Building bridges to Scots abroad will pay off
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.
Scotland, of course, is no exception. And that’s why all of us at the Asia Scotland Institute are doing what we can to raise interest and confidence among Scots in doing business in, and building cultural links to, the growing economies of Asia.
But not just Asia. Next March will see Asia Scotland Institute temporarily broadening its remit to host Building Bridges, a two-day conference which aims to bring together the many different strands of Scotland’s global diaspora.
Just over five million people currently live in Scotland. Our diaspora, by contrast, is about 50-million people connected to us either by heritage or by a strong affinity to our country.
Many of these live and work in Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, from Singapore to Shanghai to Sydney. Many more are spread across the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa and beyond. This is a pool of expertise, experience and goodwill that Scotland cannot afford to ignore.
The timing of our Building Bridges conference is significant. Since this autumn’s Independence referendum there has been much debate and reflection on how Scotland can engage with the wider world going forward. Linking up with Scots and friends of Scotland living overseas has to be one of our first steps as we set off down that road.
These are, after all, men and women who have been successful in building relationships and businesses right across the world. They have vital local knowledge about the countries they live in. They form important overseas networks. Many are more than willing to share their knowhow and skills.
They can also offer people here something else, something intangible: confidence. Studies suggest that as many as half of all Scottish entrepreneurs setting up businesses today don’t expect to have any foreign customers. Why?
Perhaps next spring that can start to change. Perhaps by building bridges to our diaspora we can inspire and embolden more people living and working in Scotland to have the confidence to think globally and seize the many opportunities that lie open to them, from Beijing to Boston, Jakarta to Rio de Janeiro.
The world knows all about Scotland’s whisky and golf, and rightly so. But are we making the most of our expertise in financial services on the global stage? We won’t surprise anyone overseas by telling them about Scotland’s oil and gas industry. But are we letting enough people around the world know about our innovations in technology and tourism? And are we making the most of our knowhow in life sciences, energy and new consumer products, from digital games to textiles?
Yes, we need to tap into the talents of the diaspora. But we also need to tell them about ours.
So here are the details: the conference date has been set for 17-18 March 2015. Royal Bank of Scotland is supporting our idea by generously providing the use of the conference centre at its world headquarters in Gogarburn, near Edinburgh.
Partner organisations who have confirmed involvement include RBS, Facebook, the Institute of Chartered Accountants for Scotland, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Keynote speakers are being drawn from business leaders in Scotland and globally, highlighting the qualities that have led to success and sharing the challenges of penetrating overseas markets.
The conference will involve entrepreneurs and global business leaders; government agencies and the third sector; cultural and sporting bodies; and representatives from academia, research and innovation.
Discussions will explore a number of themes: the role of Scottish and UK public sector networks in international engagement; managing the Scottish “brand”; exchanging ideas and best practice between business networks, alumni networks and cultural and sporting connections.
Scotland has an excellent record in attracting overseas investment. What we are trying to do is deliver a conference that is about far more than just increasing inward investment or levels of trade.
Building Bridges is about raising the ambition of what Scots and Scottish organisations can achieve across the world by providing the knowledge, skills and confidence they need, and supporting the international communities and networks around them.
It is also about another bridge-building effort that needs to be undertaken. We intend to help with the process of reconciliation after the heated debate on independence and encourage all Scots to pull together for the country to which they all hold a profound and enduring affection.
• Roddy Gow OBE is chairman and founder of Asia Scotland Institute