In his first Western Mail column of the year, Acorn's Matt Southall reflects on 2016 and looks towards 2017, the year for working with our Welsh diaspora. 

A lot has been written about 2016; the politics, the 'celebrity' deaths and the desperate humanitarian crises rightly occupying the news headlines. However, in amongst the bad news, sport was a shining light. 

Sporting success 

Leicester City, Andy Murray, Laura and Jason Kenny and many more, the list of sporting success was an impressive one and while we are extremely proud of the achievements of our fellow Britons, as Welsh people specifically, we had plenty to cheer about too. 

Our Olympians were outstanding and our football team captured the hearts of a nation, if not the world. Gareth Bale has long been a brilliant ambassador for Wales but last year football fans across the world also recognised the talents of Aaron Ramsey, Joe Ledley, et al.

Sport has always crossed national divides in a way that little else can, and having sports men and women flying the flag for Wales has acted as a great advertisement for our nation. 

For example, Ireland beating the All Blacks in front of a full house in Boston was a great sporting achievement, but significantly, it was also a sign of how many people in the States have an affinity with their Irish roots. It is this sort of event that highlights the value of reaching out to our diaspora in different parts of the world.

Possibly not perceived as being on the same scale as the Irish, but the Welsh can be found across the globe too. There were Welshmen on the Mayflower, Welsh miners travelled to Pennsylvania and Australia and we all know about the Welsh speakers in Patagonia.

Closer to home

Closer to home, there is a thriving Welsh community in London, one that proudly carries the flag for Wales, and achieving great things in the business world. 

Whilst we continue to struggle with understanding what Brexit will ultimately mean, in 2017 there will remain plenty of uncertainty in the economy, and so it is vital that we look where we can for new connections and opportunities, and our compatriots over the bridge are a good place to begin.

This year will see the inaugural Wales Week in London, a new marketing initiative promoting events and profile-raising opportunities in London for Wales and Welsh organisations. 

Acorn has signed up to be a Founding Partner of this initiative, and we'll be looking at how, through developing business connections further, we will be able to boost our profile and  business activity in London. 

Taking place around St David's Day, the week will galvanise, showcase and leverage the activities of existing London-based Welsh communities, and help celebrate and promote the best of Wales, in London.

The hope is that the week will provide opportunities for businesses to raise their profile and to promote their products and services whilst developing new London-based audiences, partnerships and business connections.

Welsh men and women make a significant contribution in many sectors and Wales Week in London is a great opportunity to have this recognised by a wider audience. With the Welsh capital being the nearest capital city to London, a number of Welsh businesses are already getting involved and together we can help highlight our mark on one of the world's leading capitals.

Inward investment 

As always, the Welsh Government and the Wales Office are doing their bit, building on the successes of 2016 to encourage international trade and attract new inward investment. In the first few months of 2016 alone there will be delegations heading to America, China and the United Arab Emirates, building on Wales' growing reputation. And both the Welsh Government and the Wales Office are on board with Wales Week in London, already looking at how best they can support and leverage the activities to drive home the message that Wales is a great place for business. 

So, in looking ahead for 2017, I do so with the belief that this year we could and should do more than ever to harness the power of the Welsh beyond our borders, and look to our diaspora and global Welsh connections to help create new opportunities. So, here's wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous new year, wherever you are in the world - blwyddyn newydd dda.

Matt Southall is Group Managing Director of Wales' leading multi-specialist recruiter, Acorn.

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