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].

5 thoughts on “We should exploit our diaspora capital

  1. More navel gazing based on the false premise that entrenpreneurs living and/or working in Wales feel in any way Welsh or have any particular connection or empathy with other people who have had the good sense to get out while the going was good.

    But I can and do see this working the other way round amongst people I know – those who managed to escape are now helping others to escape!

    On top of that, there’s a significant pool of entrepreneurs in Wales who started out in the 80s and 90s when Wales looked to be on the rise and these people are now coming up to retiring age. As we hang up our business laptops I suspect there is going to be quite a hole and not very much chance of filling it.

    Reasons to run a business in Wales are few – reasons not to are many and they’re increasing year by year…

  2. Sentiment can be monetised and contrary to what some people think about entrepreneurs it’s isn’t just about money or many would just leave the UK to live in a tax haven. Many of course threaten but often it’s pure theatricals. As an international entrepreneur myself I can say that sentiment plays as large a part as the numbers.

    Of course Wales is at a disadvantage because so many qualified people leave the country for their first job and when they subsequently set up their own business that will probably be outside Wales. Having said that, all is not lost if this diaspora can be harnessed, as in Ireland, to generate inward investment. Even fifth generation US citizens who cherish their Welsh heritage can join in no matter what scorn the more jaundiced may pour upon them. What have we to lose?

    I believe there is an opportunity for growth if led by someone who is dynamic, independent, skilled and good at networking. Let’s hope any future job doesn’t go to some political apparatchik or one of those business people with only UK experience who pontificate about how Wales has to adapt to “the global business environment”. In reality most business is local and global is a much abused and convenient term to bash other people’s ideas with. Number one priority for me would still be fostering home-grown entrepreneurs because most business is well, local

    Walter, what are the next steps?

  3. John R Walker, No navel gazing from me, I’m doing things to move this forward and trying to ‘make a difference’. I’m not the type of person that points to a problem without suggesting a solution and doing something about it. Maybe you could help?

  4. The Irish and Scottish have gone down a route of organising a ‘Gathering’ – i.e appealing to the diaspora to return for events in both countries. I’m not aware of anything on this scale being attempted in Wales. As a first, creative step, this could be a possibility…and therby a way of re-forging connections with entreupreneurs who have left.

    This issue is in paralel to another article that appeared through the IWA – John Osmonds article about the funeral of our treasured poet Nigel Jenkins;

    “But what ultimately was important about Nigel, and why so many people were touched by his life and early death was that, at a critical time, in the mid-1970s, he chose Wales. And in making that choice, he came to learn that choosing Wales also means making Wales.”

    That is such an important realisation that people in Wales could do (the diaspora, and budding entreupreuneurs) – to choose Wales, and therefore to contribute in ‘making Wales’.

  5. Walter May – Keep working at it and when you need to tap the Southern California diaspora get in touch. I’ll be happy to introduce you to a vibrant community of Welsh people who’ve been remarkably successful here; and they are interested in giving a little back to a country that they were fortunate and proud to be raised in. Sadly, the country never offered them the opportunities as young people so they *had* to leave. That does not mean they want others to do likewise – indeed the contrary is nearer the truth.

    The real help that the diaspora can offer is to help change mindsets. Successful entrepreneurs are not looking at all the reasons why something could fail – they have faith in their abilities to work through the obstacles to reach their destination. Sadly, there are times it appears that we have the market cornered in nay-saying and glibness, but there “ignore” buttons in life as well as blogs.

    Its time we killed off the Welsh Lobster ….

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