Wednesday 22 November 2017

Getting birds of a feather to flock together

Advances in technology and the emergence of the "social graph" could deliver unprecedented opportunities to share information, connect people and harness the power of the Irish diaspora, says Facebook's Colm Long

"Technology provides us with a major opportunity to better connect with and harness the Irish diaspora"

MANY commentators have stressed the importance of harnessing the talent, experience and know-how of the Irish diaspora, particularly as the downturn has led us to re-examine who we are, what we do and how we do it.

Much has been written about how other countries, including India, Israel and Taiwan, have recognised their diaspora as a strategic asset for their future success. They have found that through powerful networking comes new opportunities, both social and economic, which are mutually beneficial for both the home country and the diaspora itself.

It wasn't until the years of the Robinson presidency that the achievements and power of the Irish diaspora were fully recognised, as she hailed their economic and social contribution made across the globe and in particular in the US.

Indeed, the significance of the Irish diaspora has never been as clear as it is today. The Ireland Funds, in its 2009 comparative review of international diaspora strategies, highlighted that Ireland has the opportunity of joining Israel and India in the group of top three leading countries to harness the power of their respective diasporas. This process has started in encouraging ways, including the Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh, which happened just under one year ago.

A key question now is, how can this ideal be accelerated? Better forms of communication and more connected transport, for example, have been important drivers in the past. But it will be technology, and in particular social media, which will drive the next phase of engaging with our geographically diverse diaspora.

As the Irish diaspora now boasts more than 70 million people globally, well over 10 times the population of our country itself, there is a major opportunity to harness what Facebook terms the "social graph" to better connect with, share information with and tap into our diaspora for Ireland's social and economic benefit. A few years ago, our founder Mark Zuckerburg explained the concept of the "social graph" -- that if you mapped out all the connections between people and the things they care about, it would form a graph that connects everyone together. Social media have fundamentally changed the way people relate to each other -- we can now connect with more people in more ways. And social networking also allows a richer way to exchange information.

The potential benefits are enormous. Relationships can become even more meaningful and relevant. Connections can be made more easily and quickly. Networking generates more and more opportunities. Opportunities can be grasped in real time. Business start-ups can find other business-start ups. Knowledge can be transferred. Questions can be asked and answered online and valuable feed-back garnered. It can provide a very powerful, rich way of communicating, connecting and engaging with people. If the Irish diaspora is to be fully leveraged, a "database of names" is not enough. You need to connect people, through context and content, to really harness their ideas and drive innovation.

Offline, organisations ranging from Irish emigration advocacy groups through to Irish embassies that have formed networking groups for Irish business leaders, have gone a long way towards the goal of connecting people and sharing information. Now, technology can be harnessed to complement these efforts and connect the Irish diaspora at scale online.

We have already seen the enthusiasm from the Irish diaspora, as well as locally, for initiatives such as 'Your Country Your Call' and 'Gateway Ireland', both of which are using technology for engagement, collaboration and communication. We have seen ourselves at Facebook that people's desire to be connected and share information is undeniable, with around 500 million users worldwide. Now, Ireland can use the power of technology to build stronger relationships with and between our Irish diaspora, which could in turn generate enormous economic and social benefits for Ireland in the coming years.

Colm Long is director of operations, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Facebook.

• Series compiled by John Reynolds

Sunday Independent

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