NI Connections harnessing a world of goodwill
NI Connections asking millions of diaspora to boost business at home
A new initiative is hoping to give Northern Ireland's businesses and economy a boost by bringing together people from here scattered throughout the world.
NI Connections, which aims to unite the Northern Ireland diaspora, is attempting to showcase the best the region has offer and highlight the changes it has undergone over the last decade.
The network unites those from or connected to Northern Ireland living across the world. It has already held 22 events overseas spanning four continents, including in Dubai and Shanghai.
Its aim is to "boost the economy by strengthening links between people living overseas who have an affinity to Northern Ireland through birth, marriage, education or business".
NI Connections believes the untapped resource of the Northern Ireland diaspora has the potential to provide tens of millions of pounds for the economy.
The Belfast-based network has 3,500 members, but hopes to double that by the end of the Christmas period. By 2020, it wants to have 150,000 members.
Snooker players Joe Swail and Mark Allen have supported the project, and are using their contacts throughout the sportsworld to help Northern Ireland.
Andrew Cowan, the chief executive of NI Connections, highlighted now as the best time to attract members with many people coming home for Christmas.
"With so many people home for the Christmas holidays there is no better time to launch NI Connections and ask people to join this community of people who are talking about NI for the right reasons," Mr Cowan said.
"We're asking people to take the opportunity to connect and add their stories to the amazing tales we already know. If you have friends and family abroad, we want to hear from you.
"People are often surprised how many people there are around the world who are leaders in their field, whether that's in business, arts, music, science, academia or politics, who originally come from Northern Ireland or who have family here."
The global diaspora network has received sponsorship from many publicly funded bodies, such as Invest NI, Belfast City Council and Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
Figures from NI Connections show there are six million people of Northern Irish origin in the USA, 2.5 million in Canada, 1.5 million in other parts of the UK, and half a million in Australia.
Mr Cowan said: "It's not unrealistic for us to hope to engage 1.5% of those people and grow our network to the point where we have 150,000 supporters signed up."
He stressed the project was not about getting money from members but benefiting firms here through sharing.
"This isn't about asking for money, it's about thinking what you could do to boost Northern Ireland," he added.
"That could be an introduction to contacts, setting up a meeting, offering advice on the market you live in or even just talking up Northern Ireland at every opportunity."