Pakistan is experiencing unprecedented knowledge insecurity. Leading national experts, practitioners, design thinkers, academics, and scientists are increasingly looking for opportunities to settle abroad. And when they do fly overseas, they carry extra baggage with them, which is neither inspected by custom officials, nor is it subject to any additional charges. This auxiliary luggage is none other than knowledge and it is gladly received by developed countries all across the world. Knowledge holds insurmountable value and in today’s highly globalized world it is a frequent traveller and seldom returns home.
‘Brain drain’ is one of the side effects of globalization. It has led to Pakistani diaspora settling in virtually all corners of the globe. According to figures by Bureau of Emigration & Overseas Employment, nearly one million Pakistanis settled abroad for employment in the year 2015. There are myriad reasons for brain drain but according to Dr. KhurramKayani, who is a Pakistani expat living in Australia and serving as President of Pakistani Professionals & Business Entrepreneurs Syndicate Australia (PPBSA), it all boils down to ‘injustice’. “Pakistanis leave the country because they fear that there is a lack of a supportive environment”, contends Dr. Kayani. “Many businesses in the country work in an environment marred by uncertainty brought largely by the perceived rifts and splits in the justice system. Uncertainly incapacitates confidence and weakens the entrepreneurial spirit.”
Developed countries work on a different economic system which values knowledge above everything else. These nations are home to what is known as ‘knowledge economies’. Pakistanis possessing knowledge and expertise find plethora of opportunities in such countries. They are welcomed with open arms. But developing countries cannot just restructure themselves at a flick of a switch. It takes decades to adopt such a system. In fact, becoming a knowledge society would be disastrous for Pakistan if done impetuously. Societies evolve and it is often futile to copy policies and practices undertaken in emergent nations. A country has to develop on its own. But how? Can we call in the experts? Unfortunately, they are not here!
There are two practical ways to bring Pakistanis back to the country. For better understanding they are named as Plan A and Plan B. Both are equally important and should be pursued simultaneously. Plan A is the most obvious solution. It aims to bring back knowledge workers by developing opportunities for them in their home country. Development of science and technology parks and business clusters can play a huge role in attracting and retaining talent. These sectors offer a number of resources for entrepreneurs and knowledge workers. They guarantee availability of talent, shared technological infrastructure, and provide means of connecting with consumers or business users.
These special zones also provide access to accommodation facilities, recreational parks, shopping centres, and plenty of parking areas. To create opportunities for knowledge exchange and economic development, the special sectors should regularly host trade fairs, technology expos, international conferences, and other events which create an active city life, while providing its residents with plenty of opportunities to network, find potential business partners, connect with customers, identify new vendors, and, most importantly, learn. Of course, we cannot underestimate the value of entertainment and retail districts which should be a mandatory feature of urban living.
When a country develops economically with a ripe urban landscape, it can easily attract knowledge and expertise. This of course has to be complemented by a sound justice system and strong security institutions. With social and economic development, Plan A will execute naturally. But it will take time, patience, and mountains of resources.
Plan A is the most talked about method for reversing brain drain because it is the most obvious solution. But it is time to look beyond the obvious because presently Pakistan is trapped in a vicious circle where knowledge is taking a one-way flight to change. We need experts and thought leaders, but they will not come home unless Pakistan succeeds in becoming a knowledge powerhouse with a vibrant economy and an enterprising spirit.
Breaking out of this vicious circle requires us to execute Plan B, which involves using cutting-edge telecommunication technology to enable transfer of knowledge and expertise. The best and rather extreme example is the Lindbergh Operation. On September 7, 2001, Dr. Jacques Marescaux, a French expat living in the United States, performed surgery on a patient admitted in a hospital 6,230 km away in France. The doctor conducted the surgery remotely by controlling a highly specialized robotic system installed in the operation theatre. He could observe the surgery in real time and was able to complete the operation successfully. Dr. Marescaux was able to benefit his fellow citizen by contributing his expertise and services seamlessly via fiberoptic ATM lines. This is the essence of Plan B: it does not require expatriates to return to their country of origin.
Universities and schools are primary knowledge centres. They can benefit from exotic knowledge by employing grid computing systems, which involves interconnected computers, scientific equipment, simulators, and machinery spread over a global network. For example, expatriates working on measurement devices can make their data available to researchers worldwide. Students can hugely benefit from seminars and workshops led by Pakistani expatriates and conducted over the internet.
To enable “brain gain”, all classrooms should be equipped with high speed internet, large multimedia screens, video conference cameras, speakers, and microphones. This will also make online courses more interactive and intuitive. Pakistani doctors living in the United States constitute one of the largest pools of professionals in the country. These doctors can share valuable findings and best practices. Engineers and scientists can make vital databases available to collaborators in home countries. Technology presents endless possibilities for knowledge acquisition.
Only the best technological tools will guarantee brain gain. Plan B is a cost-effective solution and it is the only plan we can count on in the short-run.
The article was originally published in the Daily Times, October 5, 2018. For original content click here.