Of NRIs and brain banks

Of NRIs and brain banks
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First Published: Thu, Jan 22 2009. 09 52 PM IST

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Updated: Thu, Jan 22 2009. 09 52 PM IST
The Indian diaspora is by now used to being wooed by the Indian government for its money and to be an influential lobby to further national interests in the US. Barack Obama’s mention of American Hindus in his inaugural address on Tuesday further signifies the clout of the Indian diaspora.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Attitudinal changes are needed elsewhere as well. For years, Indian emigres have been blamed for the “brain drain”—perhaps a valid view in the old closed and protected economy. It is now time they are viewed as a “brain bank” that gives a globalized India access to knowledge and markets.
The government unfurled an informal citizenship scheme for people of Indian descent, called the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI), providing financial parity with citizens in 2005. This follows the earlier scheme to offer persons of Indian origin (PIO) cards. But it is unclear how many Indians abroad are turned away by the arduous red tape of the application process.
China has historically capitalized on Chinese communities abroad. The Indian government, formally, has been late to foster ties. To be sure, people of Indian origin who live abroad are often more up-to-date on the latest Bollywood film, and Indian urban centres often feel like a revolving door for returnees during December vacations.
Much is to be gained from expanding formal linkages with Indians overseas. While the emigration of highly skilled Indians over the years has weakened domestic entrepreneurship, these expatriates can help link local innovators with international markets and knowledge pools. A recent National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper notes the importance of these “brain banks” cultivated abroad.
In this hyper-globalized world, the networks of knowledge, access and innovation such transnational channels provide are almost imperative.
Expanded PIO and OCI schemes can link entrepreneurs and cultivate more cutting edge start-ups. Many top guns of India’s big information technology firms already have spent significant time abroad. According to the NBER authors, this collaboration of knowledge has led to some of India’s highest value innovations, and might represent a major fraction of productivity. Such collaborations could be expanded.
Many benefit from the OCI scheme, and similar programmes should be encouraged.
Indians abroad: brain drain or brain bank? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jan 22 2009. 09 52 PM IST