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Hub’s O’Brien leads delegation to Limerick, Belfast

By Bill Forry, Editor, special to the BIR, February 27, 2014

Belfast tour: Caption: Special Rep. Drew O’Brien, right, toured Belfast Metropolitan College with members of a delegation of US investors last month. Photo: Michael Cooper PhotographyBelfast tour: Caption: Special Rep. Drew O’Brien, right, toured Belfast Metropolitan College with members of a delegation of US investors last month. Photo: Michael Cooper PhotographyBoston’s own Drew O’Brien — a longtime aide to Secretary of State John Kerry — is forging new bonds between the US government, the Republic of Ireland. and Northern Ireland through his role as a State Department representative focused on diaspora communities around the world. O’Brien recently returned from his second visit to the Republic and Belfast in the last year. Both trips were focused on encouraging US investors to consider new opportunities across the pond.

Last year, O’Brien was named Special Representative in the State Department’s Office of the Global Partnership Initiative. In late January, he led a delegation of US investors, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and representatives from academia and civil society to Limerick and Belfast, as part of a new public-private State Department initiative dubbed a POD— short for Partnership Opportunity Delegations (PODs). The trip focused on partnership opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in particular. The delegation included representatives from Boston College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, along with venture capitalists and other business interests.

“The idea of the POD is not to go on a single issue, but rather go to a place with multiple interests and try to put like-minded people together,” explained O’Brien. “My directive to the group was to have an open mind. You’ll be completely surprised by the good and the bad of [Belfast]. But by the end of the two days you will fall in love with the place. And that’s exactly what happened.”

While in Limerick on Jan. 27-28, O’Brien and the delegation attended the Irish Technology Leadership Group’s Silicon Valley Global Technology Forum, where he delivered remarks. In Belfast on Jan. 28-29, the delegation was hosted by Minister Steven Farry, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly who leads the Department for Employment and Learning.

“We realized we were completely on same page: How do we take what we’re doing in Boston and Cambridge and San Jose and Austin, Texas, and other entrepreneurial pockets and import-export that and bring people over. We do this all over the world,” O’Brien said.

One key member of the delegation, O’Brien said, was Mary Kane, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Sister Cities International, which seeks to pair cities with logical links. Currently, Belfast is linked with Nashville. O’Brien thinks another such pairing with Belfast “might be coming to a city near you.”

Stay tuned.

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