Mobilizing Ireland’s Diaspora

In Ireland, we have a rich diaspora legacy. Our diaspora is part of the tapestry of Irish identity and has impacted most families, communities, and institutions. Although our population at home stands at 4.4 million, there are an estimated 70 million people of Irish descent living abroad. We have maintained close connections with our diaspora for centuries.

Ireland has been hit hard during the global recession, and we need help from our diaspora to revive our economy and create opportunities for our young people here at home. While connecting with our diaspora has built our capacity, it was not enough. Today we are using new strategies for engaging our diaspora. We are no longer satisfied with connecting with our diaspora; we want to mobilize it. Mobilizing our diaspora meant putting our global network to work. Connecting remains an essential part of the diaspora strategy framework, but the full potential of connecting can only be realized through mobilization. Delivering upon both offers the most sustainable framework for your diaspora initiative.

In Ireland we have a number of diaspora engagement programs that have moved the dial from connecting to mobilizing. I have identified four particularly strong examples to serve as case studies. The Gathering Ireland 2013, the Irish International Diaspora Center, NGen Ireland, and each operate in a different sector and employ a unique strategies for  connecting, celebrating, and engaging the Irish diaspora.


The Gathering, Ireland 2013

In 2013, Ireland is extending a warm welcome to diaspora members, friends, and families abroad to come home and participate in a year long celebration of Ireland. Though Irish government officials including the Taoiseach, Tanaiste, and Minister for Tourism launched The Gathering in May 2012, it remains very much a grassroots, people-centric initiative. The Gathering Ireland will feature a year-long calendar of events celebrating Irish culture, heritage, music, food, etc. The Gathering’s scale is flexible, as events that are organized under its umbrella range from encouraging individuals to send personal invitations to loved ones to return home to larger parish, community, and national events. The Gathering Ireland was inspired by Scotland’s 2009 Homecoming initiative, which was shown to boost the country’s annual tourism revenue by £53.7 million ($86.3 million) and provided a return on investment ratio of nearly 10:1.

The Irish International Diaspora Center At Dun Laoghaire Harbor

The Irish International Diaspora Center will deliver a “world class” diaspora centre where “entertainment, technology, and culture” combine to celebrate the achievements of the Irish diaspora. The Center will become a global leader in diaspora engagement by knitting together the Irish diaspora’s historical and contemporary narratives. Through its interactive forums and media, visitors to the Center will be able to explore the cornerstones of the Irish diaspora including language, culture, and identity whilst fitting their own experiences into the diaspora’s collective culture and memory. The Center will both face inward to Ireland and outward to connect with our diaspora. The Center will serve as a hub of academic and scientific knowledge relevant to diaspora members, including genealogy. Within a globalized world, the Center hopes to celebrate the social and cultural contributions of the Irish diaspora and faciliate knowledge exchange.

NGen Ireland

NGen Ireland is a platform designed to engage young members of the Irish diaspora, with programs specifically targeting those between 22 and 33 years old. Co-founders Neil Sands and William Peat founded NGen in 2011 with the goal of discovering, accelerating, and celebrating Ireland’s next generation of change-makers. This process of discovery, acceleration, and celebration generates diaspora members as direct partners in the initiative. The process of discovery results in direct engagement with the platform by encouraging social nominations of change-makers in fields such as science and technology. Acceleration is designed to facilitate up-skilling through NGen experiences at home and abroad through knowledge exchange and mentorship programs. NGen’s celebrations are unique social and networking events that gather and recognize the role of Ireland’s new generation of change-makers and their contribution to a better Ireland similar to India’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas awards. Through these three processes, NGen Ireland provides multiple access points for the Irish diaspora to the homeland. For example, NGen Ireland serves as a leading example of capacity and knowledge building for the Irish diaspora as it enables them to stay connected with the key influencers and change-makers at home and abroad. NGen Ireland represents a social innovation in the diaspora space that promotes connections and mobilization of knowledge, experience, and ideas through frameworks of discovery, acceleration, and celebration.


