THE north's diaspora could play a huge role in turning around the region's economic fortunes, according to the woman charged with tapping into its potential.
Grainne McVeigh of the Invest Northern Ireland programme Northern Irish Connections is creating a network of expats across the globe with the aim of attracting new business and tourism to the north.
The initiative is to launch officially in the spring.
It will invite anyone with a connection to the north but living else-where in the world to pull together for the good of the region.
Ms McVeigh said the potential was massive as around 20,000 people left the north each year to study or work.
Around half go to Britain with the rest scattering across the world.
The US, Australia and Canada re-main the most popular destinations after Britain although growing numbers are choosing the Middle East.
"There is a lot of people in the global environment who are out there selling Northern Ireland and the question is how and if the diaspora can help," Ms McVeigh said.
"The only reason that Connections exists is to impact on the economy. It is to make things better here," Ms McVeigh said.
"That is investment. It's jobs, it's tourism, the internationalisation of education, research and development.
"Those are the sorts of goals that we want to add."
Ms McVeigh lived for 14 years near Chicago, Illinois, and worked for a time with the Industrial Development Board.
She said people would be able to sign up as advocates of the scheme to help in any way they could.
"The question is how do we create a network and then how do we keep people informed and help them become advocates if they choose to," she said.
"The reason people sign up is because they want to be part of the community in some way or they do want to give back in some way.
"I met a group of people from Northern Ireland in Hong Kong from different walks of life, doing different things, different jobs, different ages.
"They were saying: 'We quite like coming together as a Northern Ireland group. Here are some of the things that we can do. You know, somebody is coming out to Hong Kong to do business or wants to understand an industry - we'll take them for a cup of coffee'."
She also said the diaspora had a role to play in changing the mind-set of people living abroad, especially in the wake of the Union flag crisis that has attracted headlines across the world.
"If I'm sitting on the Tube and somebody says: 'Well, I don't know if I want to go to Belfast', you could say: 'Well, you know what, I'm from there and it's pretty cool. There's some great cafes, some great restaurants. It's a cool place to shop'.
"You provide the counter to the image that's all over the world at the moment.
"Unfortunately it's reminiscent of images from so long ago, the seventies and eighties.
"I think people that are from Northern Ireland can help change that perception.
"When you work overseas selling Northern Ireland, you can help people look at things in context." ■ POTENTIAL: Grainne McVeigh, director of the Northern Irish Connections programme PICTURE: Declan Roughan