South Africa’s talent migration abroad has created a valuable knowledge network and an untapped asset base that can further the competitiveness of the country, says The SABLE Accelerator, a global group of SA expats advancing commercial innovation and exchange for their home country.
SABLE (South African Business Link to Experts) is based in Silicon Valley.
While many of South Africa’s best and brightest university graduates have left the country during the past 40 years to gain career experience, influential contacts and positions of prominence abroad, a new global alumni survey by Rhodes University shows this so-called “brain drain” could actually translate to significant “brain gain,” both onshore and offshore.
A sizable 72% of Old Rhodian expats living in more than 20 overseas countries believe their skills and knowledge would be useful and valuable to South Africa, and 48% say they would be interested in learning more about incentives to relocate back to South Africa.
Rhodes University conducted a comprehensive online survey of its alumni in May 2013 with the help of GlobalFluency (an international marketing firm) and The SABLE Accelerator. The survey assessed the input of 957 participants from 22 countries, and 40% of the respondents (387) currently reside abroad. Countries where Old Rhodian survey respondents are living include South Africa, the US, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong/China, Bermuda, India, Kenya, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Key findings from the survey on international Rhodes University graduates show that:
• While 90% of Old Rhodians living abroad are satisfied with their lifestyle or professional position overseas, 32% would consider returning to or retiring in South Africa, and 28% are undecided.
• Forty percent of Old Rhodians living abroad consider themselves ambassadors and champions of the new South Africa, and 33% visit South Africa more than once a year.
• The majority of these global South Africans still identify with their home country; 36% say they have a strong emotional and cultural attachment, and 51% retain affinity and connections.
• Thirty-six percent of Old Rhodians living abroad view transformation in South Africa positively compared to 24% who view it negatively; 34% are neutral.
• Friends and family remain the primary way for 81% of offshore Old Rhodians to stay connected to news and developments in South Africa; other important sources include Internet websites (68%), international media (47%), and social media groups (41%).
“There is a massive pool of predisposed South African expatriate talent waiting to be tapped globally,” says Donovan Neale-May, managing partner of The SABLE Accelerator and Chairman of the Rhodes University Trust USA. “These standouts in many fields of endeavor are willing and eager to give back to the country. They just need to be invited, engaged and recognised through a formal process of interaction.”

“Our partnership with SABLE in conducting this survey of our graduates is designed to ensure that we contribute to discussions of national and international importance,” adds Dr Saleem Badat, vice-chancellor of Rhodes University. “It will, in turn, help us to engage at an intellectual and institutional level with issues of interest to our alumni.”

The SABLE initiative (, launched in August of 2012, is gaining real traction. It has a global advisory board of more than 50 illustrious business leaders, financiers, academics, researchers, consultants, medical and life science professionals who trace their roots back to South Africa. SABLE also has cooperating agreements with leading government-funded research centers, technology transfer offices of leading universities, diverse funding sources, incubators, trade and economic development agencies, as well as advocacy groups advancing both innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition, SABLE is working with a diverse group of emerging-growth companies from South Africa that are seeking access to the North American market.

A big part of the SABLE value proposition is the formation of an elite online community of expert global South Africans who possess knowledge, expertise, influence and access abroad. SABLE is using a customised version of the MentorCloud SaaS platform to enable these individuals to import their LinkedIn profiles, present their credentials and specify whether they wish to contribute as a consult, mentor, coach, speaker, lecturer, investor or board member. They will also be able to provide pro-bono coaching and mentoring services, extend their professional networks, and monetize their time and expertise.

South African-based innovators will also be able to register and post information about their intellectual property or new business models on the SABLE website with the aim of furthering links to experts and sources of funding and business development support worldwide. They will also be able to search for compatible and relevant global experts to help them take their IP or business models to market, as well as provide advice, coaching, mentoring and introductions.