Oct 282005

When i was growing up in the 1980’s the big term around was “Brain Drain“. All those kids who went to the IIT”ss and then ran away abroad. Every family we knew had atleast one sibling in the states. Doctors, Engineers, Teachers, Scientists, Managers – you name it. It almost seemed that an entire generation had fled India’s shores for a better quality of life. And lets face facts, the quality of life in pre-liberalised India was not particualry khaas. It reminded me of living life in a Mrinal Sen Film (not that bad – but close).

Back in 1994, when i returned to India after living for almost a decade in London, a lot of people thought that i had completely lost it. I returned just after the Surat plague, and my friends there kept dissuading me about my return. Oh but you are English now, you won’t fit in there – they would say. I returned for a myriad of reasons the most important of all being professional ones. I didn’t see myself heading a main stream television company there, though i thought that given a certain level of performance i would be able to achieve that in India. Ambition, and the ability to achieve that ambition pulled me back. There were other reasons – i was hellishly homesick, missed my folks, missed Mumbai. But, all those would have gone on the back burner if i thought i could head a BBC or an ITV or a C4. I still can’t see an Asian woman heading one of those organisations. But, that is a different post.

In the last 4 or 5 years a number of people that i know have returned to India from abroad. in a way a reverse Brain Drain – the opportunities existed and they came back. Things may not be perfect, but atleast there the possibilty of achieving one’s aims.

So when I read today about the world bank study that linked continuing poverty to a brain drain – I wondered if brain drain was simply symptomatic.

The study’s findings document a troubling pattern of “brain drain,” the flight of skilled middle-class workers who could help lift their countries out of poverty, some analysts say. And while the exact effects are still little understood, there is a growing sense among economists that such migration plays a crucial role in a country’s development.

According to the report, the countires with the highest rate of brain drain are from Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America. These are also the areas with almost non existence governance. The only way people who can stay will stay, is if the conditions are condusive to their staying.

Jagdish Bhagwati – whom I have heard speak once, and whose essays on international economics have helped me enjoy a good nights sleep more than once – has the last word on this:

immigrants were often voting with their feet when they departed from countries that were badly run and economically dysfunctional. They get their government’s attention by the act of leaving.