The History of Advance
Advance has grown tremendously as a not-for-profit over the past 20 years of operation. Since its founding in 2002, Advance has grown to serve members globally and provide services, events and valuable opportunities to Australian expats, that has enriched Australia’s greatest national resource: our people.
In mid 2001, after a career in the World bank in Washington DC and establishing Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers in Australia, Ken Allen AO, who had previously worked in various marketing and banking roles, accepted the PMs invitation to become the Australian Consul General in New York. This was an amazing opportunity to consolidate his relationships in America and to assist with the signing of the Free Trade Agreement. Read more about Ken here. While this was an incredible honour, Ken originally turned down this role, before being persuaded to take the position, a decision that he will remember for the rest of his life as a turning point.
Ken spent time setting up in his new home in New York City, establishing his family and beginning to build and grow his network. On the 9th of September, Ken was with Australian tennis sensation, Lleyton Hewitt, at a celebration for winning his first Grand Slam title at the US Open. This was one of the many benefits of being Consul General.
Then, on September 11, 2001, New York fell victim to one of the most heinous terrorist attacks in history. After all the chaos had subdued, and the dust had settled, The Consulate went into overdrive in an attempt to identify the Australians that were in the building, and to locate their families back home who were in need of comfort and support.
In this photo we see Detective Patrick McGee from the New York Police Department Emergency Services Unit, and Ken Allen AO pictured holding the Australian flag he found in the rubble of the World Trade Centre after the tragic day. This flag can now be found in the Museum of Australia as an enduring reminder of the loss we suffered with our allies, partners and friends in the USA.
Ken Allen reflected on the September 11 attack on its 10th anniversary saying, “We came from a place of innocence in that time, some amazing things were happening in the world, so to see that happening in front of your eyes brought a sense of reality as to what the world had come to in one stark moment.” ~ Ken Allen AO reflecting on September 11 on its 10th anniversary.
Following the attack, it took about three weeks to identify the ten Australians who had died in the Towers, the consequences of which still affect Ken to this day. He and his wife have got to know and keep in touch with the different families who were affected by this tragedy.
In early 2002, as a result of the 9/11 attacks, the Consul created 10 objectives in the hopes of picking up the pieces of this fallout in New York, with a particular focus on the Australians in New York at the time. Once they had seen the sheer enormity of the tasks at hand, they called for more resources. As a result of this task, Ken began to see the huge, untapped potential of the Australian diaspora. Ken realised that after the attacks, so many Australians were not only disconnected from their families at home, but also from one another within New York. It was also a time when the Aussie spirit was running high, and thousands and thousands of Australians were flooding into the US but they had no way to connect with each other.
As a result of this realisation, Ken started talking with some influential people within the financial services sector in New York because he believed that he could make the Australian financial services sector global. And so, he began by organising meetings and groups with some of the Australian bankers living and working in New York.
This led to the creation of the Young Australian Professionals in America (YAPA) in May 2002. Tim Maher, a banker and former diplomat, spearheaded an initial gathering of younger Australians working in the finance sector. Maher, became the Founding President of YAPA, a group of up-and-comers who were inspired by those who had achieved great success in finance.
Soon after this event, Ken was flooded with calls from people asking if their children could join, who were musicians, artists, and everything else he could imagine. So, Ken shifted his goal to a much larger one, including all verticals. And so, YAPA became Advance.org. The leading global network of Australians living overseas. Ken’s idea started with senior Australians mentoring young Australians in New York, and this quickly spread right across the US.
The founding mentors and patrons, Lachlan Murdoch, Anthony Pratt and Peter Lowy, who have since been referred to as ‘Advance’s three young lions,’ gave their support to Ken and enabled the organisation to recruit their very first employee, Elena Douglas, who attended her first Advance meeting two days after arriving in New York from Sydney, and who soon after became Chief Executive Officer.
“For a country on the other side of the world to have one million of its best and brightest overseas was increasingly considered an asset.” ~ Ken Allen AO on the genesis of the Advance network.
To capitalise on the momentum the organisation was gaining, and the realisation that what Advance had created was becoming a major asset, the team went on to establish programs to further develop diaspora networks for State governments, Australian Universities and Federal Government Departments in trade, tourism and investment. Hundreds of volunteers rallied for Advance’s expansion in the United States, with events in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington DC. The early committees and board members of Advance, made up of Micko O’Donnell who was the second Chair of Advance, followed by Christopher Aitken, then Adrian Turner, invested an enormous amount of time and energy to make Advance flourish.
