Friday, September 19, 2008

Brain Drain and A Letter from the Prime Minister

The brain drain problem Mongolia faces is more evident now than ever, as overseas Mongolian online communities sprout and more Mongolians are active online, whose locations are mostly outside of Mongolia. I don't know what the latest government figures are, but last I heard, the estimate was somewhere in the range of 100,000 with some suggesting an even higher figure of 200,000. At this rate, Mongolia will turn into a country heavily reliant on remittance, like India, Mexico and the Philippines. Remittance may be a quick fix to financial problems at home, but hardly a long-term contribution to the economy and the infrastructure. According to the World Bank Migration and Remittances Factbook 2008, in 2006 inward remittance to Mongolia of USD182million made up 6.7% of the total GDP, while outward remittance was 2.9%. In 2007, the inward figure rose to USD197million.

PM Bayar's government is realizing the strains of outward talent flow. The Prime Minister's written an open letter to all overseas Mongolians, distributed to the online Mongolian communities around the world, expressing his admiration for their courage and perseverance and finally reminding them that their country needs them now more than ever. A well-written and at times almost poetic letter lists out achievements the Mongolians should be proud of starting with the ancient Pax Mongolica to the recent Olympic and Paralympic successes.

On the other hand, as the Mongolian economy stabilizes and enters a growth period due to the mining and real estate industry booms, more and more young Mongolians are returning home. What are the immediate stopgap measures the government can take to stop this brain drain? Are they doing anything? So far, very little as far as I can see.

I don't know if the UNDP or the Mongolian government have published figures on the number of talented / tertiary-educated Mongolians migrating abroad, I haven't really been able to find any so far. What may complicate the talented migration figures is the large number of high-school graduates leaving Mongolia for their tertiary education in the USA, Germany, Australia etc. Once they graduate with an undergrad or a postgrad degree, many find jobs in the country / region.

I remember some time back, Monstudnet and a few other organizations got together to set up a Job Fair targeting the overseas Mongolian students returning home for the summer holidays. Whatever happened to that, I am not sure. Of course, the target audience now is no longer limited to students, but professionals with a few years' experience up their sleeves. In the absence of active government involvement in these programmes, I hope the NGO's and the private sector can work together to attract and repatriate overseas Mongolians back home.