Last weekend the third Worldwide Summit of the Ireland Funds’ Young Leaders gathered in New York City.
120 young philanthropists from across the US as well as Canada, Ireland, Britain and as far as Australia discussed how they can increase their contributions to Irish charities.
The Young Leaders are effectively the youth wing of the Ireland Funds. Up until recently, it was a loose group who gathered at the fringes of some of the Funds’ top end events around the world. Social interaction was the original motivation.
However, in the last number of years the Funds have invested considerably in this initiative, appointing a National Director of the Young Leaders, Pat Tully.
This has all been part of the aggressive growth strategy from the Funds pursued by its CEO Kieran McLoughlin.
When he took over in 2009 he launched the 'Promising Ireland Campaign,' his plan to accelerate giving to the organization despite the fact philanthropy was going through a really tough time in the US.
The results have been extraordinary. The goal for the campaign has been doubled from $100 to $200 million and basically one third of everything the organization has raised over its close to forty year history has come in over the last five years.
So far during that period the Funds have supported over 650 charities and last year gave away $20 million. This is all the more impressive considering that there is not a dime or a euro of Irish or US government money included in these numbers. Everything is raised from private supporters.
However, investing in the Young Leaders is not just about money, although these up and comers in their thirties will collectively raise $2 million for the campaign, this is still about seeding the leadership of
Irish America for the future. According to McLoughlin, Ireland cannot afford to takes these young people for granted.
“They are wealthier and more integrated within mainstream America than their parents or grandparents. It would be a mistake to think that all the traditional emblems of Irish identity were still as relevant to them.
"We have got to work hard to maintain their interest and their concern. These people have the resources and connections and are as likely to travel to Barcelona as they are to Bantry. The good news is, however, that as they get beyond some of the more twee representations of Ireland they really engage with reality.
"They are genuinely interested in making a difference and helping to resolve knotty social problems. Proof of that is the fact that 120 are traveling from around the world on their own dime to be with us and 100 of them will join our annual worldwide conference in Belfast in June. Ireland cannot take its preeminent position in the American system for granted.
"As America changes and becomes more diverse and as other communities such as Hispanics and Asian Americans organize and mobilize, our position will be less assured. Preparing the Young Leaders now to fight Ireland’s corner is essential.”
That said, real business is getting done. Yesterday, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland secured a $100,000 gift from a donor to whom they were introduced by the American Ireland Fund. Commenting, SEI’s Darren Ryan said, “The support for the work of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland has come at a crucial time and it wouldn’t have happened without the support of the Fund. It is humbling to see the continued passion that Irish Americans have for cases in Ireland.”