The 2010 Conference of The Worldwide Ireland Funds was notable not only for its size – with 273 delegates the largest in the organization’s history – but for the fact that it was a true coming together of generations supporting the work of the Funds.
This year, in addition to those who have long-supported the mission, came new faces and ideas from the “Young Leaders” – those emerging philanthropists aged 25 to 40.
Day One: A Welcome from the US Ambassador
Delegates from the US, Ireland, China, France, Great Britain and Canada arrived in Dublin on June 17 for four days of immersion into the work and vision of The Ireland Funds. The Conference officially opened with a cocktail reception and welcome from US Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney and his wife Patricia at their residence in Phoenix Park. Amb. Rooney, The co-founder of The American Ireland Fund, spoke to those gathered about the history of The Ireland Funds and how the interest and investment the American people made in The American Ireland Fund so long ago, had planted the seeds for the success of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland today.
Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Chairman of The American Ireland Fund, also welcomed the guests and applauded the commitment of Amb. Rooney and those who had stood with The American Ireland Fund over three decades. She urged guests to open themselves to the experiences and diverse viewpoints they would hear over the next few days as they visited projects enabled by The Ireland Funds. Guest enjoyed the warm summer evening strolling the grounds of the Ambassador’s residence as new and old friends toasted the days to come.
Day Two: Belfast
Early Friday morning guests boarded the Enterprise train bound for Belfast, Northern Ireland. First stop was the Balmoral Hotel in West Belfast where a panel of Loyalist activists spoke to those gathered. The presentation and Q & A session was a unique opportunity for delegates, many of whom were in Belfast for the first time, to hear a not-as-well-known perspective of those who had been on the front line of the Troubles. Dr. Maurice Hayes provided an introduction to the panel. Those individuals have all renounced violence as a means to conflict resolution and today are channeling their energy into “mending not defending.” The need for economic development and, in particular, support for disenfranchised youth, was stressed as being key to the sustained success of keeping the peace in this tenuous area.
The next project the delegates visited was Cranmore Integrated Primary School. The integrated school movement has been supported by The Ireland Funds since the opening of the first school in 1981 and this was a chance for donors to see that funding in action. Joining us were Baroness May Blood, Chair of the Integrated Education Campaign and Paul Caskey, Campaign Director, Integrated Education Fund. The schoolchildren had decorated the assembly hall with art projects illustrating the many ties between Ireland and the US (many learned for the first time that 11 US presidents have ancestry traced to Northern Ireland!) and welcomed the delegates with songs. Principal Helen Hamilton told guests of the support The Ireland Funds have given to Cranmore over the years and the difference it has made. She cited the school’s Sensory Room that serves as therapy for children with special needs, as an initiative that existed thanks only to the generosity of our donors. Principal Hamilton proudly pointed out that the term “integrated” refers not just to bringing students from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds together at Cranmore, but also children from various cultural traditions and children with special needs. AIF Chairman Loretta Brennan Glucksman presented Principal Hamilton with a check for £5,000 to further advance the work of the school and afterwards, guests moved throughout the building to meet teachers and students.
Finally, the group arrived at the Northern Ireland Science Park to hear about a new initiative supported by The Ireland Funds: a mentor program which will provide Northern Ireland students with business experience at some of the America’s top companies.
First Minister Rt. Hon. Peter D. Robinson MLA and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MP MLA held a discussion with Conference delegates and emphasized the importance of the program and the impact it will have on Northern Ireland’s skill base. Mr. Robinson said: “The Northern Ireland economy needs graduates with the skills and experience to start businesses and to become leaders in their communities. As a result of this programme, our brightest most dynamic young graduates will be placed with some of America’s most venerable institutions where they will develop the skills we need to grow our economy.”
Mr McGuinness said: “This project and approach is another step as we build our economy and promote growth. This is to be welcomed and supported but we must ensure that the benefits of economic prosperity are enjoyed equally by all. We want to build our partnership with The Ireland Funds to further the process of peace building and ensuring no community is left behind and we seek to create a better future for all.”
