The cities of Boston Massachusetts and Atlanta Georgia played host to a group of thirteen representatives from economic development agencies, civic and professional bodies, and the academic community in Ireland and Northern Ireland in April of this year. The visitors were participants on a program designed to explore how best to support individuals traditionally under-represented in small business and entrepreneurship, particularly women and those from immigrant or economically disadvantaged communities. During their visit, participants took academic seminars with professors from three American universities in addition to over a dozen site visits to exemplary American organizations in the economic development sector. The program aimed to generate a conversation about new strategies for encouraging and promoting small business developers and entrepreneurs as they seek to implement a suitable business model. The ten-day study visit was designed and delivered by the Irish Institute at Boston College and funded through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Irish Institute’s mission is to support the peace and reconciliation process on the island through the provision of educational seminars and programs for public officials, business leaders, and educators. This is the tenth year in which their programs have received funding from the U.S. Government.
The first week of the program, held in Boston, featured a seminar entitled “Perspectives on US Economic Performance” with Professor Robert Murphy of the Economics department at Boston College, and a seminar entitled “Critical Success Factors in Entrepreneurship” with Professor Ken Morse, Managing Director of the Entrepreneurship Center at MIT. The issues addressed in the classroom were put into context by meetings with community leaders and organizations that have successfully promoted entrepreneurship and civic empowerment among individuals and groups traditionally having a smaller share of the economy. These included sessions with Reverend Cheng Imm Tan, Director of the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians, Ms. Donna Good, CEO of Women in Enterprise, Ms. Jean Horstman, CEO of InnerCity Entrepreneurs, and Sister Lena Deevy, Executive Director of the Irish Immigration Center. While in Boston, the group also met with Mr. Andre Silva of Accion USA (a micro loan organization) and with the staff of the Young Entrepreneurs Project, a skills and training program for young people with disabilities. In addition, the visitors were lucky enough to hear first hand from one of the country’s most successful new entrepreneurs, Ms. Allison O’Kelly, CEO of Momcorps. A particular highlight of the Boston portion of the program was the opportunity for a private meeting with Senator John Kerry and his wife, Mrs. Teresa Heinz Kerry. Senator Kerry is Chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, and he spoke to the participants about the Committee’s efforts to reform the Small Business Administration (SBA).
The second week of the Accessing the Economy program saw the participants travel to Atlanta, Georgia, a city with a number of innovative efforts designed to boost the numbers of women and minorities involved in small businesses development. The group began the week with a seminar entitled “Lessons from Economic Development in Georgia” with Professor Shena Ashley of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. The session highlighted the many parallels between the region’s economic experience and that of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Participants went on to meet with the staff at GSU’s Small Business Development Center. Other meetings included those with Ms. BryAnn Chen, Director of the Women’s Refugee Network, Mr. Glen Gould of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and with Ms. Teri Denison, Regional Director of the Small Business Administration. The visitors had an extremely informative meeting with Mr. Jim Gaffey, President and CEO of the Gaffey Group, an organization devoted to fostering economic and cultural links between the state of Georgia and the island of Ireland. They spent a memorable and interesting morning with Ms. Deardra Campbell and the staff of the Women’s Economic Development Agency and later in the week with Ms. Mary Ellen McClanahan, Director of the Governor’s Entrepreneur and Small Business Office. Before returning home, participants paid a visit to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. historical site.