NORMAN HOUSTON'S DC DIARY: It’s now four months after I stepped down from my role as Director of the NI Bureau in Washington DC and I am back living the (very cold) US capital. This has been my base for almost 15 years, and it is a truly wonderful place to live. But now I am back, I am often asked by old friends and colleagues how I am settling into my new role with Co-operation Ireland and what the differences are. I, of course, am privileged to have been accepted into the role but where people think my work is different, there is actually a great deal of continuity from my last position. As Director of the NI Bureau, I never ceased to be heartened by the level of genuine affection for all things related to the Peace Process and Ireland and Northern Ireland in general. This support for the Peace Process is really an interest in the wellbeing of the people of our islands and in the meetings I have had since arriving back in the US I have detected no weakening of resolve from the diaspora to help support our forging of relationships ‘back home’. That was certainly the message on Tuesday February 11 when I was the guest speaker the Irish Network DC’s monthly meeting, held at the prestigious New York University’s DC campus. Over sixty people turned up and the Q&A session, which followed my talk, demonstrated how much potential support there is out there for what Co-operation Ireland in doing back home. Some in the audience were unaware that it was Co-operation Ireland that made it possible for Her Majesty the Queen and the late Martin McGuinness to shake hands back in 2016 or that we remain the forefront of working with loyalist communities in North Belfast and with disadvantaged youth in Creggan, Derry/Londonderry. As I got into my stride the examples get coming out and I surprised myself at just how much I had picked up after one month in the job. I truly believe we are making a difference a that we have a story that’s worth telling. NEW YORK Who doesn’t like a trip to New York? Recently I had the privilege of making a quick trip up on the train to address The Ireland Funds Young Leaders Conference at Fordham University. Over one hundred young professionals from all over the globe, including both parts the island, descended on the Big Apple for three days of intense training and presentations. My only worry was that I had to follow Jim Clerkin, Co-operation Ireland’s US Chair, who has just given a riveting talk about his stellar career. The Rostrevor native is a hard act to follow and as someone who’s in the top position at Moet Hennessy’s US HQ, the audience was all-ears. Co-operation Ireland has benefited hugely from the Ireland Funds and I was able to talk about the very really difference on the ground that its funding has made to work on the Shankill Road in Belfast and with young people on both sides of the border around the Brexit issue. It was an inspiring afternoon and again, the goodwill of the people around that table proved that the diaspora remains a powerful ally in our ongoing relationship building work. FORD FOUNDATION In my sixteen years working as a diplomat in Washington and having met four presidents, I am not usually apprehensive about meeting anyone but I had a few jitters on Thursday last week when I secured a call with Dr Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation is probably the most iconic philanthropic organisation on the planet and one that predates by a hundred-years the other big ones that we hear so much about today. Darren Walker is a legend in his field and being able to get access to him was a triumph in itself. My nerves didn’t improve after researching who was on Ford’s Board of Directors, it truly is an international organisation whose programs are impacting in some of the most challenging regions of the world. As it transpired Dr Walker turned out not be scary at all but charming and totally focused on listening to what I had to say about Co-operation Ireland and what we do. The Ford Foundation is mainly based in developing countries but once I described what we are doing to instil leadership skills in disadvantaged young people and provide neutral space for dissenting groups to get together, he was genuinely interested. It was a pleasure to speak to Dr Walker and to be able to build a relationship with an important philanthropic organisation that is respected through the world. To this day a member of the Ford family sits on the Board of the foundation which speaks to its influence. FITZPATRICK No self-respecting Irish American or anyone connected with philanthropy back home would admit to not knowing John Fitzpatrick OBE - the legendary owner of the Fitzpatrick Hotels Group and the former chairman of the Ireland Funds. John’s too modest to admit it but his friendships over the years include NI politicians, American presidents and a who’s who of Taoisigh and just about everyone else who beats a path to New York. I consider him a friend and he’s a big supporter of reconciliation work at home. I met John on Friday last (February 14) to talk about my new role and how Co-operation Ireland’s relationship building work is going on on both sides of the border and the Irish Sea including Cork , Dublin and Derry/Londonderry Belfast and London, often in the most disadvantaged areas. John ‘gets it’ and he is very keen to help me open new doors. With friends like him we know we have solid support for our important work.