How Scotland can leverage its diaspora to become a global economic powerhouse

Russell Dalgleish, Chairman of the Scottish Business Network, explains how Scotland can triumph overseas
Russell Dalgleish

Ask most people around the world what they think of when they imagine Scotland, and I guarantee it’s not a global destination for innovation and technological investment, and in many ways, that’s pretty strange. We are, after all, the nation that gave the world Dolly the Sheep, the television, colour photography, and the steam engine. The innovation and spirit of invention behind those things didn’t just disappear overnight. In fact, Scotland is still a key player within the sector: in 2022, more overseas companies invested in Scotland than any UK region outside London. Clearly, those characteristics are still there, we just need people telling the world about it and encouraging investors to back the nation. The key to this may well be the country’s diaspora.

At present, it’s estimated that there are approximately 850 000 Scottish-born people living elsewhere in the UK with over 20 million living elsewhere in the world. Among that diaspora are founders, investors, entrepreneurs, senior execs, innovators and some of the world’s leading communications professionals. In other words, exactly the kind of people you want convincing the rest of the world to invest in Scotland. Leveraging the skills and expertise of Scots living in the diaspora has the potential to be a significant game changer for the growth and development of Scotland.

And with the 2023 Scottish International Week, taking place next week, there’s never been a better time to highlight how big an asset the country’s diaspora is. Since the first Scottish International Week in 2017, the event has grown and this year runs from 30 October to 3 November. A number of online sessions will cover Scottish success stories from Hong Kong and Africa, gaming and the digital landscape, how to speak to politicians and government. These online events are augmented by in person conferences such as DigitalDNA and CENSIS Conference.

Against the backdrop of this week of activities, it’s worth reflecting on what exactly the diaspora has to offer. The connections they offer might, for instance, open up opportunities in otherwise unfamiliar regions, or allow for market penetration abroad. They can also help build communities where the investment is only in people and the connections you can create, not capital-intensive outlays.

As I’ve already mentioned, there is plenty for them to go back to. In addition to the spirit of innate innovation, there are initiatives such as the EcoSystem Fund which supports organisations and activities that promote and nurture the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and the Scottish government-backed Techscaler programme, are all part of growing Scotland’s tech sector ultimately to create a community of world-leading, innovation-driven tech companies servicing a global client base from Scotland. Many of those global companies are part of the wide Scottish diaspora.

At the Scottish Business Network, we aim to leverage that spirit of innovation and the knowledge capital in the diaspora to build a tech cluster that fosters the kind of startups capable of scaling not just into the rest of the UK but the whole world. We don’t believe that the country’s size is a hindrance here either. One need only look at how successful countries like Sweden and Finland have been in building powerful startup ecosystems to see how a comparatively small population size needn’t be a major stumbling block.

The government’s Scottish Connections Framework document which was published in April this year is also a clear statement of the importance that is being placed on the role of the diaspora and how Scots working around the world can assist in the work that is being done with SMEs here at home.

Over the past year, the Department of Business and Trade in Scotland has been augmenting its existing services that are available to Scottish companies, which add to those currently available through Scottish Development International.

Even after many years away from Scotland, us Scots maintain strong roots and loyalty to the country and its culture. At the Scottish Business Network, we aim to tap into that loyalty and build a powerful base of Scots abroad who can convince the world of business that Scotland could be the world’s next big business investment destination.

Written by
Russell Dalgleish