Filling the expertise gap in Ethiopia through a digital brain gain5/30/20220

AUTHOR: Bernard Laurendeau, Managing Partner at Laurendeau & Associates

Brain drain in Sub Saharan Africa

Brain Drain is a severe problem in low- and middle-income countries and particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa. In its 2016 World Economic Outlook[1], the IMF noted that the “outflow of skilled labor and young people seeking better educational opportunities outside the continent’s borders will continue rising, and the trend is worrying”.

Impact of brain drain: gap in expertise

The impact of brain drain is significant on emerging countries economies.
For a country like Ethiopia, the impact can be measured in actual numbers, on GDP and job creation.

In the public sector, deals are not optimally negotiated with multinationals- looking to grab opportunities that the opening of certain markets bring like that of telco- directly impacting the government coffers. Policies remain frozen in time making it difficult to attract investors, and hence putting a brake on job creation.
In the private sector, diversity and maturity of products offered by banks remains low, decreasing the volume of transactions and overall money velocity in the country. Value chains are inefficient, not integrated, leading to high overhead and high prices for consumers. Startups seldom turn into scaleups as they have a hard time attracting talent that can unleash their power, making it difficult to lead to market-creating innovations[2] in economies that so badly need it. 

Therefore, expertise in all sectors is crucial for a country like Ethiopia to successfully transition to a middle-income country.
Expert secondments sponsored by international development institutions are necessary, with the caveat that they should be temporary otherwise they create an artificial secondary talent market, but not sufficient.
Emerging economies require expertise at scale.

Reversing the brain drain: a digital brain gain

Working remotely was trending before covid-19 burst into our lives. But if there is one positive aspect that the pandemic brought about, it is that lesson that remote work is here to stay.
So why not leverage this trend to reverse the brain drain?

In January every year, most Ethiopians living abroad come back to Ethiopia and, between visits to family members and touristic escapades, they explore ways to professionally engage with their home country.
But after the January honeymoon, romance fizzles in February and disappears by March.

Remote engagement can ensure that the romance sustains in February and remains strong until December. But remote work is not enough for the romance to sustain.

Most of these engagements are usually built on a foundation of patriotism. Unfortunately, for many, patriotism should be the reason one should feel obliged to offer their expertise on a pro bono basis.
Pro bono is not sustainable and usually leads to ill-defined and blurry engagements.

Hence, the second ingredient necessary for that romance to sustain is: compensation. Indeed, experts need to be compensated for their brain capital.

Filling the expertise gap through a curated expert network

There are many experts and very highly skilled professionals who want to engage with their home country regularly. This expertise needs to be curated and linked strategically with clients who need it, and at the right time.

A country like Ethiopia is growing rapidly, albeit some challenges. Liberalization of many sectors is expected. Hence, the country needs now more than ever subject-matter expertise in many fields (e.g., private equity, corporate restructuring, international arbitration, digital transformation, investment banking, fund management, talent development, cybersecurity, PR, smart city etc.) and in all verticals (e.g., Agriculture, Health, Medical Devices, Tech, FMCG, Aviation, Telecom, Transportation, etc.).

Curated expert networks can reverse the brain drain, ensure a brain gain through digital means, while delivering expertise at scale to emerging economies growing rapidly.[1] International Monetary Fund, October 2016, World Economic Outlook[2] Clayton M. Christensen, Efosa Ojomo & Karen Dillon, April 2019, The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty


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