David Birrell: Scots have always gone global – now it’s time for our businesses to do the same

David Birrell Institute Director Asia Scotland Institute
David Birrell Institute Director Asia Scotland Institute
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As it is claimed that Scots are more likely to leave their homeland and ­settle elsewhere than any other English-speaking peoples, over generations this has resulted in a Scottish diaspora of more than 50 million, the scale and diversity of which have important implications for Scotland’s role in the world from both a cultural and an economic standpoint.

Whilst there are various initiatives such as the Globalscot network, and many individuals willing to share their skills and expertise to help develop Scottish industries, we have yet to reach our full potential.

Guidance and support is never in short supply – however, an overwhelming level of support often has a detrimental impact on growth. The volume of different organisations and associations hosting various international visits, business events and an increasing supply of online help can at times create confusion and most likely our return on public spending is not at its optimum.

Critical to our future success is unlocking the potential within our small and medium-sized businesses and greater collaboration of those providing support is key to this. We should now step back and take stock and ensure there is even more ­working together, as we have many excellent organisations who share the same desire.

Our colleges and universities ­continue to reach out internationally, again providing greater opportunities and a catalyst to forge new ­business relationships.

Our strong global reputation for education is a great asset that should be maximised at every opportunity. We can also benefit from the rich source of international talent residing in Scotland providing us with the detailed knowledge of other ­markets and cultures which is essential in understanding the needs of tomorrow’s global consumers.

When it comes to building international relationships and profile in an ever increasing and complex world, Scotland’s presence in popular ­culture is certainly significant. Scotland continues to feature on the world stage and recent events such as golf’s Open, the European Championships, and the draw of the festivals during August, provide a welcome spotlight on our country.

As we extend our reach through arts and education we must make sure that we maintain this momentum to develop new business ­relationships.

Our diaspora already has many international cultural events. I personally experienced the recent New York Tartan Week celebrations and witnessed the passion created, including lighting up of the Empire State Building one evening in blue and white! We must ensure that such events also have a lasting impact in developing economic growth.

Developments in technology and connectivity are also having a positive impact on international reach. Access to markets that once felt too expensive and complex to explore, are now only a few clicks away. The ability to develop new customer ­relationships across far-reaching supply chains is now a reality for many businesses.

As the pace of change in technology and data accelerates we must ­continue to strive for further investment 
in digital infrastructure. These technologies and applications with focused training and support offer 
a catalyst to reignite past relationships as well as reaching out to the next customer.

Now is the time to strengthen and forge new relationships internationally and bring together the ­collective strengths in our education, our arts and create new business opportunities.

At least once a year, every ­corner of the world sings Auld Lang Syne to pay tribute to old and absent friends.

There has never been a better time to extend our new friendships across the globe.

David Birrell, institute director, Asia Scotland Institute.