Innovative Solutions to Pakistan’s Brain Drain

A Publication of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

Innovative Solutions to Pakistan’s Brain Drain

It is tempting to look for simple solutions to Pakistan’s many challenges, but reality suggests that the way forward will be complex. One key challenge facing the country today is “brain drain”, well-educated Pakistanis leaving the country. Yet the money sent back home by Pakistanis overseas ranks as the third largest source of capital for economic growth and helps balance Pakistan’s large national deficit. Given this reality, Pakistan should aim for a “brain circulation” where Pakistanis abroad contribute more than money to their homeland.

According to the World Bank Migration and Remittances Fact Book 2011, there are nearly 5 million Pakistanis living overseas, predominantly in the UK, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Canada. In 2010, according to the World Bank, the Pakistani diaspora sent home $9.4 billion– an indication of the extent of the brain drain, as well as the high numbers of Pakistani emigrants and the earning abilities, advanced skills and knowledge acquired in their host countries.

Globalisation of the world’s economies has brought about an increasing fluidity of capital, both financial and intellectual, and Pakistanis abroad have been able to build their capacity to the benefit of their adopted countries while contributing to the economy in Pakistan.

While there are benefits from a large diaspora, bringing the expertise and entrepreneurial energy of emigrants back to Pakistan could add stability to the country’s economy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that young Pakistanis are in fact choosing to return home for two reasons – shrinking opportunities abroad and an altruistic desire to give back to their homeland. But there are also deterrents.

Pakistan certainly needs them and there is growing interest in engaging the diaspora to help strengthen the economy as well as become a stabilising force in a precarious democracy and a powerful influence for peaceful change. However Pakistanis returning from abroad must deal with what is often a decline in living standards, such as a lack of regular electricity.

The Pakistan government would be wise to give priority to attracting expatriate electrical engineers and solar and wind power experts to return and contribute to a solution to the dire energy crisis.

The continuing violence in Pakistan is also a profound deterrent. This is a chicken and egg factor; while violence deters many from returning, increased job and market opportunities that could result from the return of Pakistanis with skills in fields such as alternative energy would create momentum for a healthier economy, which could contribute to diffusing some of the violent struggles over access to resources. Pakistanis abroad with wider exposure to world economies and an appreciation of shifts in global supply and demand have a competitive edge when establishing businesses back home.

Their philanthropic generosity is already helping reduce poverty.

Growing numbers of social entrepreneurs are working to improve Pakistan through non-profits as well as government and private sectors in their host countries. For instance, the Aga Khan Foundation, an international organisation focusing on grassroots development, which has much support from expatriate Pakistanis, has done a great deal to bring together funding and expertise for the good of Pakistan.

The First Micro Finance Bank was established in 2002 by the Aga Khan Rural Support program – one of many expatriate-inspired endeavours to break the cycle of poverty in Pakistan. Microfinance is transforming rural poverty and its success will depend on good knowledge-based management and vision that many returning expatriates are only too happy to provide.

Computer technology is also opening up networks for expatriates to create a bridge between the traditional world of immigrant workers and the knowledge economy. Expatriates have become investors in pioneer technology-based industries – particularly in business services which require managerial and technical skills – and local economies are benefiting from newly established microenterprises. The new mantra is “to do good and to do well” – with social entrepreneurs establishing viable businesses which in turn attract further investment opportunities.

Pakistanis abroad can bring their passion, energy and ambition back to Pakistan if political realities support them, linking global opportunities to local capabilities and helping democratisation to continue. Pakistan’s expatriates can help to propel their homeland into fast forward. The potential is certainly there – it simply needs to be acted upon.
Dr Azeem Ibrahim is the Executive Chairman of The Scotland Institute and a Fellow and Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, DC. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 August 2012,  www.commongroundnews.org