Last week, Kieran McLoughlin, president and CEO of The Worldwide Ireland Funds spoke at the Irish Business Organization breakfast and I had a chance to talk with him about philanthropy and the Irish diaspora.
"The global Irish making a difference together" is the tagline of The Ireland Funds. The global Irish, a scattering of over 70 million people of Irish descent, make up what is today known as the Irish diaspora.
Irish America - primarily the 36.9 million U.S. residents who claimed Irish ancestry in 2009 - comprises the largest
percentage and proportionately imparts the most influence.
In recent years, there has been extensive interest in the global Irish tribe as governments and organizations look to engage this potential network to generate economic support for Ireland.
The Ireland Funds is recognized as a leader in the area of diaspora philanthropy, explained McLoughlin.
"The potential of the Irish diaspora is staggering and many want to connect with the land of their ancestry in meaningful ways," he said.
The funds started in 1976, today operate in 39 cities and 11 countries, and to date the organization has raised over $370 million for worthy causes in Ireland. The majority of the large gifts come from individual philanthropists in the U.S., they being primarily Irish Americans who are interested in the wellbeing of Ireland.
"Our priority now is the Promising Ireland campaign," stated McLoughlin.
The goal of the campaign is to raise $100 million by 2013 for Ireland's charities. The title of the campaign was chosen carefully and is intended to express concern for Ireland, but also confidence in its future.
McLoughlin added that as Ireland experiences deep economic and social challenges, the funds have to do everything they possibly can to keep key programs alive.
"The generosity of our donors is a remarkable testament to the concern of the extended Irish family," he said.
"To be so ahead of our target at is very encouraging, and it is also wonderful that Irish born donors are stepping up and playing their part."
Interestingly, in 2009, only 12 percent of charities made a surplus. The Ireland Funds was one of them.
The funds take a proactive approach and seek out worthy projects throughout Ireland and abroad in core areas: peace and reconciliation, education, community building and the arts.
"We seed them with small grants so the idea can grow, said McLoughlin.
"If the project shows a lot of promise, we match it with like-minded donors."
Among the programs funded this year is the "Forgotten Irish" campaign, a project that originated in Great Britain and is now instituted in several U.S. cities. McLoughlin noted that this was an example of a cross fertilization of ideas.
The London Ireland Fund met older Irish who had immigrated there in the 1950s. They had sent money home for years, but now, many of them are elderly and isolated.
"The campaign allows us to assist and honor those whose contributions should never be forgotten," McLoughlin said.
A new initiative, soon to be announced, is "No Mind Left Behind." The program is designed to assist disadvantaged students across Ireland gain access to a higher level education. The strategy is to connect individual donors on a more local level with underserved youth.
As CEO of a worldwide organization, Kieran McLoughlin has a steady surplus of travel miles. In the next three weeks, he is traveling to fund meetings in Singapore, China and Australia.
His work philosophy is simple.
"Just do it! Simple as that. Don't over think it, but embrace the challenge and get it done; that is the American way."
When asked where he goes for guidance, he replied: "My board and the donors of course. We have the best CEOs, and leaders of industry collaborating with us. They want us to succeed and of course, we have to be accountable. They are demanding, but we work well together."
Considering the diaspora as a national asset is certainly not a new phenomenon, nor is it unique to Ireland. However, The Ireland Funds is a model that other governments look to when beginning to think about engaging their global citizens in innovative ways.
For more information on the Promising Campaign, go to www.irlfunds.org.
* On October 12, the Irish Business Organization will hold a reception at the Irish Consulate in Manhattan and accept board nominations for next year. For more information, go to www.ibo-ny.com.