The Brain Gain Challenge

By. Rosario Diaz Ph.D.

It is time!

The time is ripe for the Philippines to ride the waves of India and China in reversing the brain drain that has caused socio-economic losses in our country since the 1970s. This is a call for UP alumni and fellow professionals who are probably past their prime and whose only vision in the future are days spent on the white beaches of the Philippines.

We can do better than that! We can still enjoy the languor by the beach or in our nipa huts, but no one can take away the experience we have amassed through those years in the most advanced nations on earth. We can still add value to it, in fact, we can monetize it! If you were a teacher in your past life, write a book or manual and publish it. If you were an engineer, look back to those ideas that you have shelved because you were too busy with your nine to five job. Retrieve them from your memory and start doodling diagrams while you're on the beach. Who knows, it could be the seed of an invention, a patent waiting to happen!

Having lived in the past pace of modern nations, I don't think that we, professional Filipinos, will just wait for our demise by the sand dunes. First of all, we will be bored by the end of the first week! You can start by looking around you, and start to identify problems. And there are many! The pile of trash that is not collected, sewage conditions that you are not used to in the US of A, unclean water, flooding and other calamities, food shortage, sanitation, transportation and traffic problems, high prices of fuel and electricity, books for the children, health care, construction know-how and equipment, our untapped natural resources. And don't forget the Green/Clean Revolution! The list goes on and on.

Only you can make treasure out of a problem and identify your "product" or your niche, with your trained eye. You need to see the potential of a product and see how you can "productize" or monetize it. What can you do, given your skills and training, to solve these problems? Here are some guidelines on the investment priorities set by President Ninoy Aquino, http://www.boi.gov.ph/pdf/IPP2011.pdf. There are also organizations like PhilDev and Filipino Entrepreneurs Network (FEN), and incubators like Plug and Play that are great resources if you want to get started or if you want to get connected.

I am a visual person and I still think that an economy that produces "products," where I see money flowing because of a change of hands, from employers handing down salaries to workers/employees, and these people producing "products" in return, and their families buying other products. This is the wheel that we should ensure keeps turning to drive economic growth. I can't understand profit that is virtual, something that can only exist in the future? But I am not an economist. So, pardon to intellectuals who think that what I'm blabbering about here is nonsense.

The brain gain challenge is not limited to retirees and returning professionals. The FilAm youth can also contribute to brain gain. Actually, a conversation between me and my son was the inspiration for me to write this article. He is aware of his parents' involvement in BioPhil Technologies, a group which is made up mostly of alumni from the University of the Philippines. Our aim is to help catalyze economic growth by facilitating the commercialization of research that is being done in the leading universities in the Philippines.

One morning, over bowls of cereal, he opened conversation about our group possibly hiring some of his friends and Filipino club members. He asked me what positions we are looking for and I said, possibly chemists, biologists and engineers. I emphasized that these jobs would be in the Philippines and asked him if working in the Philippines is something that his friends and other Filipino graduates would be willing to consider. And he said "Why not?" This was a surprise to me! Maybe this topic can be your next dinner conversation with your kids. We FilAms have really raised our kids right. We deserve a pat on our backs for making sure that our kids do not have identity issues and despite living in a developed country, their love for their roots is unscathed.

It is unfortunate that the driving force behind brain gain in the Philippines is the deteriorating economic situations in developed countries like the United States, Europe, Japan and even unrest in the Middle East. Admittedly, remittances have kept the Philippine economy afloat for decades, but it is time to give attention to this new trend -novel ideas and technology that hopefully would translate into commercial entities, that in turn, would provide jobs to Filipinos. The effect of brain gain on the Philippine economy may not be palpable right away but it is a direction that the government and private capitalists should invest in, and expect invaluable and stable gain in the long term. It is not just a challenge, but a responsibility, for every Filipino who has the potential to contribute to its forward flow.