A supportive environment is necessary for triggering the development impact of diaspora engagement enabling a real brain gain in India, says Dr. Gabriela Tejada

A supportive environment is necessary for triggering the development impact of diaspora engagement enabling a real brain gain in India, says Dr. Gabriela Tejada, scientific collaborator at the Cooperation and Development Center (CODEV)  at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland. She shared some of her ideas on Scientific diaspora with Jitendra D. Soni of GRFDT.

You have been working on a very important issue called scientific diaspora. In what way this diaspora is important to the economy of the sending country? Are there any success stories where the sending countries have benefitted from their scientific diaspora?

The issue of scientific diasporas is part of the optimistic functionalist visions of migration and development which have gained prominence from 2000 onwards supporting the idea that the international mobility of human capital can lead to benefits for the home country. The well-known examples of India and China have shown that indeed scientists and skilled professionals abroad can contribute to a strengthening of the countries’ scientific and technological capacities through knowledge and technology transfer as well as business and entrepreneurialinvestments and links. There are other cases in point that are more hidden but equally relevant. For example,the Romanian Ad-Astra Network created through the efforts of Romanian scientists abroad, achieved to enhance the research sector in that country. Another case is the Society for theAdvancement of Science and Technology in the Arab World (SASTA) funded by Arab scientists around the world, who through their advisory work and cooperation with institutions in the home countries have contributed to the creation and strengthen of local scientific capacities and the impact of higher education in science.

Can you please differentiate the experiences of India and other countries such as South Africa, Mexico, Colombia and Moldova in reference to skilled mobility and engaging their scientific diaspora for development at home?

Those countries have considered various ways of capitalizing on the resources of their skilled people abroad and have accordingly implemented different strategies for knowledge transfer and cooperation. These case country examples show how the capitalizationof diasporas’ resources could take different forms such as for instance: financial transfers, knowledge circulation and recovery through scientific diasporas’ networks, temporary return or circular migration, or the encouragement of investment practices and policies. Colombia and South Africa are examples of efforts towards the involvement of scientific diasporas at a distance through the creation of pioneer scientific diaspora networks making use of the information and communication technologies.Moldova, which has been hard hit by brain drain, has implemented concrete innovative policies to cooperate with the scientific diaspora such as the Short Term Visit Programme for Scientists implemented in collaboration with IOM. Furthermore Moldova launched some years ago the pilot PARE 1+1 Programme which seeks to stimulate the transfer of remittances through official channels to create new private business with a special focus being placed in rural areas. This is a replication of the Programme 3 x 1 implemented by Mexico which channels collective remittances to community projects.These remittances programmes are however not focused on highly skilled. On that specific issue, Mexico has created the Network of Talent (Red de Telentos)with the aim of boosting the country’s technological innovation and capacities to advance towardsa knowledge based economy through the creation of synergies between skilled Mexicans abroad and the Mexican public and private sectors.

Your work on India diaspora especially focusing on skilled diaspora, do you think India scenario is ready for brain circulation or brain gain? What are the experiences and what are the drawbacks?

Transnational linkages are crucial for the transfer of skills and knowldge from the diaspora. Our study on skilled Indians abroad indicates that they cultivate strong transnational links with India. While their aspirations to contribute to the development of India depend on their length of stay and main activity in the host country, we have seen that scientists and researchers feel more strongly about being engaged and cooperate, and they also see possible avenues to link their research and scientific activity to societal needs. The potential is there because the scientific diaspora want to give back and is motivated. However, skilled Indians abroad have a lack of trust in the necessary enabling environment provided by the home country. Therefore, a supportive environment in India has shown to be necessary for triggering the development impact of diaspora engagement enabling a real brain gain.

How do you think about the return diaspora option in the Indian context? Are they promise better in terms of entrepreneurship and skill for economic development as compared to the people living outside home country?

I have leaded research on Indian skilled mobility for the past two years, and the preliminary results of our empirical research indicate that return migration to India is indeed taking place.Our study shows that skilled Indians have strong expectations of their migration project for their career and academic progress. Their mobility plans, specifically regarding the decisions to stay in the host country, to return to India or to move to a third destination follow a combination of both professional and familiar factors. In the particular case of Indian students, we can see that many of them plan to return to their home country, but they wish to benefit from gaining international working experience before going back.The return plans confirm their belief of the economic and professional opportunities that India has to offer.The crucial issue is if they will indeed have the opportunity to transfer their skills gained abroad upon return. It is true that the return to the home country could be viewed as a feedback effect of skilled migration given that migrants' foreign exposure may bring improved levels of knowledge and technical skills, which could then help to generate employment and raise productivity in the home country. In fact, return migration could be very beneficial, depending on the nature of the skills flowing in and the type of opportunities available. However, research on the issue suggests that thriving returnees successfully combine access to productive employment, and an enabling environment, with the possibility of influencing the home country.

How do you visualize the role of scientific diaspora in next 10 years as most of the developed countries such as in the case of Europe and USA who are seriously trying to woo the entrepreneurs and high skilled professionals to boast their economy?

I think that theimportance of scientific diaspora will be highly recognized in the next decade, both for home country and for host country development. In the case of some European countries that we have studied (such as France, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland), we can see that they are ever more aware of the value of skilled persons from third countries as added talent that will help increase their competitiveness, and they are therefore introducing innovative immigration policies focused on foreign skilled persons as they are interested in meeting their industry requirements and alleviate skills gaps. Furthermore, the internationalization of higher education in such countries will certainly play a key role as well given that it might continue encouraging the flows of international students. Such European countries are also implementing policies enabling the transition of international students to the labour market.All in all, these countries are ever more implementing strategies for means of attracting and retaining foreign skilled people. And I think this tendency will remain in the following decade.

How GRFDT can bring vibrancy in research and policy making in the field of diaspora and transnationalism studies?  

The creation of the GRFDT is very timely given the increasing importance of diasporas’ contributions to the home countries, within the migration and development international agenda. GRFDT could function as a common platform for interfaces between researchers and policy makers to address these topics with the aim of jointly leveraging and optimize diasporas’ engagement and scarce resources, to publicizeactivities and initiatives, to learn from each other and share effective practices.



Gabriela Tejada is a scientific collaborator at the Cooperation and Development Center (CODEV)  at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, where she is Project Leader of  research into scientific diasporas. She has undertaken research into skilled mobility and scientific diasporas, studying countries such as Colombia, South Africa, India, Mexico and Moldova. She obtained her primary degree in International Relations from Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico and holds a PhD in Political Science from the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain.



Interview Date:   Sunday, Sep 23, 2012
Person Name:   Dr. Gabriela Tejada

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