Reverse Brain Drain – Myth or Fact?

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For a long time, Indians have been emigrating to other countries in search of a better life. However, with the growing economy and better opportunities for  professionals, some are choosing to settle back in India. Does this signify a period of a ‘reverse brain drain,’ where those with international knowledge and experience find that they prefer India?
Are their reasons patriotic, cultural or economic? We spoke to some professionals to understand their take on the might of the rupee versus the dollar, tradition versus convenience, potential versus development. Rohit Gupta did his MSc in computer science from the US after which he was working at Electronic Arts in New York, a renowned gaming company. However, unsatisfied with working at one of the best workplaces in the gaming industry, he decided to start his own company. Gupta returned to India and established Rolocule Games (rolocule.com) two years ago. He says, “One of the reasons to come back is that there is no industry for video games in India. I went to the US to study game graphics and design. I had the option to start up the company either in the US or India. The location did not make a difference as the products could be sold anywhere in the global market. The video game industry in India is in its nascent state, so I wanted to contribute to the society and bring my international expertise back to India and help it grow.”
However, he finds that the spirit of entrepreneurship is more prevalent in the US. Gupta says, “The Indian economy is growing fast, there is a lot of talent here and confidence is increasing among Indians to do something big. However, the work culture in the US is different from India. Our work culture is to work for someone else, while in the US, taking risks for your passions as an entrepreneur is encouraged. In that sense, your mindset also changes.” Nonetheless, he adds, “I am happy to be back here; I am close to people here, I feel a sense of belonging. In the US, the patriotism factor is missing. I think the ‘reverse brain drain’ trend will continue and only get stronger.
Technology entrepreneur Nirav Shah, did his masters in computer science from Columbia University in New York. After that, he worked in UBS, a Swiss Bank, for two years. He came back last year to start his own company, Lets Align (letsalign.com). He has already launched a social networking software product called What To Do (whattodo.com), a social platform where people can share and discover things to do in a new city. It also can be used for collaboration of a to-do list. Shah says, “For me, settling down in India has to do with Indian culture and that India has a lot of opportunities for everyone right now with a growing economy. Moreover, the resources that are required to start a company abroad are becoming available in India as well.”
Some resources for entrepreneurs are still missing in India in terms of knowledge and support. Shah is applying his expertise in helping to create these: “After I moved back, I created a social group for all the technology entrepreneurs of Mumbai. Now, we meet regularly and have started a Facebook group. If there is some help that other entrepreneurs require, then we try to assist them wherever possible. The kind of economic system that people have in the US to start your own business is not readily available here. Investors here don’t have an open mindset to try out different things. The kind of investors and advice that you get in the US is still lacking in India. Nonetheless, I can access the advice the mentors give in the US via the web, thanks to their blogs, twitter, Linked-in and Facebook.”
Shah is sceptical of the ‘reverse brain drain’ phenomenon; he says, “The majority of people are still staying back. Recession affects a few, not all. The people who have jobs are hoping that the economy will recover. But there will be more innovators and entrepreneurs coming back to India. In this growing economy, there is a lot of work that needs to be done in every single sector.”
Journalist Arlene Chang returned to India for the sense of belonging. She did her master’s in the US and worked at the UN for a news agency and then for a magazine. She says, “I always wanted to come back, irrespective of the economy. I would rather do something in India and contribute to society. I have grown up here so there is a huge culture difference; I am more comfortable here.”
Chang continues, “As for the ‘reverse brain drain’ phenomenon, I just think that people are making hay while the sun shines; they are coming back because there are no jobs there. Moreover, it’s mostly people in the corporate world in white collar jobs who have come back; engineers and scientists are still there. So I don’t think the ‘brain drain’ concept applies!”
But Hemal Ghelani, in the US for 10 years working in engineering sales and marketing, disagrees with Chang. He moved back because of growth opportunities here. He says, “The India I left in the late 90s was a very different place than the India I came back to last year. My wife and I came back predominantly because of the economy as we felt that there was a much better growth curve in terms of careers. We both saw a huge bump in our positions, our salaries, our responsibilities and our visibility.I think the reverse brain drain is already happening, and I know a few friends who are also moving back. The economy in the West is probably initiating some of the ‘sooner than later’ NRIs’ return; it’s always better to live in a country with 8 per cent growth than in a country with negative growth.”
For others, who have borne the direct brunt of the recession like Shyam Sunder, moving to India was one of the best options available. Sunder was in the US trading mortgage CDOs (Collateralised Debt Obligation) at Merrill Lynch when the recession hit Wall Street. By mid 2008, it was clear that is going to be a prolonged period of distress at least for CDOs in the US. Sunder says, “My options were clear-cut. I could either learn a new commodity to trade or come back to India and start my own company. I lined up an angel investor in Boston and relocated here. I found that investing in the Indian capital market was not straightforward; there was no good way for people to research their own stocks. Moreover, there are hidden fees for financial products hidden all over the place. So I started Stockviz.biz to fill in the gap.” As opportunities in India are begin to match and sometimes exceed our Western counterparts, perhaps these ‘brains’ will help plug the drain?

Volume 1 Issue 6

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