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Potentially 1000s of 'brain drain' scientists would help home countries if system to do so created

Potentially thousands of expatriate scientists and academics from developing countries would willingly contribute to scientific development and innovation in their countries of origin if simply there were effective mechanisms created to help do so.

And researchers say industrialized countries that profit enormously from the "brain drain" should lead the establishment of those mechanisms to everyone's mutual benefit, -- the benefits for industrialized countries including strengthened science links between North and South, improved international competitiveness and greater productivity.

The findings are among the conclusions and recommendations of a year-long probe of attitudes and experiences of 60 life science researchers and entrepreneurs from developing countries now living in urban Canada, a revealing sample of that one nation's estimated 15,000 science and health-related experts that immigrated from developing countries. The study was done by University of Toronto researchers at the Canadian Program on Genomics and Global Health of the Joint Centre for Bioethics (JCB), and the McLaughlin Center for Molecular Medicine (MCMM).

A summary of the study findings, written by Béatrice Séguin, Peter A. Singer, and Abdallah S. Daar, is published in the June 16 edition of Science magazine.

While there is increased global interest in the potential to improve long-term health and economic conditions in developing countries of scientific diaspora (defined as "self-organized communities of expatriate scientists and engineers working to develop their home country or region, mainly in science, technology, and education"), there is a "lack of communication and coordination," the researchers say.

They find little systematic science and technology interaction between study participants and their countries of origin; many are unaware of vehicles through which to channel a strong desire to contribute.

Barriers to engagement cited by diaspora members also include a lack of time; financial barriers; lack of infrastructure in their country of origin; and, simply, no one had asked for their contributions. Some participants say they were still in the process of building careers in Canada; others that they lack credibility without a high profile position in the developed world.

Many participants perceived the study notice as a 'call for help,' and "although the notice made no mention of this, they hoped they were being recruited for an existing program," the researchers say.

Some 32 of 60 participants wished for some form of external support (financial and / or organizational), guidance, and credibility.

The researchers call for a "Diaspora Business Initiatives" and "National Science Corps" in industrialized countries.

According to co-author Dr. Abdallah S. Daar, Director of Ethics and Policy at the MCMM, University of Toronto, the former would provide institutional support and funding to enable partnerships (investment, trade) in the life sciences between business and entrepreneurial communities of industrialized countries and those in countries of origin. The latter would fund the direct interaction between diaspora scientists and S&T institutions in emerging countries of origin.

These National Science Corps would require identification of qualified and willing scientific diasporas members and could be modeled on the Global Science Corps (GSC), a new initiative that focuses on sending American scientists (not restricted to diasporas) to pre-qualified institutions in developing countries for 1 to 2 years.

Asked how a hypothetical diaspora program could be most effective, participants cited a need for:
(i) A platform that would allow them to participate in short-term visits to developing countries where they could provide "hands-on" science or entrepreneurial training;
(ii) Access to technology for "virtual" teaching (Web-based educational vehicles);
(iii) Grant-writing advice and mentoring;
(iv) A mechanism to facilitate biomedical business partnerships between the diaspora in Canada and countries of origin;
(v) Funding mechanisms for joint research projects between Canadian and developing country researchers; and
(vi) Policies that would help postdoctoral fellows spend time in their country of origin without harming their careers.

Says co-author and JCB Director Dr. Peter A. Singer: "By strengthening the highly skilled and motivated diaspora communities and their potential, and by leveraging their expertise, developed countries will benefit from expanded networks and partnerships with emerging markets and related commercial opportunities. In short, by supporting the scientific diasporas of developing countries, developed countries can enhance their own international competitiveness and productivity."

"If the Group of Eight (G8) countries make engaging scientific diaspora a priority, this would foster innovation in developing countries, which could create long-term health and economic benefits," says Dr. Daar.

He says scientific diasporas "represent an untapped resource for their countries of origin and their host countries, and both must become involved with the diasporas," noting that the 2005 final report of the independent Global Commission on International Migration concluded that countries of origin should "establish an inventory of the skills base within the diaspora (and) develop programmes that facilitate the transfer of skills and knowledge from the diaspora to their countries of origin"

Emerging countries are aware of the potential diasporas represent. For example, political leaders in India and China support with concrete incentives their calls for diasporas to help develop science and technology capacity. In India, these incentives include provision of dual citizenship, a special ministry responsible for persons of Indian origin (PIOs), an annual celebration and conference for PIOs, and a Research Scientists Scheme, bringing PIOs overseas back to teach in Indian universities. China has committed US$25 million over 15 years to a Web site and center to assist permanently and temporarily returned overseas Chinese scholars.

The researchers say Canada's position in international aid is well respected and a government-backed diaspora effort would provide credibility when trying to make connections.

One participant is quoted as saying: "If the Canadian government created an organization, provided us with a nucleus, made the initial effort, I think there would be so many people who would join."

"The newly elected government in Canada identified as a priority the creation of an agency to assess the credentials of professionals immigrating to Canada so as to facilitate their entry in their respective fields," says co-author Béatrice Séguin of the JCB. "This could represent an excellent starting point from which to gather information and to begin to build a Diaspora Knowledge Network."

"Immigration, innovation, aid and trade policies are interdependent," she adds. "Therefore, the new government has a special opportunity to build on its own commitment to recognize foreign credentials by also creating formal mechanisms to enable diaspora scientists in Canada to give back to their countries of origin."

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University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics
Innovative. Interdisciplinary. International. Improving health care through bioethics.
The JCB is a partnership among the University of Toronto and 15 health care organizations. It provides leadership in bioethics research, education, and clinical activities. Its vision is to be a model of interdisciplinary collaboration in order to create new knowledge and improve practices with respect to bioethics. The JCB does not advocate positions on specific issues, although its individual members may do so. For more information: http://www.utoronto.ca/jcb/

The R. Samuel McLaughlin Centre for Molecular Medicine
The MCMM was established with a vision of improving health through the application of molecular advances to clinical care. Founded with a 50 million dollar endowment, the Centre is a joint initiative of the University of Toronto and four affiliated hospital-based research institutions. The centre seeks to become a global leader in translational research by attracting the best and brightest. For more information: www.mcmm.ca/


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

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