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Irish Institute Extending Its Mission to the Wider World

“Situations and needs never stay constant in this field,” says Irish Institute Director Robert Mauro (above). “So we’ve asked ourselves, ‘Are there elements of the Irish Institute’s model that are appropriate, and can succeed, outside Ireland and Northern Ireland?’ We believe the answer is ‘Yes.’” (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Apr. 24, 2014

The Irish Institute of Boston College, whose use of professional education as a means to promote peace and reconciliation has won acclaim in Ireland and Northern Ireland, is expanding its geographical scope and range of disciplines.

Starting in May, the institute will offer leadership training to professionals from around the world, in areas of business, management, social sciences and natural sciences.

A group of MBA students from the Gulf University of Science and Technology (GUST) in Kuwait will attend the inaugural Global Leadership Institute (GLI) program, which centers on international business development. A cohort of Brazilian business professionals will travel to BC for the second GLI program, on innovation and social media, later this summer.

The Irish Institute also is exploring a possible partnership through which it would bring its signature professional education/peace-and-reconciliation programs to work with participants from Middle Eastern countries.

Driving the change, says Irish Institute Director Robert Mauro, is a combination of factors tied to shifts in America’s geopolitical priorities and the world’s regional economies. Even with a broadened focus, however, Mauro notes that the institute continues its offerings – albeit in modified form – to Irish and Northern Irish professionals, and will welcome its next group at the end of April.

“Situations and needs never stay constant in this field,” says Mauro, who joined the institute, part of BC’s Center for Irish Programs, in 2011. “There are certain realities we have to face, which is that some resources and opportunities are simply not present in the way they once were. So we’ve asked ourselves, ‘Are there elements of the Irish Institute’s model that are appropriate, and can succeed, outside Ireland and Northern Ireland?’ We believe the answer is ‘Yes.’”

Established in 1997, the Irish Institute built on the work of the Center for Irish Management, created five years earlier to formalize programs for emerging business leaders in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Bringing together professionals from government, education, non-profits and business, the institute – with the support of the US State Department – offered a low-key, low-visibility approach to promoting peace throughout all Ireland. BC faculty members played a vital role in the institute’s work, contributing their expertise in lectures and seminars or helping plan programs.

The institute’s programs were widely seen as aiding a push for normalization and cross-border and cross-community cooperation, in addition to strengthening US links to the island’s top practitioners and policymakers.

Despite the breakthrough 1998 peace agreement, political, social and economic concerns remain in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. But inexorably the US has turned its attention to other parts of the world, or to matters at home, Mauro says, and resources for work such as that being done by the institute are simply not as available.

Rather than fold up the tent, according to Mauro, the institute is seeking new venues for its programming while still serving the needs of its original target population. A promising market for academic-based professional education has appeared in regions marked by impressive economic growth, such as South America, the Far East, and the Persian Gulf, and Mauro and colleagues anticipate where the GLI will draw the most interest.

“We feel that, with the contribution of our BC faculty and our networks in public and private sectors, the institute has a lot to offer in terms of professional education,” says Mauro. “So why not make it available to other areas of the world that are seeking to strengthen the knowledge base and skills of their professional workforce?”

Mauro envisions a multifaceted range of specialties and disciplines in GLI programs: a business sequence, for example, that might encompass marketing, strategic operations and social media; a social sciences offering that examines the interrelations of institutions and governments; or areas like renewable energy and material sciences, foreign direct investment, and medical technology.

“GLI programs will provide an opportunity for professionals to enhance skills and network abroad – all under the auspices of a top American university,” says Mauro, who notes that the institute plans collaborations with Boston College-Ireland that include the European market.

The potential Middle East-based partnership now under discussion would represent another exciting new dimension for the institute, he adds.

“The concept is that there are aspects of the Irish Institute model, and its track record in aiding peace and reconciliation in Ireland and Northern Ireland, that perhaps can serve as a basis for dealing with regions in conflict elsewhere. We say, ‘Here is a process we set up, these are the conversations we’ve had, and these are the outcomes. Join us and see how it works.’”

But Mauro is quick to note that the institute remains committed to Ireland and Northern Ireland. From April 30 to June 7, the institute will host two month-long fellowship programs – sponsored with the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs – that examine how the US seeks to inculcate in its young citizens the importance of justice and rule of law through good governance. Two 16-person cohorts of policy makers, activists, legal experts, youth leaders and youth workers, police and justice officials from Ireland and Northern Ireland will engage with American counterparts, serve internships and travel to Washington, DC, to join in the Professional Fellows Congress.

“Although we’ve changed some aspects of our traditional programming – we’ve expanded the duration to one month, and have each participant focus on one organization instead of multiples – this is at the heart and soul of our mission,” says Mauro. “The Irish Institute continues to be a relevant force for social and economic development in Ireland and Northern Ireland.”