Australia's economic success would be enhanced by having a national diaspora strategy and collaboration networks connecting with the one million Australians working overseas, and the 2.5 million foreigners who have studied in Australia.
Advance, the network for Australians working abroad, and for foreigners who have studied in Australia, hosted a roundtable discussion of leading directors, chief executives, start-up founders and financiers to discuss the PwC Advance report Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Australia's diaspora as a pathway to innovation, which shows that 69 per cent of a survey group of 1039 recently returned and expatriate Australians did not collaborate with businesses or colleagues in Australia, with 25 per cent saying this is because Australian-based peers weren't interested.
Advance is making headway in shifting the mindset from lamenting the brain drain to embracing the achievements of expats and alumni of Australian universities and tapping their expertise. But all agreed that business was missing out by not tapping into this network more effectively. PwC has estimated the Australian diaspora will number 1.35 million by 2030, with one-third of in Asia.
Serafina Maiorano, global chief executive of Advance, said, "We talk about boards and corporations not finding that talent but they are there: they are offshore, they are in Asia and half of them are women. I meet them all the time. We need to do better at connecting them back to corporations, to industry and to our boards."
Bede Moore, former chairman of Indonesian online commerce giant Lazada and current chief executive of TechSydney, said there was a lack of infrastructure to support the diaspora.
"Having a lot of experience in Indonesia is not very highly considered. And that is because Australian companies are simply not playing in that market," Mr Moore said. Australia needs to enable people in the diaspora to build connections but he believes that is still a way off.
"We need to invest more time and more money and more effort into making sure that we have traction in those markets. What Advance proves is that there is a natural and easy diaspora that can be leveraged in other Anglo market. We do not have that same advantage in Asia," he said.
New Zealand, India, Ireland, China all have diaspora policies.
Skander Malcolm, former GE Capital CEO Australia now CEO of OFX said the US government was also phenomenal at assisting US executives build contacts and grow in foreign markets.
"If you need something done at a scale level, they turn up as your partner. What do you need, how do we get this done, who can we connect you with?"
Mr Moore, who chaired Australian-Indonesia youth dialogue CAUSINDY said organisations such as Advance can serves as an instrument of soft power. "There is a foreign policy imperative to doing this that extends beyond the opportunities of innovation and commercial opportunities that might stem from it."
Pool of IP
Advance chairman Yasmin Allen, who also sits on the boards of Cochlear, Santos and the ASX, said, "If as businesses, as an economy, we can tap into this wonderful pool of IP and thinking, that's what is exciting. I don't want to drag people home.
"The only way we've managed to get very high quality Asia-based directors is because they studied here. One in particular was a minister in Singapore. He would not have taken the board role that we offered him, but he studied at Ballarat University and he enjoyed it so much, he sent his son back to study at Monash.
"He accepted the role we offered him even though he had US boards fighting for him, because of his feeling towards Australia. He felt culturally aligned with us because he was educated here. That two and a half million alumni is such a powerful asset for our boards, for our management."
But while these networks can grow organically a strategy was needed, said PwC partner and leader of the firm's mental wealth agenda Kristin Stubbins.
"We can't expect this connectivity is magically going to happen. We can't expect all of these expats working overseas, all of these talented individuals, to drive that connection. It's got to be some sort of system wide approach from Australia. We really need a coordinated strategy, we need a policy, which I think should be laid by government, but then I think we'd need adequate resourcing and funding for a coordination body, which doesn't necessarily need to be government and maybe shouldn't be."
Innovation and Science Australia chairman Bill Ferris said without having to return expat Australians can build their own connections. "We can tempt them to those that are interested, into mentoring and networking," Mr Ferris said.
The group welcomed the government's new Temporary Skill Shortage visa as it would help bring talented people into the country to scale up innovation. The new visa, which replaces the controversial but popular 457 visa, will be issued through the Global Talent Scheme for technology, science and engineering businesses, and other companies that generate at least $4 million a year in revenue, or are listed on the share market, and are prepared to pay staff more than $180,000 a year.
"This looks like a genuine response from government and it's a positive step forward, definitely for the tech industry and for our ability to attract people with a clear pathway to living in this country and keeping their skills," said Mr Moore.
This article was published and provided by the Australian Financial Review.