RUSSELL DALGLEISH explains how an idea to bring Scots together grew into a global phenomenon
When Christine Esson and I launched Scottish Business Network in January 2016 I had never heard of the word “diaspora”. We were simply looking to bring together Scots working in London to help Scottish companies win more business in the UK’s global metropolis.
As we gathered at that first meeting in the offices of Aberdeen Asset Management in Cheapside to hear from the inspirational Martin Gilbert our ambitions were to do no more than “to try and help in London”.
However, within a year we began to receive enquiries from Scots around the world asking if we were building a Scottish diaspora community. Following my entrepreneurial instincts and Christine’s extensive understanding of economic development we decided that we needed to get under the hood of the world of the diaspora.
Christine came up with the inspired idea of holding a conference to bring together fellow diaspora organisations and leading domain experts on the subject.
The response to this idea was phenomenal. Within months we were joined by leading Celtic diaspora organisations including the Global Welsh, Irish International Business Network, Global Scot, Kea New Zealand, Northern Ireland Connections and subject experts from Denmark, Malaysia, and the UN.
The key speaker at this initial conference was the world’s leading expert on diaspora, Kingsley Aikins CBE. Kingsley delivered a speech which provided us not only with an insight into the economic leverage the diaspora can deliver but also the concept of “wanting to belong”. This idea, that those who have left their place of birth to set up home in a new country still maintain an emotional connection with the “old country”, is what binds this community together.
So, what is the SBN definition of diaspora? Simply put, if you or your family were born, studied, worked in Scotland, or even simply have a love for Scotland then you are part of our diaspora.
Of course, as anyone in business knows, coming up with an idea is easy – implementing a strategy to bring it to reality is tough and requires investment in terms of money, time and resources. And, of course, this was a global idea, hence the investment required had to be sizeable.
We decided the best course of action would be to analyse the potential market and then define a course of action to prioritise what products, services and markets should take our attention.
One additional challenge was that SBN was designed as a non-profit, non-political, social enterprise, hence we had no money to invest in bringing this international dream to fruition.
But what we did have was friends, and what truly remarkable friends they proved to be.
Analysis was delivered by SBN member Momentous Change which defined and helped us deliver the largest ever piece of research on the Scottish business diaspora. From an original target of reaching out to a couple of hundred Scots dotted across the globe we ended up receiving feedback from 1,067 Scots in 74 countries.
The final report “Perceptions of the Scottish Business Diaspora” was launched in January 2020 by Minister for Trade & Investment Ivan McKee and has been distributed to many thousands of interested parties around the globe.
So, with the analysis complete our next steps were clear. There was certainly demand but in order to meet this need we would require us to build a global network. But how? (see previous comment on ‘no money’).
‘To amplify our message we needed to partner with those organisations which shared our passion for Scotland’
The answer was to listen. Listen to the members of our global community and take their advice.
From Atlanta, Sandy Donaldson suggested an ambassador programme with flag carriers for Scotland appointed in each city.
In Scotland we identified key technology partners in HeySummit and Very Connect which provided platforms that allowed us to reach out globally and “touch” our community across the globe.
And to amplify our message we would need to partner, and partner hard both in Scotland and across the world with those organisations which shared our passion for Scotland.
Diaspora has thus become part of my daily lexicon.
And what could be achieved be harnessing the power of this navy blue army around the world? Well, the evidence speaks for itself through the creation of jobs, opportunities, and new channels to market for a multitude of Scottish companies.
And if I may dream for a second, what would success look like for this venture? An ambassador in every city on the planet, an integrated technology platform linking Scots the world over acting as an export support team for every Scottish business and organisation. All this achieved through collaboration brought about through a common goal to better the life of our fellow citizens in Scotland.
I hope you, like me, are beginning to see that it’s time to harness the power of the diaspora.