We need to make more of our Irish diaspora

The US reports 34.7 million people of Irish ancestry, many of whom want to support our growth

Michelle O'Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly attended engagements in New York and Washington DC ahead of Sunday's St Patrick's Day meeting with Mr Biden.
For the first time in a few years, there was a tangible high level of positivity in Washington around St Patrick's Day this year, now that Stormont is up and running

I took the opportunity last month to align my own business trip in the US with the many economic and political activities happening in Washington and the East Coast around Saint Patrick’s Day. Those involved in organising the meetings and events certainly did their very best possible to promote and highlight the benefits of doing business here. For the first time in quite a few years, there was a tangible high level of positivity in the room, reflecting the hope that Stormont is up and running, engaged and here to stay.

And there was another very strong appreciation that struck me - the extensive number of people living in the US (and elsewhere) that have a strong cultural affiliation to here and want to support our growth.

Although it is difficult to get exact figures, there is an estimated 70 million first, second and third generation in the Irish diaspora across the globe. The US reports 34.7 million people of Irish ancestry and 6 million of Scottish Irish ancestry. Canada reports 3.48 million and Australia 1.8 million.

Many of this diaspora are highly connected CEOs and business owners, operating and controlling companies across many sectors in a number of countries. It is a strong and powerful network that genuinely wants to work with us, if for no other reason, than to work with other business owners with the same cultural connections.

In Washington this was obvious. There was a real willingness to discuss how partnerships and collaboration could be strengthened with businesses here and what this might look like going forward. Of course, there are many ways this could look and ways that local companies could consider building relationships with these networks.

It could be purely looking at export sales and working with the network to build sales, although export selling is not always the easiest place to start. Or it could be to examine opportunities for equity investment, on the basis that as a company registered here, we do have this unfettered access to the UK and EU markets.

Another obvious collaboration is around innovation and the opportunity for companies here to explore new products, systems or processes that have already been validated in other markets.

As a final example, many of our predecessors have successfully sold on their businesses to international buyers through these networks and exited their business in the knowledge it became global.

Michelle Lestas
Michelle Lestas

Regardless of the final destination, there is a need to start on the journey and as a first stage in the process, InvestNI and Enterprise Ireland offer a number of trade missions into export markets that invariably tap into these networks and well worth some consideration.

The important point is that every business here should be making the most of our massive diaspora given it is such a powerful and significant with an open door to develop relationships and collaboration that is unparalleled.

  • Michelle Lestas is a strategic business turnaround specialist, published author “In Business With Yourself”, and the founder of the MENTupLEADup programme for small business mentors and advisors.