Brain drain or brain gain? The choice is yours
Robert Bell / June 27, 2014
Brain drain or brain gain? In the 21st Century, it makes all the difference which side of the line your community is on.
Communities suffering brain drain lose their talented young people to places where the lights are brighter and opportunities are thicker on the ground. The community’s future goes with them. The loss is measured in innovations not introduced, companies not formed, ideas and arts and culture that never see the light of day.
Communities enjoying brain gain are on the receiving end of that talent and find a way to hang onto talent. Their colleges and universities connect with businesses and collaborate with local government to build what is called an Innovation Triangle, a virtual machine fueled by the influx of talent that generates prosperity at the local level. Success is measured by ideas that turn into cash, arts and culture that exert a magnetic pull, and a broadening of economic opportunity for all.
For more than 15 years the Intelligent Community Forum has worked with communities around the world to provide the guidance and advice to make the right decisions. Our latest book, Brain Gain: How Innovative Cities Create Job Growth in an Age of Disruption distills that advice into what we see as a survival manual for the Internet Age.
Brain drain or brain gain? In the 21st Century, the city or region gets to choose. Local governments, working with business and citizens and institutions, can make smart choices that move them from one side of the line to the other.
They can do whatever it takes to get access to high-quality broadband, the infrastructure of the digital age. They can pursue partnerships with educational and other institutions that improve the skills of their people while also promoting the growth of employers who need those skills. They can set an example of innovation in their operations and work to attract and build companies that add to the innovation potential of the community. And they can help people who need a leg up – the poor, the elderly, the immigrants – to participate in the digitally-driven innovation economy, for their own benefit and that of the community.
It isn’t easy and doesn’t happen overnight. That can make it a heavy lift for political leaders. But so many cities and regions are blessed with local leaders who care more about getting it right than being Right (or Left). As ideological battles consume us at the national level, these mayors and wardens, ministers and governors are focusing on what matters: prosperity, the solution to social problems, cultural richness and quality of life. Get those things right, and ideology has a way of looking after itself.
In the end, strange to say, it comes down to faith.
It is said that faith is a commitment to live as though certain things were true, and thereby help to make them so. Moving from brain drain to brain gain begins when people and their leaders have the courage to believe their community, whatever its size or location, is an exceptional place. That faith turns potential into possibility. Smart choices and hard work translate that possibility into reality – but only if the community develops faith in a different future and in its own capacity to seize it.
Robert Bell is lead author of Brain Gain: How Innovative Cities Create Job Growth in an Age of Disruption, published by the Intelligent Community Forum and available at www.braingainbook.com or from Amazon. Robert is also co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum and the director of its research, analysis and content development activities.