We should exploit our diaspora capital

Walter May says Welsh entrepreneurs abroad can help those at home

Wales has had its fair share of ‘loss of talent’. Many leave Wales, attracted by opportunities overseas, while others go east to London, the UK’s centre of business and commerce and a magnate for opportunity and wealth. However, while we can lament the injustice and damaging effects of changing demographics, we should consider the positive aspects of the emigration of many of Wales’s brightest and best.

The Welsh diaspora present huge opportunities for home-based entrepreneurs to access export markets and find support for many other activities, whether they be sport, culture or tourism. Observe the testimony and experience of the Irish. Kingsley Aikins, chief executive of the Irish Diaspora Matters  says:

“There is growing awareness now that there is such a concept as ‘diaspora capital’ to go alongside financial, human and social capital. Countries are coming to the realization that this is a resource to be researched, cultivated, solicited and stewarded. Many see this as a way of addressing tough domestic economic challenges and as a key piece of their economic recovery. They also see it as more than just economic remittances as there are also social remittances in the form of ideas, values, beliefs and practices.”

One of the lessons and themes of the 2012 inaugural ‘Entrepreneurs Wales’ Conference was the recognition of the value that ‘Entrepreneurs helping Entrepreneurs’, could play in connecting this economically important group with their Welsh Diaspora in support of local success and prosperity.

Bearing in mind the importance that the Irish and Scottish place on their diaspora, the obvious questions is, how developed and

mature is the Welsh Diaspora? The answer is not very. We know very little about:

• The size, distribution and profile the ‘Welsh Diaspora’.

• The potential of the Welsh Diaspora to support ‘Welsh Entrepreneurs’ in accessing export markets, collaborative development, access to funding, not to mention other areas of civic life such as arts, culture and tourism.

It is clear that Wales falls far behind our nearest neighbours in leveraging the talent, knowledge, networks, wealth and local understanding of their expats. Welsh people are nothing, if not innately attached to this unique country of ours. There exists alatent desire and passion to stay umbilically connected to their country of origin and wanting to ‘put something back’. However, many will testify to the frustration of a lack of mechanisms to do so.

We have a strong past and recent history of entrepreneurship, including individuals who have changed the world and from whom we could learn some important and sometimes painful lessons. I believe we are mature enough and have the desire to ‘up our game’, to compete in a global world.

So while we struggle to make Wales an entrepreneurially friendly place to do business, let’s give our resident business leaders the opportunity to connect with and learn from those that have ‘been there and done it’ in the wider world. We should want to connect with non-resident, talented and successful Welsh people that have the passion and desire to help us succeed in this hugely competitive global market.

It’s time to take a lead from our Irish and Scottish neighbours.

Walter May is a lead mentor on the Welsh Government’s ‘High Potential Start-Up programme’. In November 2012 he organised the inaugural ‘Entrepreneurs Wales’ conference followed by a series of related seminars through 2013. He organises the LinkedIn Group ‘Welsh Entrepreneurs’. If you wish to get involved in discussing this issue and help move the debate forward, email him at [email protected].

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