15 April 2008


15 April 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference on latest United Nations university study,

titled ‘international mobility of talent’


The international agenda was mostly concerned with international trade and capital flows, but less so with the mobility of human capital, particularly people with high qualifications, Andrés Solimano, Regional Adviser of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Introducing the latest study by the United Nations University, International Mobility of Talent, Mr. Solimano, who edited the study, said that discussion had been excessively influenced by the concept of “brain drain”, whereby developing countries financed the academic studies of professionals who then migrated to developed countries to earn higher salaries.  The study showed there was also a degree of “brain circulation”, by which professionals in high-tech industries and entrepreneurs from developing countries not only established companies in the developed world, but also set up plants in their home countries.

He said the research project on which the study was based highlighted three types of talent with different patterns of behaviour and a different impact on economic development.  The first category concerned entrepreneurs and high-tech professionals, who went from one country to the other and also returned home.  A second, academic, category, involved scientists and professors who tended to leave developing countries because of low salaries and a lack of research capacities and career development.  Despite that loss for the home country, there was a possibility for reconnection.  The third category concerned talent tied to the social sector, especially the field of health care, where concerns about “brain drain” were fully warranted.

The study focused on the mobility of high-value migrants, a small group with the potential to make a significant contribution to the economy, he said, adding that its main conclusion was that views on the brain drain had to be reassessed.  Another, mixed, conclusion was that development gaps prompted the emigration of talent from South to North, but also South to South and North to North.  There was, however, a “double causality”:  development gaps were a cause of high human-capital mobility from poor to rich countries, but that mobility could also widen or narrow the development gaps.

Joining Mr. Solimano was Jean-March Coicaud, Head of the United Nations University Office in New York and a contributor to the book, said he had focused on international organizations as a profession, researching whether bodies like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and others, employing a total of 150,000 people, were competitive with Governments, the private sector, academia and non-governmental organizations.  A first conclusion was that data were often incomplete and unsystematically collected, particularly within the United Nations.

He said international organizations were relatively competitive in comparison with institutions associated with developing countries, but not with those associated with developed nations.  Comparing the United Nations, IMF and the World Bank with the European Union, the latter won in the areas of salary, benefits, support and “making a difference”.  When working for the European Union, one was involved in public-policy projects at the regional level, where a difference could be made.  At the United Nations, one was involved, at best, in a normative, or moral, or ethical project, but due to lack of support, one could not go beyond that and “the meaning becomes quite meaningless”.  The same conclusions could be drawn vis-à-vis universities and the private sector.

“The ability for international organizations to attract good people is decreasing,” he said, adding that there was a decrease in appeal for good professionals from developed countries, especially at the United Nations, which, among the international organizations, had the lowest rating in terms of attractiveness.  The benefits of a United Nations career had been decreasing significantly and today, half of the people working for the Secretariat were not on fully fledged contracts and had no predictable career development.  The study listed the Organization’s “pathologies”, which would have a huge impact on its ability to attract and retain good people in the long run.

He said he had discovered while putting his chapter together, that women represented an increasing and very significant part of the skill population migrating globally, a new phenomenon.  Women with a good education often saw opportunities in the international realm that did not exist at home.

Asked about South-South talent circulation, Mr. Solimano estimated that some 20 to 25 per cent of the total talent circulated South-South, but emphasized that some 80 per cent of that migration was between countries with a common border, language and culture.

Answering another question, he cited examples of Latin American people who had been successful in the United States, and had proceeded to set up companies or foundations in Latin America based on that success.  Nowadays, there was also talent circulation between Latin American countries and Spain.  Mr. Coicaud added that the diaspora also nurtured the circulation of talent.

Asked about the brain drain in the health-care sector, Mr. Solimano said that, although the private sector in developing countries had offered more opportunities in recent years than 40 years ago, those same countries had under-invested in the health-care sector.  Doctors and nurses were, therefore, working in an under-capitalized sector in places where there was a flourishing private sector.

[International Mobility of Talent, published by Oxford University Press in February 2008, is based on a research project of the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU_WIDER) in Helsinki, Finland.  The United Nations University, a think tank for the United Nations system, is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, and has 14 research and training centres around the world, focusing on issues of peace and security, development and the environment.]

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.