Posted by: Martin Russell | October 7, 2011

Second Global Irish Economic Forum: A Good Start and Challenges Ahead

The Second Global Irish Economic Forum begins today, with live streaming of certain sections of the event available here. But let’s take a minute to discuss what the forum is actually doing. The key word in the opening sections above is “second”. As a continuation of the earlier forum in 2009, the Irish government are producing elements of effective and strategic diaspora engagement. The need for consistent, coherent and communicated engagement is as relevant to diaspora policy as it is to any other departmental brief.

Furthermore, there also appears to be a growing awareness of the importance of transparency in the policy process. By publishing the list of attendees, programme and platforms this transparency is correctly reworking into a limited access formation. It is also key to maintain this level of limited access as good policy or decision making is usually constructed through such frameworks. So far the signs are good, but they can be better.

The main issue with this forum will be the need for tangible, identifiable and measurable outcomes. Primarily, on first viewing of the content of the forum, this should not be an issue. Economics is more often than not driven by statistics and outputs/impacts (choose whatever terminology you wish). It is the ‘bang for the buck’ conundrum, the forum therefore must be fit for purpose. This will not become apparent in the next two days but it should become apparent in the near future, which is not an unfair expectation.

Furthermore, the forum, in aims/concepts/expected outcomes is highly strategic given the needs of the homeland. The diaspora, however defined, is not so singular. Attempts by the government to merge the event with wider social or cultural “representations” (for want of a better phrase) is astute but needs more depth. Diversity in diaspora is often seen as a policy negative rather than positive. This has to change but the processes to do this are complex. It will require open and transparent communication/negotiation with the diaspora. This will help develop the foundations of long term effective diaspora engagement by making the government and diaspora stakeholders in the relationship – i.e. mutually beneficial. It is too complex, historically and otherwise, to provide any detailed commentary here but a snapshot looks like the following. Build agency through segmentation, produce coherent programmes across departments/agencies, mutliply acountability through greater agency, and produce stakeholding roles for all involved. Consequently, any notion of “harnessing” the diaspora or viewing them as a “potential” pool of engagement is naive, regressive and detrimental. Partnership and stakeholding are much more pertinent.

The final point is possibly the silent partner in the event and all other current discussions around diaspora. A prime contributor to effective diaspora engagement is the host country. In such a light, diasporas have the ability to become major diplomatic players, cultural and otherwise. This is an area which is particularly undeveloped apart from a few excellent works and will remain so unless examined further. That is an indirect challenge rising out of the event this weekend.

So, we close with a word of congratulations to all involved this weekend – It is a good start but it can be so much more. Interesting times ahead, for the Irish at home and abroad.

 

 

An excellent publication was recently launched at U.S. Secretary of State Clinton’s Global Diaspora Forum in May and by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny in September which looks at diaspora strategies. The Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit is available at http://www.diasporamatters.com

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