Ireland needs Irish America’s help more than ever says top business leader
Denis O’Brien says urgent need to tap into the Diaspora to move Ireland forward
Denis O’Brien, (54), is Ireland’s most successful businessman and biggest philanthropist. He created Digicell, one of the most successful cell phone companies in the world.
In addition he has a vast media empire but is as well known for his philanthropy, especially in the Third World as his business acumen.
Last week was a good one for O'Brien in New York. Former president Bill Clinton, a close friend, had written in a Time Magazine cover story that his move to make cash transactions available for the poorest in the world via cell phones was the number one idea in changing the world last year.
He had also just received a corporate philanthropic award from the Clinton Global Initiative at their annual meeting. In addition, Forbes Magazine came out with their Richest 400 list and he was rated at number 205 with a $5 billion fortune.
He had just come from a small dinner with President Clinton and Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire and the world's richest man and a few other heavyweights the night before we met and he described with evident relish, how the evening had ended with a few spontaneous songs from all concerned. He makes it clear that his philanthropic work is taking more of his time these days and that Ireland's problems are never far from his mind.
O’D: Tell me, how does it feel to be named in a cover story in Time magazine as making the most difference out of anyone on earth in the last year – by Bill Clinton of all people?
O’B: Well look, you know, it was generous, it was extremely generous of him. It certainly doesn’t feel like that because, you know, everybody is doing their bit in Haiti. There are so many people doing projects – small projects, big projects – there are thousands of people trying to help Haiti at the moment
O’D: How did you come up with this idea of people being able to send money by cell phone?
O’B: Well, they’ve been doing it in Africa for many years, but nobody has really turned it into a commercial proposition yet, So, you know, we have four beta tests at the moment. Well, Haiti now has gone beyond beta tests, but Haiti was the number one, and then Tonga, Papua New Guinea, and also Samoa.
O’D: So, tell me about Bill Clinton. What do you think?
O’B: [Laughs.] You know, his best snippet from last night was, he said “the weight of ants is more than the weight of human beings in the world today.” He was weaving this thing together… He always surprises, and he gets more and more interesting. And the Clinton Global Initiative is the real model because everybody goes to (CGI) , and we all have a good chat and we head home. We learn a few things. But if you go to the CGI, number one you’re making a promise and you have to deliver on it. And what he’s done is he’s used all of his contacts around the world and he’s corralled them all to do something good. He is beloved here If he could run for election tomorrow he’d be in at 60, 65%.
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