Sunday, July 31, 2011

Geopolitics Of Talent: Brazil

Brazil's government will subsidize the export of talent. That's right. Tax dollars will be used to pay for brain drain. Why, oh why would the country do such a horrible thing? Economic development:

China, India and South Korea have led the world in sending students to U.S. universities, which according to the two best-known world university rankings — Britain’s Times Higher Education Supplement and China’s Shanghai Jiai Tong University index — remain the best in the world.

Judging from what I saw in trips to China, India and other Asian countries in recent years, most of their key industries, such as India’s information technology sector, have been created by students who pursued graduate degrees in U.S. universities, and later returned home or invested in their native countries while staying abroad.

China is the leader for global talent management strategies. That's where I look for cutting edge policy. The United States is a good two decades behind. Anyone or anyplace touting retention lives in a yesterday that is at least that old. I'd say the thinking is much more appropriate for 1910 than 2010.

Brazil isn't building cool cities to keep the best and brightest from leaving. Even getting out of Richard Florida's darling Austin can do wonders for your career. Life is elsewhere.

Not all relocations qualify as an entrepreneurial act. There isn't much risk in moving for a job you have already landed. The company might pay for the transfer, mitigating the worst of the financial rough seas. I mean hustling in the streets in hopes of making enough for next month's rent. You are living by your wits in order to stay. Cities and rural towns propose ways to make staying easier, killing innovation.

Not all students abroad will end up as New Argonauts. Back to the Miami Herald opinion piece:

Many Brazilians reacted with skepticism, according to readers’ comments in Brazil’s major newspapers. The new program is “a fairy tale that will never materialize,” said one reader. “A marketing coup,” said another. “There will be a lot of politicians’ children studying abroad,” said a third one.

The most common criticism was that those leaving will never come back, because they won’t find jobs at home. “And if they return, will they have to revalidate their doctorates here, one reader asked scornfully on the Folha de Sao Paulo website.

Surely a lot of public money will go to rich families who could send their children to the United States without any help. But even these migrations will pay dividends. Venture capital will flow along these networks. Brazil and the United States will become more integrated. The only reason not to fund the export of talent is fear.

The motivation behind retention is a form of xenophobia. Outsiders are bad. Plugging the brain drain will reduce tolerance, shore up parochial attitudes. That's the Gestalt of CEOs for Cities and Next Generation Consulting. There aren't companies or organizations promoting geographic mobility. You can't make money doing that. Meanwhile, China and Brazil forge ahead. Michigan ponders its next placemaking boondoggle. Detroit will turn around in spite of itself.

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