback. His company operates in many countries around the world extremely successful, very profitable, and he has decided to encourage, reward, and incentivize people in the Irish diaspora who make introductions that result in business operations starting in Ireland. ConnectIreland was only set up earlier this year, has had terrific early success, and has a really interesting pipeline of projects that they’re working on, and so it has proven that notion of diaspora direct investment. Through Connect Ireland, he has produced a couple of really interesting videos, the first one just gives you a sense of the concept, and thesecond one goes through the actual precise way it operates. I’m going to show them to you now.

Reality and why diasporas are increasingly important is that the world is dramatically changing beyond all recognition. In fact, in many cases you could argue the world is not about countries, it’s about regions, and it’s about cities. Anne-Marie Slaughter worked for a number of years for the U.S. State Department; she is a professor at Princeton; and she has written very eloquently about this change in the world. The fact that the information age is now over, we now live in the networked age, the measurement of power is your connectedness. She talks about how Palo Alto has more in common with Dubai, Chinghai, Tel Aviv, Bangalore, London, Paris, and perhaps Dublin than it does with Fresno, which is just up the road. She says the world is about connected clusters of creative people. And the key to all of this, and the glue to all of this, is networking and building networks. Now, for the first time ever, we have the opportunity because of technology to build these electronic networks, these electronic portals.

One of the most exciting projects that’s happening right now in the world of diasporas is happening in Ireland with an organization called WorldIrish, which was founded by John McColgan of Riverdance Fame. Over 21 million people around the world have been to see Riverdance. WorldIrish project is currently being launched in Dublin as an opportunity to be an electronic portal whereby everybody around the world can have their own voice, can have their own face, and tell their own story. This is the video which tells you what WorldIrish is all about.

So Anne-Marie Slaughter writes, as I mentioned earlier, about how important place is and this sense of place. And she says that where you are from means where you can and do go back and whom you network with and whom you trust. And trust is really the fundamental key in all of this. Trust is not an event; you don’t meet somebody today and trust them tomorrow. Trust is something which is won over a long period of time and can be lost in an instant. Trust is not even deserved. Trust is earned.

And so in all of this, as I mentioned earlier, the glue is networking and building networks. Sometimes people have a negative view of networking; they think it’s slightly sleazy or a little bit backslappery or it’s all about who gives out the most business cards. But networking in essence is about building long term hearts and minds and relationships. It’s about giving and not getting. It’s about giving to individuals and getting back from the larger community. But to be successful at networking, you’ve got to do two fundamental things. You have got to change your mindset. You gotta move from being transaction driven to being relationship driven. And that’s not easy to do. That really requires a lot of time, a lot of practice. You’ve got to develop some interpersonal skills. You’ve got to learn to listen. You’ve got to appreciate the power of attention. We tend to interrupt each other all the time. We tend to only listen to people with the view to preparing what we want to say about ourselves afterwards.

We also live in a world where we have literally thousands of connections and contacts through our Facebook and our LinkedIn and all our other different electronic devices, and yet they’re not really relationships. They are connections but not relationships. Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor, has written some really interesting stuff about what she calls being alone together and how we are fooling ourselves that having thousands of friends on these electronic devices means that we have thousands of friendships. Professor Dunbar of Oxford University has developed a theory which has become known as Dunbar’s Number which says that throughout life, at any one time you can only have 150 relationships at a time, and you cannot physically and mentally cater to more than that. And so we now live in a world where you need to have your Dunbar Number, you need to have these close relationships, you need to have these bonding relationships as we call them, but you also have to have a large array of weak connections, and that’s what we call bridging capital. Bonding capital and bridging capital make up what we call social capital.

I believe as countries develop relationships and develop their diaspora strategies, social capital will be the determinant of which countries are real winners. And you also have to have a process through which you develop these relationships, and I learned this working in the US and raising hundreds of millions for the American Ireland Fund. And I watched how particularly the American universities through their alumni model, which has been so successful not just in the US but now lots of organizations around the world are copying. It’s about moving people through four phases; it is about research, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship. And so you need to have a process to do this, and you need to have a mindset change. If you do those two things, follow a distinct, organized, strategic, measured process, be willing to change your approach, your mental approach, you will build strong social capital. Strong social capital is a measurement of your engaged-ness and that will be a key factor for success in diaspora relations.