By 2004, Advance had become a force to be reckoned with, with other entities acknowledging the value of Australian expats and recognising the influence Advance has in supporting global Australians. The Senate conducted an inquiry into Australia’s Soft Power, finding, ‘Australian expatriates present many potential benefits, opportunities and new considerations for Australian policymakers’. This suggests that they saw Advance’s influence as unparalleled. The Australian Government began to increase efforts to connect and engage with the expatriate community, and much of the delivery shouldered by Advance. In keeping with the Senate’s recommendations, Advance proceeded to create international networks of connection for many Australian states, with events held over the years for Premiers of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
In addition, Advance helped universities establish connections and relationships with their alumni based in America. As a result, philanthropy, business connections, and investment flowed in from these renewed connections.
Two years later, Advance held its first Advance 100 Summit in Sydney, December 2006. This represented a watershed moment for the Australian diaspora, who prior to this, had never been celebrated, recognised or valued by Australia for the work they had done on the global stage.
With one million Australians overseas at any given time, the Summit was designed to draw attention to the importance of Australia’s greatest national asset, our diaspora. The event formalised the relationship between Australia and the influential members of its diaspora, with one hundred global Australians coming together at the Sydney Opera House for the inaugural occasion.
Read more about the momentous occasion here:
John Howard, addressing the Advance 100 Summit in December 2006, stated “Your coming here and the breadth of talent and achievement and success that is represented by the group that’s gathered here is, I think, something that sends a very strong message to our fellow country men and women in the globalised world, in which we now live forever. It is enormously to Australia’s advantage that we have a talented, energetic, achieving, highly successful diaspora.”
By the time Elena Douglas left New York to return to Australia in 2007, the organisation had activities in seven cities across the United States, as well as in London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Paris and Singapore.
In 2008, Serafina Maiorano was chosen as Elena’s replacement for the CEO of Advance. Under her strong leadership and the guidance of Advance Chairs Adrian Turner, Derek Youdale and then Glen Boreham AM – the organisation continued to expand.
“Many Australian professionals working overseas for extended periods are doing so because their talents are highly prized by international companies… Advance has forged an impressive role for itself in bringing these talented global Australians together and channelling their energies into the promotion of Australia.” ~ Kevin Rudd, Advance Asia Summit, 2009.
By 2010, it was time for Advance to expand its reach even further, building on the 2009 Advance Asia Summit to connect Australians in Asia. The Advance Emerging Leaders Summit in New Delhi brought together Australia’s dynamic and entrepreneurial diaspora. Leaders in business and social enterprise came together to tackle key challenges and identify opportunities for stronger relationships between India and Australia. The Summit explored topical themes including: redesign of India’s and Australia’s entrepreneurial ecosystems; meeting the region’s future energy needs; the urbanisation of cities; high-quality international education; and globalised citizens.
The following year, the 2011 Advance Women’s Leadership Summit was launched by the Governor General of Australia, Her Excellency Quentin Bryce AC, to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day. The event furthered Advance’s mission of showcasing and harnessing Australian expatriate talent, expertise and alumni networks abroad as a “brain chain” for Australia, with a focus on women’s leadership in the Asia Pacific.
The Summit focused on strengthening global partnerships, sustainability, innovation and inspiring leadership. It brought together current and emerging thought leaders across countries, generations and businesses, with the aim of celebrating the achievements of exceptional women and showcasing their innovative leadership roles. This included panel discussions, keynotes and networking events delivered to more than 250 attendees from over 15 countries, and of those 250 attendees, 50 were chosen as, ‘Advance’s Leading 50 Women.’
“Over the last 10 years, the Advance community has played a special part in bringing this diaspora together and also honouring some of its highest achievers. As Australia’s largest global community, Advance plays an important role in bringing together the collective experience of its members to benefit Australia, Australian companies and other Australians.” ~ Julia Gillard, Advance Global Australian Awards, 2012.
In 2014, Advance set its sights higher once again, partnering with KPMG to launch Elevate 61, a program designed to help later stage startups to fast-track their success overseas. The program assisted start-ups with a proven domestic offering and an annual turnover of $500,000+ to break into the U.S. market. It offered companies, such as Adepto and CancerAid, an intensive three-day workshop preparing them for the global stage, followed by a ten-day program in LA, SF and NYC to connect with the Advance community of entrepreneurs, investors and corporates, providing invaluable advice and networking for success. Participants praised the effectiveness of the program, and reported raising precious seed capital totalling $57m in the 3 years following the program.
“The power of the Advance network is huge. Australians around the world are so perfectly placed to facilitate introductions, support emerging talent and provide local intel – Advance connected us to these key people and created awareness of our product that has resulted in sales, partnerships, promotions and endorsement.” ~Tess Lloyd, Co-founder, Polli (now FindersKeepers)
Since its founding, Advance has been able to grow to where it is today, thanks to the ongoing Government support it has always received, enabling an important two-way dialogue between leading Australians overseas, and relevant Australian Government agencies. Advance has been honoured to receive the patronage of every Australian Prime Minister since John Howard, all of whom have welcomed the existence of the organisation as an important platform for the country’s greatest asset, its people overseas, their knowledge and their connections. Because of this, Advance has received funding from successive governments, supporting specific projects underpinning the growth of Advance programs, and the growth of the global Australian network.
