Your Country Your Call is a national ideas competition launched by Ireland's President Mary McAleese. The two winning entries will each receive a prize of $150,000 to develop their ideas. The primary focus of the campaign is business/economics and the overall winning entry will receive $850,000 to fully develop their idea.
But Your Country Your Call is really more than a competition. It's a national brainstorming exercise where all Irish people can contribute ideas and also offer their views on others' ideas. The ideas can fit into any of 8 broad categories or 'Other', which leaves it wide open. Only two proposals will ultimately be “winners”, but there's every likelihood that many good ideas will emerge from this process. The key will be collating, organizing and prioritizing all this information.
This is a great initiative for many reasons:
- it encourages positive thinking about the nation's future at a time when despair would be the easy option;
- it solicits the views of Irish people from all walks of life and not just those who are generally asked “where now?”, namely those who control the levers of business, finance, labor, academia, politics or the media.;
- it involves people who live outside Ireland, seeking out their views (as noted by Amy Feran here.) This provides a sort of 'lower house' democratic counter to the recent Global Irish Economic Forum for the Irish rich and powerful.
I registered my own idea yesterday. It's not really a new idea because I've been talking to people about this since the early 90s. Basically what I would like to see is an Irish version of Israel's kibbutzes.
Traditional, self-sufficient farms should be developed where young Irish people – from Ireland and elsewhere – can live simple, basic lives, working hard in a natural environment. I'm not talking about new, permanent homes for people, but places where students will come for a summer or a winter break or a semester or even a full year. No more than that.
Originally I thought of this as a spiritual exercise, one sponsored by the Catholic Church, but right now I'm just as happy that I never pursued that back in the 90s. That could happen, indeed should happen, but not until the Church has put its house in order. Other Christian denominations might also like to try such an approach.
An underlying spiritual theme is only one possibility, however. There should be themes to each of these set-ups. There could be a language, music theme to one 'kibbutz' (really need an old Gaelic word here). There could be one developed around creative writing, where students could be exposed to the culture that inspired Yeats, Synge and others. There could even be an Irish history theme to another.
Just as with the Ireland Homecoming Study Programme, the young men and women who come to Ireland and experience this aspect of Irish folk history and culture will leave Ireland as unofficial ambassadors, promoting Ireland and its culture. So let's send out the call around the world, "Hard work and simple living awaits you in Ireland."