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Human Capital Flight

Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, resigned from his position a few months ago. And an Indian-American, Parag Agrawal, was named the new CEO. It’s an intriguing case that can be examined from two sides. On the one hand, people argue that the fact that Indians are becoming so successful in other countries is something to be proud of because we have Indian CEOs of major global companies because we Indians are comfortable with diversity and the difference in the atmosphere we grow up in. Indians are also known for their approach of doing more with fewer resources, or what’s locally known as “jugaad,” eventually making companies prefer Indians over natives in leading positions. However, some people refer to it as “brain drain.” In fact, memes like “Padhega India, Tabhi toh badhega America,” were becoming so popular.

According to one estimate, between 1996 and 2015, more than half of the top scorers on the class 10 and 12 board exams relocated abroad and are still working, largely in the United States. The smartest and brightest minds in India are currently residing and working in other countries. Do these folks symbolise lost Indian talent or do they help to promote the brand India? This can be answered by analysing some more trends. Since 2014, over 23,000 billionaires have left India. In fact, India ranks number one when it comes to the migration of the rich and educated. As a result, we end up contributing more to our host country than to our native country. A lot of skilled Indian immigrants got subsidised education, and other countries benefit from these subsidies. According to the associated chambers of commerce and industry, Indian students studying abroad cost the country up to $17 billion in lost revenue yearly. People are most productive when they leave India, and when they return, they are typically a spent force with ideas and capabilities that are no longer needed. This apparently leads to reduced economic growth, limited innovative capacities of the nation and lack of skilled manpower.

When we discuss the subject of brain drain, caste reservations are frequently blamed. However, if we investigate the problem; there are no caste reservations if one wishes to create their own business or work for a private company. Indians also migrate abroad due to the problems of regionalism and religious communalism in India. The problem of casteism also exists. Another explanation could be that many good colleges in India have skyrocketing cut offs, forcing students to go overseas in order to secure better-paying jobs. Improved quality of life, social security, better health care, and education are among the other considerations. People say brains go where the money is and where they are most valued. And if we look at wages in the context of purchasing power parity, the average wage in America is far more than in India. And one of the neglected dimensions of brain drain is gender equality. There aren’t enough women in technical and leadership roles, and this stems from gender disparities in education, labour force participation, and income levels. And this means a lot of highly skilled women shifting abroad with no intention of returning.

The people who have gone and become CEOs abroad have studied at prestigious colleges in India only. Even then, why did they choose to go abroad? The real reason behind it is that the societies of these countries are very open and accepting of outsiders. And, unlike India, these countries lack casteism, communalism, regionalism, as well as nepotism in family businesses. Other factors, such as the country’s law and order, a lower level of corruption, and the absence of political harassment, all play a role. One of the main reasons why America has the potential to become a superpower is that it draws top people from around the world by providing them with numerous opportunities. There are numerous examples of an Indian becoming the CEO of a major American corporation. Satya Nadella became the CEO of Microsoft in 2014, Sundar Pichai has been the CEO of Alphabet Inc. and Google since 2015, Shantanu Narayan has been the CEO of Adobe since 2007 and many more. This trend may be noticed not only in American businesses, but also in Australian and British companies. There are many examples of people of Indian ancestry working in high-ranking positions in the United States, Australia, and Europe after receiving their education from prestigious Indian institutions such as IIT Bombay, IIT Ahmedabad, and BITS Pilani. However, there are hardly any examples of Indians holding high-ranking positions in Asian countries such as Japan, China, Korea, and Singapore. The true explanation for this is that the cultures of these Asian countries are relatively restricted. Foreigners are not readily accepted by the locals to the extent that they could become the CEO of a corporation in their nation. In India, we have a similar culture. Indeed, India is so closed off that the prospect of a foreigner becoming the CEO of an Indian company is so remote that even Indians do not have the opportunity to do so. because the vast majority of businesses in India are run by families. The issue is that these companies’ top leadership roles are already occupied by their family members. There is a decent level of nepotism here, and meritocracy is nonexistent. It is more difficult for an IT graduate to become the CEO of the Godrej, Mahindra, or Bajaj groups than it is to become the CEO of Google.

Similarly, Indians feel very proud when a person with Indian ancestry gets to a political position in a foreign country, like Kamala Harris and Bobby Jindal in the USA or Priti Patel and Alok Sharma in Britain. However, when it comes to Sonia Gandhi, the first point of criticism is that she is of Italian descent. In India, people do not accept politicians who have foreign ancestry. While countries such as Australia, the United States, and European countries have embraced the cosmopolitan idea, India and many other Asian countries have yet to embrace the spirit of the concept. 

The challenge now is: how can we turn India into a land of opportunities to reverse this trend of brain drain? There is still a lot of potential in India, and the country’s main task is to capitalise on it. Making India a safe country where law and order genuinely works could be one of the solutions. A society must be built in which everyone feels safe and secure, with no discrimination based on caste, religion, region, or family. Not only degrees, but also skill development, must be prioritised, so that people can be properly trained for employment. The government should devote a larger portion of its budget to research and development. The tax system, as well as the procedure of starting a business, should be made simpler.

“Brain Drain” signifies alarm and catastrophe, whereas a focus on “Brain Gain” would imply some form of hope and encouragement to focus on ways in which countries like India might benefit from their highly trained migrants. In the past, the movement and trade of goods and monetary capital received more attention than the movement and trade of human capital; this needs to change. It is important to remember that even if the source countries invest in and improve their conditions, some citizens may still feel compelled to migrate. While we can influence the greater circumstances in which immigration occurs, the decision to migrate remains a personal one.

By Tanvi Chutani

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