On top of the funding from the government, which has averaged 30% of the overall budget, Advance’s growth reflects significant community involvement, goodwill and philanthropy from those that have seen the value of Advance’s mission.
Advance’s Lifetime Ambassadors have a special place in the hearts of the Advance community as past Board Directors and Special Advisers, who have generously supported Advance and kindly given their time over the years to provide strategic guidance and leadership, allowing it to become what it is today.
“The concept of Advance is really quite superb. What it does is to challenge, in the most emphatic way, that rather silly notion that in some way Australia is diminished by some of the brightest and the best of our country going overseas and making an enormous contribution to the societies and the economies of other parts of the world… The breadth of talent and achievement and success that is represented by the group that’s gathered here is I think something that sends a very strong message to our fellow country men and women that in the globalised world, in which we now live forever, it is enormously to Australia’s advantage that we have a talented, energetic, achieving, highly successful diaspora.” ~ John Howard, Advance Global Australian Forum, March 2014.
Leading up to and through 2017, Advance focused its efforts towards technology entrepreneur programs and growth in Asia. These endeavours aimed to grow Advance further and connect with more Australians living abroad.
In April 2019, Advance established and formally announced the Advance Asian Advisory Committee. This Committee’s primary role is to be an advocate and supporter of Advance’s activities in Asia, with the aim of building awareness of Advance in the region, particularly among its target membership – Australians working in Asian countries, and alumni of Australian universities who have returned home to Asia.
Through this initiative and efforts under Asia Director, Stefanie Evennett, Advance was able to increase Asia-based connections, with awareness-raising events to engage communities in Beijing, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore, with a total of 223 attendees. These events were conducted in collaboration with on-ground affiliate organisations, Australian Embassy and High Commissions. They focused on showcasing Advance Game Changers, across agriculture, technology and AI, installation arts, film and cinema, food industries.
There was also further progress with the signing two three-year MOUs with affiliate organisations in China, Australia and Indonesia to increase reach, with the Australia China Youth Dialogue (October 2018) and CAUSINDY (April 2019). Negotiations were also finalised with The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai for a two-year MOU (signed July 2019), with discussions commencing to renew an MOU with AsiaLink Business in Australia.
In addition to the momentum in Asia, Advance engaged members with a further sixteen events- eleven of which were in Australia, one in the UK and four in the US. These include Advance’s flagship annual Awards Ceremony & Gala Dinner, to build Advance’s brand and profile and engage members and partners.
“Our greatest exports are not of course iron ore important though that is, or tourism important though that is, wheat, coal and all the other things that we export….our greatest exports are our people. There are a million of you dotted around the world, saving lives, inventing things, being at the forefront of information technology.” John Howard, 25th Prime Minister of Australia.
It’s been a long road from the humble genesis of Advance, to the Global Platform it’s known as today: the professional network for global Australians, supporting international career paths and providing a bridge for skills and knowledge acquired overseas to be leveraged for Australia’s benefit.
Through the Global Pandemic, Advance has once again had to shift, transitioning into a digital platform while maintaining its core values. Over the past two years, Advance has continued to hold its annual Awards ceremonies, Town Hall events, “coffee hours” for returning Australians and more, all in an online format. At a time when overseas Australians were restricted from returning to Australia due to border closures, this transition allowed the organisation once again to broaden its network, and access and connect with even more incredible Australians all around the world. Under the leadership of CEO Maria MacNamara, Advance underwent a digital transformation that enabled a shift in strategy – from an organisation that connected with members primarily through events overseas, to a platform with inspiring digital content to connect and inspire global Australians wherever they are along their international career journey.
For Advance today, the annual Global Australian Awards are central to everything we do – identifying high-achieving Australians overseas and introducing these GameChangers to Australian audiences. Beyond the Advance Awards, our work focuses on:
- Engagement with our community through practical and informative in-person and digital seminars and events, such as the Town Halls, NextGen program and Talent Return program;
- Insights to inform best practice and influence Australian decision-makers about the value of global talent, through surveys and thought leadership on talent attraction, diaspora issues, and soft power.
- Content to encourage, inspire and guide overseas Australians and those embarking on their international career journey, through podcasts, interviews, postcards, and case studies.
- Outreach to ensure global Australians are connected with Australia and can be contacted directly about specific opportunities, through daily social media posts, monthly newsletters, and a robust CRM database.
As a long time not-for-profit organisation, Advance draws strength and inspiration from the Australian diaspora, and work to best serve this community for the benefit of the nation. This has required constant evolution since 2001 to fulfil our mission: to recognise and celebrate the achievements of global Australians, to inspire future generations, and to encourage a global outlook.