Scientists hope to repay brain drain profit

July 14, 2006

Many scientists from the developing world who now live in the West want to share their technological expertise with their countries of origin. But too often they are thwarted in their attempts, a Canadian study says.

The University of Toronto team that conducted the study wants the G8 nations that have gained from the brain drain to establish mechanisms to help the scientific diaspora contribute to innovation in their countries of origin.

The authors of the study conducted interviews with life-science researchers in academia and entrepreneurs; all were born outside of Canada and many said they felt strong ties to their home countries.

This desire to help is so strong that many of the 60 subjects interviewed said that they had initially hoped the researchers represented an organisation seeking to engage their help in an overseas programme.

Two thirds of respondents, a sample of the estimated 15,000 science and health-related experts in Canada who moved from developing countries, expressed an interest in working directly with the scientific communities that would benefit from their contributions.

Béatrice Séguin, co-author of the report, said that although some of the study's subjects were organising projects - including an Ethiopian universities programme soliciting education materials and a society of Chinese bioscientists interested in exchanges - "scattered goodwill" was not enough. "There needs to be more than a bunch of people trying to do things on their own. There needs to be support."

That sentiment was seconded by the scientists, more than half of whom said there should be financial and organisational support to realise their wishes.

Respondents suggested things such as entrepreneurial training, mentoring, biomedical business partnerships and joint research projects as some of the areas that could be funded.

Dr Séguin, and co-authors Abdallah Daar and Peter Singer, want Canada to take the lead and have been lobbying the Government to press fellow leaders at this weekend's G8 summit in Russia (July 15-17) to adopt a policy to set up these kinds of partnerships.

Dr Daar, originally from Tanzania, said the effect of the brain drain had been devastating. He said many African governments had stopped trying to win back lost scientists and, like Nigeria, which celebrates a "diaspora day", are looking to benefit from partnerships with the West.

"They have begun to change from trying to stem the brain drain to this idea of recirculating the talent," he said.

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