Indian Decade

Unclogging the Drain

Is India’s decades-long brain drain finally coming to an end?

At a party I attended last weekend, I realised just how real the temptation of being part of the (highly anticipated) Indian success story has become. At a gathering made up largely of people in their late twenties to mid-thirties, I’d say about 70 percent had over the last few years decided to come home to India after amassing prestigious degrees and impressive job credentials abroad. Most had worked in the US, totting up between them an amazing list of world-class institutions–Wharton Business School, Parsons School of Design, New York, Asian Institute of Management, Manila and Leeds University in the UK among others.

All this got me thinking–is India’s worrying brain drain truly over? From the 1960s to the 1990s, India suffered a huge intellectual brain drain. Some of our brightest minds, especially those in the sciences, medicine and engineering, left the country to pursue excellence elsewhere, especially in countries like the US and the UK. India’s ‘Hindu rate of growth’ and limited opportunities were responsible for this exodus.

But the winds of change are blowing. Apart from the obvious benefits of staying in your own country, close to friends and family, there’s a definite realisation that being home also makes super business sense. In fact, Harvard Law School researcher Vivek Wadhwa recently quantified this phenomenon. In his repeatedly quoted report America’s Loss is the World’s Gain, Wadhwa estimated about 100,000 skilled Indians will leave the United States to head home to India in the next five years. This is great for us, of course. But, can it be true? Is reversing outlet-inlet channels possible?