The latest figures indicate that unemployment in Ireland stands at 14.8 percent. ConnectIreland, an early example of DDI (diaspora direct investment) in action, is designed to create new jobs in Ireland by mobilizing the power of global social networks. It is a government facilitated initiative, part of the Succeed in Ireland initiative, and ConnectIreland is designed to create sustainable employment in Ireland. The vision of founder, Terry Clune, the initiative offers financial awards to “connectors” who use the connections they have overseas to create new jobs in Ireland. The “connector” facilitates the initial phase of connection between key decision-makers and the ConnectIreland team, who then develop the engagement to create jobs. The unique “incentive” model is based on successful creation of sustainable employment with a “connector” receiving a minimum of €1,500 for each job created, with the payment staggered over two years to ensure sustainable employment. ConnectIreland is an important development in the reach and approach of DDI, a new emerging trend for countries trying to attract foreign direct investment.


The Gathering Ireland 2013, the Irish International Diaspora Center, NGen Ireland, and ConnectIreland have been successful in mobilizing the Irish diaspora because their strategies effectively employ The Three P’s:  Process, Participation, and People.  My framework for diaspora mobilization helps to contextualise and simplify the main challenges in diaspora engagement. The Three P’s address the tensions and difficulties that can occur in creating effective strategy by engaging the main partners in a continuous process of dialogue, development, and delivery. I believe that implementing this framework could help governments implement more effective diaspora-engagement policies; better-position institutions to deliver upon their strategic goals; and increase efficiency.

Process: The process stage is about connecting. In the process stage, you increase your diaspora strategy’s capacity by building new hubs of social, human, and knowledge exchange. It can also be a good time for strategizing with diasporic partners. For example, NGen Ireland’s strategy of bringing Irish at home and abroad within a specific age bracket addresses the diaspora’s layered expectations and motivations. Similarly, in a government-facilitated initiative, this period enables governments and institutions to establish the operational framework or platform for their strategy. The key understanding during this stage is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” diaspora strategy. For example, the Irish diaspora is diverse and has many different capacities in areas such as tourism, mentorship, entrepreneurship, etc. The process stage in the Irish context is about connecting effectively to engage that diversity and provide relevant strategies to mobilize it through participation.

Participation: The participation stage is the first step of moving from connecting to mobilizing. In developing an effective participation framework for your diaspora strategy, you will need to consider who are your stakeholders. To get you there, ask questions like ‘What are my target audiences?’, ‘How did we connect in the process stage?’, and ‘What did we learn?’. The four case studies I described use multiple participation frameworks. ConnectIreland and the Gathering Ireland require the collaborative effort of the Irish government, the Irish people, and diaspora members. NGen Ireland produces multiple participation or “access” points through their three-pronged stage development. The Irish International Diaspora Center creates an interactive experience for visitors through its forums and thereby produces an exchange with its  stakeholders.

People: The most difficult development to understand in a diaspora strategy is the issue of mobilization because it involves a number of uncertainties. Should governments implement or facilitate? Who are our diaspora? What are the objectives of our strategy? However, there remains a simple answer to these difficult questions: personal relationships. Every initiative outlined here, the two previous stages described, and the differences between connecting and mobilizing are all dependent on the effective coordination of the most important constituent in the diasporic relationship: people. This part of The Three P’s is centred on making your initiative sustainable, the final stage of mobilization. At this point, the co-ordination and harmonization of model, resources, and development continue the work of the previous two steps. It is essential in this stage to maintain the people-to-people networks that have delivered your strategy as they will in turn facilitate the sustainability of the institutional and implementation structure of your initiative. This is particularly pertinent in diaspora strategies as the bonds that tie diasporas together are significantly dependent on those forms of networks.

Ireland has a new culture of diaspora engagement focused on delivering innovative solutions to the challenges we face. The Irish diaspora are becoming partners and stakeholders in this endeavour through initiatives such as these. The best way any country can deliver effective diaspora strategies and engagement is to learn from each other and this is why knowledge hubs such as the IdEA will help us define the field. The arguments above, I hope, help others understand how Ireland is engaging their diaspora. Within that, there is one defining feature from Ireland’s current strategies; Ireland is mobilizing its diaspora and its diaspora is mobilizing Ireland.



About the Author: Martin Russell is an Irish Research Council Scholar at the UCD Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin, Ireland and served as Senior Research Assistant on the Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit. His areas of expertise include diaspora strategies, diaspora media, diaspora philanthropy, and conflict transformation. He is currently creating a new diaspora knowledge platform in Ireland that will be launched in the coming months.


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.