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12 Feb, 2012

World Bank Hails Role of Diaspora as a Resource for Development

Buenos Aires, February 2, 2012 (World Bank News Update) – Some years ago, the immigration from China, India, Taiwan, and Israel to Silicon Valley contributed to transforming sectors in these countries, through activities such as consultancy, policy recommendations, the establishment of new government departments, and participation in advisory committees and discussion groups.

Could other diasporas fulfill this role? The World Bank recently analyzed the cases of Argentina and Mexico to assess their potential in promoting development.

From the 324,000 emigrants in OECD countries, about 5,000-7,000 are scientists and 139 participated in the survey designed by the World Bank for this report. Just over a third have been living abroad for over 20 years as a consequence of either the military dictatorships of the 1960s and 1970s and the period of crisis in import substitution industrialization. A 89% are men, 45% has a doctorate and 36% a post doctorate.

Most interviewees (61%) live in the United States. Some 46% of the interviewees work in the business sector, laboratories, or in consulting, while 41% work in academia in the areas of biotechnology, nanotechnology, or information technology.

Almost 60% of ATD interviewees have experience in one of the three technologies that the Argentinean Ministry of Science and Technology has declared to be their sectoral priorities (software, biotechnology, and nanotechnology).

Moreover, they have a strong specialization in the development of new products or services, technological and commercial strategies, and the identification of business opportunities.

Long distance relationships

Most interviewees stated that they have strong international connections in their professional area, attending numerous conferences or seminars and belonging to some professional network, more than half of which are connected to Argentina. the interviewees did not declare themselves to be members of networks which bring together Argentinean professionals abroad, like private networks (ECODAR, CEGA, APARU) or state-organized networks (the Raíces program).

If the knowledge and availability of the technological diaspora are to be used effectively, there needs to be a critical mass of local skills and organizations with absorption capacities that are receptive to changes and suggestions. In this sense, interviewees identified as potential partners many universities and academic institutions. Most frequently mentioned were Institute of Molecular Biology from Rosario city, the Research Institute for Genetic Engineering and Molecular Biology (INGEBI), Leloir Foundation, Foundation for the Fight against neurological diseases (FLENI), Balseiro Institute, and Sciences Faculty of the University of Buenos Aires.

The Chamber that groups companies of Software and Computer Services(CESSI) and the Endeavor Foundation were also identified as key institutions. From the governmental area, it was highlighted the Agency for the Promotion of Science and Technology (ANPCyT), the CONICET, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Raíces program.

Integrating to local environment

According to the report, Argentina presents encouraging indicators in terms of education and investment in science and technology activities. In 2007, the Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation of Production was upgraded to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation of Production.

Sectoral funds are the backbone of this new system. They aim at promoting development and innovation in areas which are critical for the economic and social developmenty, such as energy, the agricultural industry, health, and social inclusion while strengthening and consolidating technological platforms for bio-technology, nanotechnology, and information and communication technology, in order to generate, adapt, and transfer critical knowledge for the areas of production and goods and services.

However, many of the interviewees were unaware of these sectoral funds and other initiatives developed by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation of Production and the Ministry of Production, like the Argentine Technological Fund (FONTAR) and the Trust Fund for the Promotion of Software Industry (FONSOFT.

One reason could be that most initiatives undertaken by the Argentinian government focused in encouraging professionals to return to the country, through programs such as Raíces and reintegration grants from the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research. According to the interviewees’ answers, they are interested in being integrated into activities in the country without attempting to get them to return to the country.

In particular, they are interested in being involved in government advisory committees which evaluate and propose reforms to priority areas, and participating in projects that are promoted by international corporations. According to them, the Argentinean government should support two types of policies: in the first place, they specified actions connected to business development and promotion (like business accelerators); in the second place, actions that would bring local business practices and local businesspeople closer to international best practices and experience. In this sense, some 38% of these answers mention the creation of internship programs in leading global companies, visits by entrepreneurs and businesspeople to innovation systems, and visits to Argentina by successful entrepreneurs and executives.

The connection with private sector is more dynamic. According to the interviewees, promoting relationships and institutionalizing their role as consultants are a major opportunity for local technology-based firms. The possible contributions included mentoring, providing technological strategies, and helping to develop and analyze product viability and identify business opportunities.

According to the report, the possible influence of professionals working abroad –especially in these areas of biotechnology, information technology and nanotechnology- could be positive if a suitable regime of incentives is established and a local counterpart with considerable absorption capacities is clearly identified in either the public or private sector. Meanwhile, these professionals remain as a highly significant but still latent resource.