It’s the latest dance — the Brain Drain

It’s a story that is told time and time again around the world. The illuminati of one country choose to move to another, seeking a great fortune, based on their various skills, whether physical or mental or both. And it seems that the only solution is to create some form of virtual bubble within which “the chosen” can reap the same benefits at home.

Admittedly, factors such as nationalism and religion do have an effect on this migration. In some cases, these driving forces will keep the brightest and best from ever leaving their country of origin. In some cases, these forces will drive the top minds to a country that is a pinpoint on the world map, and is halfway across the world, in the midst of ferocious enemies.

When a person is born with a gift of a beautiful voice, and travels the world seeking fame and fortune based on this divine gift, very few people  challenge this way of life. If a concert pianist, rated top in the world, decided to move from the United States to England, I do not think it would cause a major stir. Admittedly, if every concert musician of the top Philharmonic Orchestra of a country, was to move en masse to elsewhere, there probably would be a visceral reaction amongst many. I think it’s fair to say that the issue at hand with “brain drain” situations, is more numerical than philosophical.

Actually, in terms of benefiting the most from the minds of a given country, it may be a simple reality that these minds can only reach their full potential when surrounded by equivalent or greater minds, that have come from all across the world. Does the same genius who has moved to another country to benefit from the full resources of a top university, generate greater benefit for his or her home country by virtue of this geographical change? If the same mega mind discovers a life-saving drug for all the world by virtue of having left his or her country of origin, has the home country truly lost out by virtue of this genius’ physical relocation?

We are also living in a world where physical presence can be simulated with various communication tools. It is not absolutely necessary to be physically sharing the same room with another great mind, to benefit from the shared experience. Nevertheless, human beings are still presently very social animals that value physical presence and closeness. A conversation that may begin when the two participants are in close proximity, may be less likely to occur if the two only communicate via Skype or email.

I will turn this discussion to a home-based issue. Just this morning I was reading about the Israeli army’s concern over the continuing loss of top  minds to the entrepreneurial world. It is hard to convince a young person with tremendous potential to stay within the confines of a relatively low-paying job, when the world is flashing gold stars in front of his or her eyes.

My very personal take on these situations is to find a mixed solution. As I have said far too many times, I am a staunch socialist. To be clear though, I believe in a type of socialism that helps people “up”, versus “out”. I would say that mine is the very Jewish type of socialism that encourages one Jew to teach the other to fish, so that the second may always provide for himself. Charity is one of the prime commandments for all Jews. But the greatest gift that one can impart to another is freeing the second from the need for charity. I personally have no problem with mixing capitalism and socialism. As long as we remember that we are part of a whole, let capitalism lead us to a greater physical fortune. The key is to use part of that fortune to help others succeed as well.

I wonder if the Army could create a purely entrepreneurial unit, run by top business groups, that is intertwined with the top military units. I have often thought that a unit, called 8200, should have an exit door that leads directly into the hands of the top business innovators. I would refine this now and say that there should be a revolving door that allows members of elite units to freely move back and forth between the two worlds. At the same time, the Army could offer potential young entrepreneurs, initial investment money in return for limited continued service, as well as a piece of the pie.

So imagine that the Army has a fund that offers exiting members of elite units, $1 million as seed money for a start up. The soldier would agree to offer a day a week to his unit (or any amount of time that is more than the requirement of reserve duty), and in return would have a unique opportunity to truly explore their world changing ideas. I suspect that other investors would see these “militaneurs” as a great opportunity for success. In the investment world, if one in 10 of major investments pay back, big time, it makes the whole investment process worthwhile. I suspect that such militaneurs would pay back far more often than one in 10. Financially, the Army would also benefit every time one of these militaneurs creates a multi-hundred million dollar company. It seems to me that the risk, in terms of dollars, would be very low if not nil for the military.

Amongst these best and brightest young people, most are also very patriotic and would cherish the opportunity to continue to contribute while they explore the outside world. I am not pretending that such a path would be chosen by most, but I do believe that there are a significant number of elite group ex-members that would jump at this opportunity. For a 10th of the cost of a top level plane, the Army could create a cyber–business unit that would rival the top innovator groups.

Moving to another country and leaving behind family and friends is most often very difficult, no matter how attractive the new location is. At the same time, it is natural for an individual to want to maximize their income so that they can offer their own children the best. I think there are enough brilliant minds around to find a mixed solution that would truly be a win-win for all participants. Israel is famous for thinking outside of the box. I think the time has come to apply Israel’s unique perspective to this very important issue.

Thanks for listening.

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.