Posted by: Martin Russell | September 20, 2011

Diaspora Strategies Conference Report

On the 9th and 10th Sept.  the Clinton Institute held a two day international conference on Diaspora Strategies: Encouragement, Evolution and Engagement. Bringing together leading academics, practitioners and policy makers in diaspora studies the conference began an ongoing discussion on how countries engage with diasporas and vice versa. Presentations came from across the world with participants from the United States, Canada, Australia, U.K., mainland Europe and Ireland.  The conference was organised by two of our PhD students, Martin Russell and Geoffrey O’Connor with funding support from the Graduate Schoolof the College of Arts & Celtic Studies.

The Friday sessions set the theoretical and analytical boundaries of the coming days. Discussions involved the definition of diasporas and their place in the world, the role of the Irish abroad, diasporas in U.S. foreign relations, and the role of diasporas in security and conflict. The first day was brought to a close with a plenary address by leading academic Prof. Gabriel Sheffer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A worldwide commentator and analyst in the field, Prof. Sheffer provided a thought provoking and paradigm setting discussion on the theoretical conceptualisations on diaspora studies. With a particular focus on an innovative “four-sided” framework to diaspora engagement, developing beyond the more recognisable triangular hypothesis, Prof. Sheffer argued for the increasing importance of formal and informal networks to our understanding of how diasporas engage in mutliple ways both internally and externally with home and host countries alike.


Prof. Sheffer’s address set the tone for the Saturday sessions as the conference moved from an academic focus to more policy based discussions. Another plenary address, this time from Tim Finch – Director of Communications at ippr, opened up important policy debates on diaspora strategies. His well thought out and engaging discussion focused on the nature of the U.K.’s diaspora strategy. This assessment led to continued discussion on central components of effective diaspora strategy including motivations and outcomes. Additionally, other papers throughout the day bridged the gap between academia and policy with discussions on the role of social media in diaspora engagement and comparative analysis of international approaches leading the discussion.


The conference came to a close with an engaging and lively presentation by Kingsley Aikins, founder of Diaspora Matters. Mr. Aikins brought together years of personal experience and expertise in an articulate and passionate address about the role that diaspora strategies can play in contemporary Ireland. Again, his address spoke of the emerging importance of networks to such processes. His address was followed by engaged audience participation which helped to bring together many of the overriding debates of the previous two days. Shortly after his address, Mr. Aikins participated in a roundtable discussion with the other plenary speakers and Nicola White, co-author of the Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit. The roundtable provided heated debate on what diaspora strategies arguably could or should look like with particular interest on questions of nation branding, communication and diaspora-homeland relations. Perhaps the greatest indication of the depth to the conference is represented by the fact that what began as an academic conference concluded with engaged discussions that will be beneficial to not only the academics in the auditorium but also to the practitioners and policymakers, quite an achievement in 48 hours.


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