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Exclusive Interview with: Kingsley Aikins Diaspora Matters founder and former CEO & President of The Worldwide Ireland Funds

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Mr. Mutenza was privileged to interview one of the greatest icon in the Diaspora movement and founder of the renowned Irish Diaspora Matters.

1. Who is Kingsley Aikins?
I am an Irish born and educated person who has lived and worked extensively overseas. I was CEO of the Worldwide Ireland Finds from 1992 to 2011. This year I established a consultancy company Diaspora Matters (www.diasporamatters.com) to work with Governments, companies, organisations and individuals to help them develop strategies to connect with their Diasporas. I write and lecture extensively on diaspora and philanthropy issues and have put together Toolkits on both topics. I am very actively involved with Ireland’s efforts to develop greater connections with her Diaspora.

2. What inspired you?
Two things really. Firstly, I raised a quarter of a billion dollars in the Irish Diaspora to fund projects of Peace, Culture and Charity in Ireland, North and South. This was at zero cost to the Irish government and the Irish taxpayer. I saw the power and influence of the Diaspora in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland.

Secondly, I asked myself a number of questions as follow. What made China the world’s manufacturing powerhouse, what made India a global  technology hub, what made Israel the second largest venture capital country in the world and what helped bring peace to Northern Ireland? To me, the answer to each of those questions was the same ie networking with their diasporas primarily in the USA. When you put it in that context, then the power and potential is obvious.

What inspires me is that so many countries are now realising that and are beginning to see their diasporas as terrific resources but they need to find ways to connect with them. Emigration is being viewed differently and there is the possibility that brain drain can become brain gain and brain exchange. There are 215 million people who live in a country other than the one they were born in and that number has tripled in 40 years. Communications and technology are making it possible to identify and connect with these people in new and innovative ways.

3. Best way to harness the Diaspora?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ but there is, I believe, stages of evolution that countries tend to go through. For many countries, that starts with remittances and moves to philanthropy followed by business networks followed by venture capital. Perhaps the best way to start is to try to figure out what the home country can do for the Diaspora rather than always looking to what the Diaspora can do for the home country. The key is to build networks and begin to apply the 4 phase process of Research, Cultivation, Solicitation and Stewardship that are outlined in the Diaspora Toolkit.

4. Lessons from Ireland
Every country does it differently and Ireland is no exception. The political problems in Northern Ireland were an ‘ever present’ in diaspora affairs. However, the key lesson for Ireland is that hundreds of different organisations grew up around the world. This, in my view, is a confirmation
that there is no such thing as an Irish Diaspora, rather there are dozens of Irish diasporas and you need different strategies to deal with each one. The glue that keeps them all together is self interest which is why it is important that they need to see that they get something out of the relationship with the home country. In Ireland’s case, some organisations flourished and some failed. Key is always the quality of the leadership. In short, then, I believe in ‘letting a thousand flowers bloom’.

5. Diaspora Bonds
Key here is distribution, credibilty and reportability. Israel and India are the gold standards in this field. Easier said than done.

6 Role of Government
My view is that governments are better as facilitators than implementers but they have a very important role in giving their imprimatur and approval and allowing their facilities eg embassies to be used. However, if the market does not respond, then sometimes they have to intervene to kickstart activity. Obviously, some activities such as the issuance of bonds or certificates of citizenship need to be run by governments.

7. Hillary Clinton’s Initiative
This was the first ever such event held by the US government and was very significant for that. It reinforced a realisation by the US State Department that this is an important topic and is part of America’s ‘soft power’ that can lead to hard impacts. It is also part of the reinvention of how America sees its role in the world and is part of the 21st Century Statecraft approach of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Working closely with US based Diasporas greatly helps America’s influence in the world. I think it is fair to say that peace would not have occurred the way it did in Northern Ireland without the role played by the US government and the Irish Diaspora in the US.

Hillary Clinton has also announced the creation of IdEA – International Diaspora Engagement Alliance – which could play a very big role in the future.

8. Your message to governments who don’t engage their Diaspora
The message is simple. You are missing out. Other countries are now doing it and some of the most successful countries in the world have been doing it very well for a very long time. It is proven to work. Now techology and communications are making it more possible. Migrants tend to be very successful and we need to tap into their success, wealth, contacts, know-how and experience. We now live in a world where it is not who you know, not even what you know but who knows you. The key to success is thriving in a networked age. The world is no longer even about countries but rather cities and regions where clusters of creative people congregate.

9. Investing in Uganda
I have watched Tullow Oil in Uganda….very successful Irish company. I am not in a position to invest but clearly they are very happy with it and this will lead to more. The West needs to understand just what an economic powerhouse Africa is. They don’t, but key people in the Diaspora could help get this message out.

10. Words of encouragement
This is an incredibly exciting time for the potential of developing greater involvement with diasporas. Everybody can play a role and governments need to make that clear. Every government department, corporation, organisation, province, town, village and individual can do something. It needs inspiring leadership and a ‘national call to arms’. If that happens, then amazing results will ensue. Key to success is innovation, identifying people who can make things happen and  engaging the next generation.

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