Wales needs to enlist its expat army and turn the brain drain into a resource

The Empire State Building in Wales’ colours on St. David’s Day

Marc Webber

There are only two times I have ever been jealous of my friend from Donegal.

One was when the Republic of Ireland beat us to knock us out of the World Cup running.

The other was when he was invited to a lavish dinner in London, hosted by his President, to celebrate the contribution of Irish people in London.

It wasn’t so much that he got to go to a posh dinner. It was that despite leaving Ireland, his country of birth was going to great lengths to acknowledge his contribution to it.

The way Wales treats its ‘expats’ couldn’t be further from the Irish model.

Our ‘brain drain’ problem is well documented but we compound our error by acting as if these brainy people, on leaving Wales, cease to be Welsh at all.

Unless you are a celebrity, you are actively disowned as Welsh once you leave the nation, even if you want to help promote the land where you were born.

You are treated as a deserter, as opposed to a child of the nation and someone who wants to continue to contribute and pay something back to the nation he or she loves.

Compare this with the way English people who move to Wales are treated. They are welcomed with open arms and treated with reverence.

Homecoming

We have to acknowledge that there are an awful lot of people who find themselves having to leave Wales to earn a crust but love their country and would like to promote it any way they can.

‘Gorau Cymro oddi cartref’ as the Welsh language saying has it – The best Welshman is a Welshman abroad.

There are a whole army of amateur diplomats, tourist promoters and business development officers around the world waiting for guidance about the best way to talk up Wales.

Once again, compare with Ireland where the diaspora have done such a good job of promoting their identity in countries such as the United States.

Half the country seem to want to claim Irish heritage. But how many are descended from the Welsh but don’t even know what Wales is?

The difference is that the Mothership (I.e. Welsh politicians of all shades and other national institutions) see Welsh expats as a novelty at best; an embarrassment at most.

Tick box visits are made to New York, Chicago, and London on St David’s Day in some vain attempt at acknowledging Welsh people exist outside Wales.

But the truth is Wales has no real steer on its diaspora, whereas the Irish and Scottish Governments have invested billions of pounds over the years in courting them.

Look at Scotland’s successful ‘homecoming’ years in 2009 and 2014, where they encouraged people with Scottish ancestry from all over the world to visit the country.

The only diaspora data I’ve ever seen for Wales is a map of how many Welsh live in London Boroughs which is trundled out every year on Twitter by the London Welsh Society to promote their Welsh week.

The brain drain doesn’t have to be a lost resource – not if these people bring investment back with them.

Welsh language

By ignoring Wales’ diaspora, we also ignore what is an uncomfortable truth for many – that the Welsh language is actually in a much better condition than is admitted.

We only see the census data for how many people speak Welsh in Wales, which ignores how there are tens of thousands who speak the language elsewhere in the world.

I went back to my old school in Bridgend the other week and told students how I continue to use Welsh in my everyday work and social life, despite working in Northampton and living near Cambridge.

The kids were shocked. They thought Welsh could only be used in Wales.

This is about having a wider, untapped army to promote business and culture. I cannot think of a single job I have had in the 25 years I have lived in England where I have not worked with someone from Wales.

My latest role as Senior Lecturer in Journalism at the University of Northampton has seen me team up with a Wrexham-born business lecturer and work closely with the local football and rugby clubs containing some blokes called George North and Regan Poole.

The other day, me and Sarra Elgan were having a chat in Welsh in the players’ tunnel at Northampton Saints.

There is a Welsh House in Northampton. It is the Building where Welsh drovers used to stay when they brought their sheep to market in Northampton.

If you look at the writing about the door (below), from 1595 AD, you will see that it’s in Welsh. Yes, the Welsh Language, being used in England. Shocking, eh?

You would never know about the links Wales has with Northampton. Or Nottingham or Blackpool or Shanghai, etc etc, because Wales does not know enough about its sleeping army of advocates (outside the London Welsh tickbox).

Make 2018 the year you Engage An Expat and see how Wales could fly like Ireland and Scotland did when they embraced their diaspora.

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