U.S. Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly, said: “For a number of these companies, this program represents their first direct experience in employing people directly from Northern Ireland and the program will allow them to see first hand the talented graduates produced each year by the region’s universities. At the same time, all the companies in the program offer best-in-class business and management experience that will greatly benefit the program participants for the rest of their lives.
The corporate program is being chaired by Bob McCann, CEO of UBS Wealth Management and a Board Director of The American Ireland Fund.
Companies currently committed to supporting the initiative include Almac, BNY Mellon, Coca Cola, General Electric, HSBC, Moet Hennessy, Mutual of America, Sandler O’Neill, SG Cown and UBS.
AIF Chairman Loretta Brennan Glucksman reflected that the day had really been an overview of the type of investment The Ireland Funds had made in Northern Ireland to support the Peace Process, to encourage integration and dialogue, and to promote the very best of the area’s business potential. Our group boarded the train back to Dublin with a new perspective on the needs and promise of Northern Ireland.
Day Three: Farmleigh and the National Gallery
While the day in Belfast was a chance to see examples of what The Ireland Funds have done on the ground, Saturday was a day for a plenary session to talk about what The Ireland Funds can accomplish in the future. President & CEO Kieran McLoughlin and Director Caitriona Fottrell first presented around the state of the organization which highlighted the fact that while 2009 was the worst year in the history of philanthropy worldwide, The Ireland Funds had succeeded thanks to the generosity and commitment of our donors. The Ireland Funds outperformed 88% of U.S. charities in 2009 and it was announced that The Ireland Funds had distributed $7 million in grants to worthy organizations in the first half of 2010, a stunning success in light of the current global downturn.
Michael Martin, Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, then addressed those gathered and said it was essential that Ireland valued and affirmed the validity of the sense of Irishness felt by people abroad. He used the opportunity to announce that the Irish government was establishing a certificate of Irish heritage for up to 70 million people of Irish descent around the world who do not qualify for citizenship. The initiative was first proposed at the Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh last year. The announcement was greeted with great enthusiasm and support from the room and was immediately reported in Irish news outlets around the world.
After the Minister’s address, three panels covering the future of The Ireland Funds’ Young Leaders program commenced. Chaired by Caitlin McCormick, NY Regional Director; Hugo MacNeill, Chair of The Ireland Funds Board; and Rachel Alabiso, Chief Communications Officer; the panels presented around the issues of the success and challenges of The American Ireland Fund’s Young Leaders network, the viability and plans for a Young Leaders program in Ireland, and the use of social media around international networking, respectively. Panelists include Caitlin Duffy Smurfit MBA Participant; Keith Mangan, Group Risk Manager for NTR PLC, Dublin; Sean Coughlin, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland; Adele Cooper, Director of Global Customer Marketing & Communications for Facebook; and Anna Kupka, Founder & Director of Ammado, Dublin. A lively question and answer session from a packed room of 130 young supporters followed, and the conversation will serve as the basis for products that The Ireland Funds will offer to this engaged sector of supporters. The uniqueness of The Ireland Funds’ network was clear. Those at Farmleigh agreed that going forward; this network will undoubtedly continue to be a rallying point for the Irish Diaspora.
Saturday evening was a celebration of the best of Irish culture and a true moment of pride for The Ireland Funds and those gathered. Guests arrived to the Gallery located in the very center of Dublin and walked the red carpet into the historic hall of Ireland’s National Gallery. The room was abuzz and at capacity as guests dined surrounded by some of the Gallery’s 14,000 paintings. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the 38th Annual AWB Vincent AIF Literary Award to Colm Toibin.
He spoke of the importance of the support that The Ireland Funds had given to preserving and promoting Irish cultural treasures over the last three decades and thanked those present for their leadership. He poignantly shared the example of the support given by The Ireland Funds to preserving the musical traditions of Tory island in the 1980s, when few other bodies saw the value.
In attendance were Seamus Heaney, 2nd recipient of this award, Founders Sir Anthony O’Reilly and Ambassador Dan Rooney. Speakers included Ireland’s Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Pat Carey;
Chairman of The Ireland Funds in Ireland, Hugo MacNeill; Loretta Brennan Glucksman and Kieran McLoughlin. A wonderful evening of Irish music was provided by Frankie Gavin and De Danan.