American Ireland Fund CEO Kieran McLoughlin

As the American Ireland Fund approaches the half billion dollars mark in total money raised, it is also re-examining its role in light of the growing crisis in Ireland.

Proposals put forward by CEO Kieran McLoughlin and Chairman Loretta Brennan Glucksman at their annual conference in Cork would mean major changes for an organization that has come to define the best in the Irish Diaspora.

McLoughlin briefed delegates on a new strategy that would see the Fund adding philanthropic programs to exiting portfolio of grants to small businesses starting up in Ireland in an attempt to stimulate economic activity in the devastated Irish economy.

Using philanthropy to stimulate economic activity is not a new phenomenon.

Koret Israel Economic Development Funds (KIEDF), managed in Israel by former attorney and investment banker Carl Kaplan, pioneered philanthropy for economic development by using a portion of the Koret Foundations endowment.

In the process, Koret has become a model for worldwide programs that help philanthropic organizations stimulate economic activity. In Israel, Koret has provided new small businesses with much needed start-up funds.

The American Ireland Fund move is a bold one but not unexpected for an organization that has come to play a much larger role in Irish philanthropy.

Under Glucksman and McLoughlin, the organization has swept away the old fuddy-duddy image, built a vibrant Young Leaders division and created a major new outreach to celebrities, business people and those keen to help Ireland.

The presence of former President Clinton and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney at the Cork dinner and a lavish reception at the home of Michael Flatley the night before the dinner was just another example of their ability to reach out and deliver major figures in the world of politics, entertainment, and the arts.

The latest step to move away from just strict philanthropy is an exciting one and one that can help small businesses in Ireland significantly.

Another development to come out of the Cork conference is that while the Fund is closing in on its $500 million mark since its inception in 1976 its future is as an endowed institution.

As the conference heard, it is no coincidence that universities represent the vast majority of institutions that make it from one century to the next because of alumni or other major endowments.

That is likely to be the Ireland Fund goal to secure its future.

It is also likely to speak out or have members speak out on Irish related issues. Many at the conference bemoaned the negative image of Ireland that has become prevalent in the American media since the economic crisis hit.

Counter viewpoints are poorly represented, and the Ireland Fund now sees as one of its priorities to provide that needed balance. A recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by member David McCourt taking issue with Ireland’s depiction was just one example used.

All in all, new times and new opportunities for the Ireland Fund which will soon find itself as Ireland’s major philanthropic organization as Atlantic Philanthropies winds down.

Based on the evidence in Cork, it gives every indication of being ready to step up to the plate.