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Summit looks to expat brains trust

THE wheels of an increasingly globalized contemporary world are lubricated by a range of talented people who seek opportunities outside their home country, leaving established family and job networks to develop careers and forge futures in different cultures.

The lure of exotic and alien environments has existed for centuries and different nationalities have established substantial expatriate groups throughout the world.

Australians have built many such enclaves in different parts of the world and currently amount to about a million expatriates in number.

While in previous generations their quest for fame or fortune in overseas markets was derided at home as a "brain drain," the wheel has turned and their value as a diaspora living overseas is being reassessed.

Kevin Rudd, Australia's Mandarin speaker prime minister, understands the value of these expatriates, having lived as one in China for some years, and calls his fellow countrymen in this region the Asia literate. The "brain drain" has become a "brains trust."

In line with this new recognition, a conference in Shanghai on Tuesday will consider how the professional knowledge and life experience gained by Aussies in broader Asia can assist both Australia's and the region's mutual interests.

It's being run by an organization called "Advance," set up with government aid specifically to do the job. Its New York-based CEO, Serafina Maiorano, arrived this week to oversee what is called the Advance Asia 50 Summit at Hyatt on The Bund.

Her group ( is making its first foray into the region after having established clusters for its 13,000 members in Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

"The summit is a big think tank for us to gather the 'know how' and intelligence of expatriates, including university alumni, and look at what critical role they can play and what role Advance can have in the region," Maiorano said.

"Our main purpose is to get these leading people's views of the region in the Australia context and how they can help develop partnerships."

Advance has invited an A to Z of 50 core leaders, drawing in people from throughout the region to attend the one-day talks. The list starts with "Arkell, Peter," from Swann Global and ends with "Zhang, Ya-Qin," from Microsoft, both operating in China. In between is a host of business operators from diverse industries and sectors.

They include Shi Zhengrong, founder and chief executive of Chinese solar power company Suntech Power, who will be one of the summit's key speakers. Others are luminaries from banking and investment houses, design and knowledge environments, business developers, general entrepreneurs and government representatives.

"We're coming into the region quite humbly," Maiorano said. "The summit is to find out the key questions in the region and what this expatriate community can provide back home.

"Kevin Rudd talks about the Asia literate. These are Australia's Asia literate, the people who live and breathe it everyday. We want to understand their points of view," she said.

"We'll make recommendations to government, of course, but there'll also be recommendations that the diaspora can implement through their industries or organizations.

"In terms of the percentage of Australians abroad, their positions of influence are very high. We are such an adaptable culture, we connect and we live well and stay well in those regions. So we see this group as a great brains trust that can link back into the country.

"They don't have to be in Australia to give back. It can be financially, it can be with ideas, through relationships, many things," she said.

"These summits are where global Australians meet and bring their global thinking."

A post summit dinner at M on The Bund will feature an address by former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke who has had a significant post politics role building relationships within the region, importantly in China.


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