Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pittsburgh Emigration Services

Every once in a while, a link to my blog turns up in an unexpected place. Former Irish President Mary Robinson founded the Emigrant Advice Network, Éan for short, in 1996 to (among other things) "undertake projects of benefit to emigrants." The 2007 Annual Report lists the new objectives as questions that Éan should help answer:

Ireland can now redefine its role with the Irish abroad. What role can emigrants play in Irish society? How can Ireland best reach out to its emigrants? How can we better serve their needs and, at the same time, ensure that emigrants can make a contribution to their native country if they desire to? How can our experience as an emigrant nation inform our current status as an immigrant nation?

What role can emigrants play in Pittsburgh or Rust Belt society? Given the increased geographic mobility of talent and demographic trends, we should be considering the prospect of enhancing such a relationship. Like most shrinking cities, Pittsburgh's focus is on retention. Attracting more immigrants is a worthy goal, but emigrant services are not discussed as part of any regional talent management strategy.

One obvious upshot to such an initiative is facilitating homecoming. The Irish Diaspora is not a model for Pittsburgh. But I see many parallels with the Scottish Diaspora:

Advertisements for Homecoming Scotland are today unveiled in Edinburgh, before the St Andrew's Day celebrations. They are likely to highlight the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, and 200 events to boost tourism.

Most grandiose is The Gathering, due to held in Edinburgh in July. Billed as “a celebration of one of Scotland's greatest traditions” it reaches out to North America, “where clan membership exceeds 100,000 and over 300 Highland Games and festivals are held annually”.

[Professor Tom Devine, director of the Scottish Centre of Diaspora Studies at Edinburgh University], dismissed this “Highlandism” as a modern phenomenon. “American Scots have not retained the same level of expatriate ethnic identity as Irish Americans. They assimilated quickly,” he said. “This recent thing we have seen is an invention of the last quarter of a century, not the continuation of an ancient sense of identity dating back into the 19th century. It is new, the invention of tradition: Tartan Day, tartan week, the Highland games phenomenon - all of that is of recent vintage.”

Pittsburgh's global identity is also "of recent vintage." I don't see why there couldn't be Pittsburgh Center of Urban and Domestic Diaspora Studies. An expatriate ethnic identity could be constructed. The cultural phenomenon of Pittsburghese suggests that this is already happening.

Our understanding of labor mobility is in desperate need of an update. Current investments in human capital were fine for an industrial economy. From Éan, we can learn about the hometown benefits of emigrants services. We can also investigate best practices. The Pittsburgh Promise, like emigrant services, will help young talent leave. But the initiative will also entice expatriates to return:

While working on "very exciting things" in New York City with Teach for America, [Cate Reed, an East End native,] realized she wanted to make a difference in her hometown.

New York City public schools have more than 1 million students. Compare that with Pittsburgh's approximately 28,000 students, and the possibility for success becomes "very manageable," she said.

"We could be a model for this country to ... fundamentally change the way we think about urban school districts."

She cites the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program and a principal training program (also supported by Mr. Broad) that brings in teachers who are interested in leadership roles as reasons to believe in the schools.

"The Pittsburgh Promise is huge," she said, noting that it's not only a financial promise, but a promise from the district to prepare students for higher education.

We could be a model for this country to fundamentally change the way we think about brain drain.

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