Building bridges between Scotland and the world

Last year the Commonwealth Games put Scotland in the international spotlight. Picture: Jane Barlow
Last year the Commonwealth Games put Scotland in the international spotlight. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Global reach the key to Scotland’s future, writes Roddy Gow

The Asia Scotland Institute is trying something new this month, something ambitious. We hope it will prove beneficial not just for our organisation but also for the whole of Scotland.

Six months in the planning, our inaugural Building Bridges: Connecting Scotland with its International Communities conference (www.building bridgesconference.co.uk) will be held at headline sponsor Royal Bank of Scotland’s conference centre at Gogaburn, Edinburgh, on 17 and 18 March.

We’ve booked some excellent speakers, including Elizabeth Linder, Facebook’s government and politics specialists for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. And we have a series of exciting talks and panel discussions lined up, all with a clear goal in mind: to explore how Scotland can best connect with the 50 million or so people around the world who are linked to us by heritage or by a strong affinity to our country.

These connections will be critical to Scotland’s future success. In the 21st century, a world outlook is essential for every nation. The countries that thrive will be those best connected to the global exchange of people, ideas and trade.

Last year the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Commonwealth Games Business Conference proved to be significant leaps in the right direction for Scotland, putting us firmly in the international spotlight.

Recently released export figures were also encouraging, with a record £27.9 billion worth of Scottish goods and services exported across the world in 2013, according to the Global Connections Survey – a 7.2 per cent rise on the previous year. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described these figures as “excellent” and said they suggest Scotland is on course to meet its goal of increasing exports by 50 per cent by 2017.

Lord Livingston, minister of state for trade and investment, believes our Building Bridges conference will be a further step forward, building on the momentum gathering in Scotland. We are delighted that he has chosen to support us.

He said: “2014 was extraordinary for Scottish business. It allowed Scotland to show off the creativity and dynamism for which it is rightly famous. Last year inward investment in Scotland increased by 10 per cent; the 122 investment projects from abroad created or safeguarded 5,374 jobs. Exports, too, are increasing.”

“Scotland’s future is as part of an interconnected and highly interdependent world.

“The diaspora of Scots living abroad and people who have come here to live and work, either as students or businesspeople, are part of that rich international community. We must make the best of those connections and the goodwill that the Scottish brand has.

“The Building Bridges conference is a welcome way of providing impetus to boosting Scotland’s efforts to succeed, especially in the high growth markets of tomorrow.

“As a proud Scot, I am delighted to support Scotland’s efforts to increase exports and increase the number of businesses attracted here from abroad.”

Other supporters of the conference include Ken Barclay, RBS chairman in Scotland, Sir Brian Souter, businessman and philanthropist and Karen Watt, the Scottish Government’s director of external affairs and culture. All have kindly agreed to give presentations.

We are also looking forward to welcoming Kingsley Aikins, chief executive of Diaspora Matters, a consultancy firm which comes up with creative and innovative ways to convert what was once considered a national loss into a national asset – to transform “brain drain” into “brain gain”.

In addition, there will be a discussion on Scotland’s global brand, led by Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland. Our reputation for tradition, heritage and culture is second to none. Mr Roughead and James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, will be looking at how Scots can use this positive image when trying to engage internationally on more contemporary themes such as innovation and creativity.

Of course, the Asia Scotland Institute’s main focus remains Asia in what has been called the Century of Asia. Our primary mission is to help and support brave and entrepreneurial Scots who seek to make the most of the many exciting opportunities this presents them.

But for two days this month we are broadening our remit beyond Asia; we are going global. Equal billing at the conference will go to our friends from the Americas, Europe and Africa.

Building Bridges is about raising ambitions – both ours and those of Scots and Scottish organisations who stand to gain so much from actively engaging with the many people, countries and regions around the world who are keen to forge ties and do business with us.

Brain drain can become brain gain. We hope you can join us at Gogarburn on 17 March.

Roddy Gow is chairman and founder of the Asia Scotland Institute www.asiascot.com