Another key factor for success is who should take responsibility for this in different countries. My view tends to be that governments’ role should be as facilitators rather than implementers, although sometimes the market does not deliver and governments have to take an active role. And it’s interesting to see the number of governments around the world who are now developing ministries or departments of diaspora, and taking a very active role in this space. And all of this you gotta allow for luck, chance, or what I call, funnels of serendipity. Things just happen and that you can in fact create chance in a non-random way by doing certain things, by behaving in certain ways, by hanging out with certain people, by going to certain events. One of the reasons why we all come here in Washington for IdEA is to meet like-minded people and lots of ideas and suggestions. I certainly know following last year’s event here in Washington and my involvement on the board of IdEA that a whole series of initiatives have emerged, and I think that it’s terrific that people are coming here, and I hope that they will come too when we meet each other at lots of other conferences as we go forward.

But diaspora relations don’t always, and initiatives don’t always succeed. There are lots of reasons why they fail and there have been failures in this space over the years. Sometimes people back the wrong people. Sometimes initiatives are like fireworks, they take off in a great blaze of glory and they die away. Because to be successful, you need to find exceptional people. We often use what I call fuzzy math. We often say listen, there’s two million people in our diaspora, so if everybody gave $10 we’d be incredibly successful. But that’s not the way life works. And what we gotta do is identify and find the overachievers—the people who are exceptional, the people who are willing to put their hand up and dedicate time and effort and sometimes take on entrenched beliefs to make things happen. And so a really deep meaningful relationship with one thousand people can be a lot better than a very loose, shattered relationship with hundreds of thousands. The challenge is whether you go an inch deep or a mile wide or a mile deep and an inch wide. So there are the sorts of challenges that face us, and diaspora developments and relationships and initiatives are not immune from what’s happening in the real business world. This is a real business environment that we’re in. The brutal harsh reality of business is that business does not come in on its own; it has to be gone after. Business is not offered; it has to be asked for. People invest in success, not failure. People need to know that they feel recognized and rewarded and thanked for what they do. Nothing is happening at your desk. We say a bad day on the road beats a good day in the office. And so it needs an awful lot of initiative, an awful lot of hard work. As someone once said, the secret of success without hard work is just that – a secret.

So as we look to the future in this really exciting sector, which I think has been a little bit moribund over the years, we need to see innovation, we need to see creativity, we need to see initiatives happening. One such project I’m involved with in Ireland is to build an international diaspora center on the Carlisle Pier in Dún Laoghaire. Carlisle Pier was where literally millions of Irish people emigrated over the years, and this will be an iconic building a bit like the Sydney Opera House or the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. It will be really an extraordinary center that not just looks back at the history of emigration and the history of diaspora but also looks forwards, looks at areas like bio-banking and all sorts of other use of technology in the space of diaspora. This little video here tells you a little about the plans behind the Dún Laoghaire Harbor Company, and I’d like you to watch it.

So you can see there’s a lot happening in this space in lots of countries around the world, and I am most familiar with what’s happening in Ireland. I was always fascinated by how other countries have approached the challenge of connecting with their diaspora. Last year, in conjunction with the Hillary Clinton Global Diaspora Forum here in Washington, I produced a Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit which is something that was distributed and it now available on my website, which is, and I suggest to anybody who is interested in the topic should please feel free to download this. On a personal level, I would be delighted if people would connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m always interested in hearing what’s happening in other countries. I want to expand the diaspora matters website to include what’s happening around the world. I think there’s a real onus on all of us to share the initiatives to share the ideas. This is a noncompetitive industry; I think it would be terrific to see a lot more cooperation, collaboration in the future. So thank you again to the State Department, to Hillary Clinton, to IdEA, to Kris Balderston, to Thomas Debass, and to all of you for coming here today and listening to what I have to say and I very much look forward to connecting with you in the future. Thank you.


International diasopra Engagement Alliance (IdEA) - Kingsley AikinsAbout the Author: Kingsley Aikins was born and brought up in Dublin and educated at The High School, Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, from which he graduated with an honors degree in economics and politics. In the past, Kingsley was the Sydney, Australia based representative of the Irish Trade Board and the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) of Ireland; he has also run his own marketing consultancy company. In January of 1993, he moved to Boston to take over as Executive Director of The American Ireland Fund.  The Fund was set up in 1976 and since then The Worldwide Ireland Funds have raised over $300 million for projects of peace, culture, community development, and education throughout the island of Ireland. In June 1995 he was appointed Chief Executive of the Worldwide Ireland Funds, which is now active in eleven countries including Ireland. He now runs a consultancy company based in Dublin–Diaspora Matters. He writes and speaks extensively on philanthropy, diaspora issues, and networking.

The contents of this blog are the sole responsibility of the author and its ideas and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of International diaspora Engagement Alliance, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Migration Policy Institute, or any of their partners.