After a career spanning 25 years from Australia, US and Ireland, Dublin-born entrepreneur and master connector Kingsley Aikins has set up a company specializing in connecting countries with their diaspora communities.
Since establishing Diaspora Matters in 2009 he has worked with 15 countries, helping them develop diaspora strategies. More recently, Aikins is working closely with the US State Department on their diaspora initiatives.
He initially set up Diaspora Matters because of a belief that there is a gap in the market to provide services and information to countries who want to develop their diaspora strategies.
“There is a difference between the state and the nation: the state refers to lines on a map, but the nation is a global notion. [In Ireland’s case], rather than being a small island on the edge of Europe of about 5 million people we are, in fact, a global empire of 70 million people spread around the world. Now, for possibly the first time ever and because of technology and communications, we can be linked instantaneously, constantly and intensely. Geography is history.”
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Why does diaspora matter?
According to Aikins, “there are now over 240 million people living in a country other than their own, up from 150 million in 1990. In the old days these were 'lost actors.' Now, because of technology and communications they can be a 'national asset' and the whole notion of the nation state has changed.”
Diaspora capital has three elements – people, knowledge and finance.
What is the opportunity for Ireland in this space?
Aikins believes passionately that Ireland can become a world leader in this space of activating diaspora communities.
“We are very much one of the top countries and we are attracting a lot of attention from others. If we can position ourselves as thought leaders in this field the world will beat a path to our door for teaching, training, research and consultancy. The sector is still only in its infancy and technology will be a major game changer.”
There are some steps that Ireland and her diaspora can take to become a true world leader in this space.
Kingsley Aikins has the benefit of several decades working with Irish diaspora communities and his belief is that we need to change our mindset.
Ireland needs to start thinking about what we can do for the diaspora rather than what the diaspora can do for us. “In life the more you give the more you get.”
Aikins maintains that the single most important thing to do is to listen to the diaspora.
“India did that at the turn of the century and learnt a lot. They implemented much of what they learnt. Ireland is currently engaging in such an exercise.”
According to Aikins, the current world leaders in this sector are India, China, Ireland and Israel. Next on this list are countries like Mexico and the Phillipines. Ones to watch for the near future are Malaysia, Vietnam, Georgia, Poland, Chile, Kenya, Ghana, Lithuania, Lebanon and Morocco.
Advice for fellow networkers and entrepreneurs:
“The information age is over and we now live in the networked world. In this networked world the measurement of power is connectedness. Global connections are critically important, especially for such an open economy as Ireland. Our diaspora gives us a huge competitive advantage here which we should always work at and never take for granted.The key is building 'social capital' which is defined as the resources available to us in our personal and business networks.”
For Aikins this is about getting the word out and encouraging people to check out the Diaspora Matters website; watch the videos and download the free publications.
If you want to find out more, check out the Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit, which was launched at the Hillary Clinton Global Diaspora Forum in Washington DC in 2012.