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A Cure for Europe's Brain Drain

A Cure for Europe's Brain Drain

Interesting take from a Bulgarian magazine on a now decades-long problem troubling almost all of Europe but which is especially acute in peripheral countries. A group of 20-somethings in Bulgaria has formed a network dedicated to curbing brain drain out of their country. Called “Here and There,” the group averages about one hundred people at its meetings and has over 1,500 fans on its Facebook group. Titles of some of its programs and seminars include “Why not a career in Bulgaria?” “Studying abroad,” and “The Culture Shock of Coming Home,” the latter of which is summarized thusly:

“When you come home after a long stay abroad, it is not unusual to find that all your friends have disappeared, especially if you left the country just after completing secondary school,” one group leader remarks. “When I came back from London in 2008, I found myself in a social desert: Friday nights would come and go, and there would be no one to go for a drink with.”

Much of the debate about how to curb brain drain has focused on allocating greater government resources to fund research and expand labs. That has only gotten governments so far: Certainly, some will be lured back with the promise of more money.  But these countries will ultimately never be able to compete with the resources and sophistication of American or British research firms. And most government-run civil society approaches, as is almost always the case, have proven clumsy.

But if the Bulgarian government, and others suffering from leaking talent, are paying any kind of attention, they should be pouring money into groups like “Here and There.”  Friends and relationships can prove just as powerful as material incentives in directing one’s career, if not more so. As exciting as it may seem to some, many would not want to move to a city in which they know no one. If no one’s at home, it makes little sense to return.

One other argument posited is that market forces are slowing the tap: “The world is increasingly a global environment, borders are disappearing and we are all a lot more mobile. Even what it means to come back has completely changed. You can be in Bulgaria today, and tomorrow you can decide that you want to work abroad again.”

The evolution of globalization, and the current condition of the European economy, may be such that  “brain drain” has reached a kind of equilibrium. Governments and societies will never fully prevent many of its best and brightest citizens from going overseas. But labor opportunities have become so fluid that many can now bank on this group to return at some point in their careers. And when they do, it would probably help to have a group like “Here and There” to welcome them back.