diaspora march 2018 trust innovation sustainability

An estimated one million Australians live overseas, more than four per cent of Australia’s human capital. Of that figure, some 850,000 are building careers across a diverse range of industries and there are expatriate achievers across all sectors (see below). This professional cohort is a substantially overlooked asset to the development and relevance of Australia. It’s time we considered the individuals leaving Australia as assets rather than lost talent. Most expats return home to Australia — on average within five years, according to a 2017 report by PwC — bringing with them enhanced experience and acquired knowledge. Those that don’t return often remain the best ambassadors for Australia.

“It’s not good enough to just keep producing technology with no notion of whether it’s going to be useful. You have to create stuff people really want, rather than just because you can.” Prof. Genevieve Bell, Senior Fellow, New Technology Group, Intel US

Customer base

At the most basic level, these are customers who may be geographically dispersed, but share common needs. For a bank selling wealth-management products, it’s a lot of potential clients. For a property manager, it’s real estate left behind in Australia to service. They need health and travel insurance, legal and tax services. Political parties covet their votes and companies looking to global markets should be interested in their network connections.

Talent pool

Looking beyond the local pool for potential board members or executives, diversity is an integral element to a successful workplace and has many angles. One skill set a board and management team should embrace is world experience. In this globalising world, people who truly understand its scale and complexity, economies, cultures and the impact of technology across national borders are invaluable.

“The fourth industrial revolution is under way and the winners will be so far ahead... Australia has no choice but to pivot to new industries.” Adrian Turner, CEO Data 61

Untapped potential

Australia needs a formal diaspora strategy to pull the network together. Countries like Israel, Ireland and New Zealand have been able to rally their diaspora for the benefits of the country and individuals. India and China are also increasingly doing likewise. There is so much untapped potential for Australia.

According to an upcoming research report by PwC and Advance, Australia’s diaspora can be an accelerator of collaboration and innovation. By 2030, an expected 1.35 million Australians will be living overseas, a third of those in Asia. That pool of talent, ideas and potential customers could be even wider. It is currently estimated that 2.5 million (non Australian-born) alumni of Australian universities live overseas.


Three ways to tap Australia’s diaspora to accelerate innovation:

  • Actively seek the skills and experiences of Australians and university alumni while they are overseas as avenues for new insights and ideas.
  • Utilise expats and alumni returning to Australia, particularly mid-career/seniority employees.
  • Value global experience, along with gender and cultural diversity. It is a vital part of the skills matrix for boards and senior executive roles.

Organisations like Advance, the network of global Australians, believe this talent pool is an immensely valuable national resource. Glen Boreham AM FAICD is a former chair of Advance. Yasmin Allen FAICD is current chair of Advance and a non-executive director of Cochlear, Santos and ASX.