Can We Clog the Brain Drain?

April 14, 2021


Kevin Valley

One of the biggest losses we experience is the loss of opportunity.

One of the biggest losses we experience is the loss of opportunity.

It happens every year, that friend, colleague, or relative with immense potential but frustrated by the lack of opportunities available locally, and enticed by the opportunity to start over, grow, build a new and better life abroad – decides to do just that. Our country has heavily invested in their education, but unable to reap the rewards because of a lacking employment system – the drip of the Brain Drain.

Brain drain refers to the process in which a country loses its most educated and talented workers to other countries with more favorable geographic, economic, or professional environments through migration. This affects our home country through:

  • Loss of tax revenue,
  • Loss of potential future entrepreneurs, and
  • A shortage of important, skilled workers.

Our investment in education

The future of our nation is in our children’s school bags -
Dr. Eric Williams

The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is said to have a literacy rate of 99%. Our nation has long made quality education a high priority and successive governments have invested heavily by subsidizing much of our secondary and tertiary education.

Many graduates have actually said that undergraduate-level education at the University of the West Indies is significantly more challenging than graduate-level education in a developed nation.

However, many times, the country does not get to benefit from this investment in education as the local private/employment sector does not offer attractive remuneration packages commensurate with the cost of living. Additionally, there is a lack of available jobs suitable to the varied and unique/specialized skill sets of citizens.

Despite the formidable strength of our well-developed school system, the not-so developed business sector provides insufficient attractive opportunities for our skilled graduates, and as a result, they opt to look elsewhere.

The grass is always greener...

Higher salaries, a plethora of opportunities, and a better standard of living – these attract our talented citizens away from our shores to take residence in larger nations such as North America, the United Kingdom, and Europe. Their productive resources are desired, utilized, and circulated in their new homeland, their presence only to be felt again during Christmas Holidays, Carnival Season, and other special events.

So, what is stopping us from doing better? Why are we unable to offer better opportunities and attractive compensation to our locals? Is it:

  • Not enough revenues being generated from local companies to offer attractive employee compensation,
  • Our private and public sector’s sheer unwillingness to offer attractive compensation,
  • Lack of investment in entrepreneurship and innovation, or
  • “That’s just the way it is?”

Opinions may vary on this but what we know for certain is that this represents a lost opportunity for Trinidad and Tobago.

We acknowledge that migration in and of itself is a positive driver of globalization, providing fresh talent and perspectives and chances to both migrants and the receiving countries. However, It is the scale of emigration, and the lack of significant diasporic investment thereafter that is alarming and detrimental to our countries.

So we ask again – what can be done to retain and properly use their talent after investment in education and professional development? How can our countries create more opportunities for growth, creative expression, and fulfilling careers? How can we clog the brain drain?

The private sector must lead

A major part of the solution is to develop a strong private company financing ecosystem within the Caribbean region. It is not feasible to charge the governments with the sole responsibility of improving our economy. A government is only as strong as the businesses within its borders as it is from these businesses the government derives its income. The private sector and investors also have important roles to play in building stronger, more investible businesses and providing the necessary disruption to the Caribbean business financing ecosystem.

We are the ones in charge

Small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs in the Caribbean are largely underserved by existing financial structures and face significant challenges in accessing finance to grow and scale their businesses.

Here, I outline what I would like to see for our economy to grow and achieve its targeted developed country status by the year 2030:

Empower the entrepreneurs….

Entrepreneurship can be the vehicle that creates jobs, fosters financial freedom for our citizens, and makes our economy attractive. Improved access to financing through a stronger business financing ecosystem will accelerate this and create the avenues to stimulate increased private sector revenues, which can be used to invest in our region’s:

  1. Healthcare & National Security Sectors,
  2. Modern Technological Infrastructure & Digitalization Initiatives,
  3. Agriculture & Food Production Sectors,
  4. Environmental & Social Governance,
  5. Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and
  6. Youth and Sport.

Improvements in the general standard of living and quality of life in Caribbean states would make our countries more investible and more attractive to both resident citizens and members of the diaspora looking for opportunities to support the home countries which gave them a start.

Creating the ecosystem and environment in which entrepreneurs are encouraged and able to thrive is an essential component to slowing and reversing the flight of talent. It is not only an investment in the present citizens but a long-term investment with positive returns for the region’s future.

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