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Didier Drogba’s Abs: Just One of the Gains of Brain Drain

July 13, 2010

Photo: Annie Leibovitz via Vanity Fair

The blogosphere recently re-pondered the gains of brain drain, a controversial subject area pioneered by William Easterly and Yaw Nyarko, from two interesting angles: the World Cup and internal brain drain.

First, in the backdrop of the World Cup, Caglar Ozden of the World Bank considered the migration of African soccer prospects from their native countries to professional teams in Europe and elsewhere. He cites the “Bosman ruling of the European Court of Justice in 1995, which, in effect, removed most restrictions faced by foreign players,” as the key turning point that helped to make the soccer market one of the most liberal labor markets in the world. According to Ozden, African soccer stars such as Samuel Eto’o of Inter Milan or Didier Drogba of Chelsea inspire African youths to work harder to develop their skills in the hopes of someday making it to the professional European leagues. Increasingly, African parents have begun to view children’s soccer ambitions as viable career paths, as opposed to hobbies or pipe dreams. As further testament to the benefits of free player trade policies, Ozden claims “earnings of the migrant football players contribute more to GNP in sub-Saharan Africa than apparel exports.”

Meanwhile, the “Sceptical Bandit” brought up the issue of internal brain drain, that is, the tendency of local talent in developing countries to gravitate away from domestic NGOs and towards established, well-paying, international NGOs or aid agencies. At the end of his post, the Sceptical Bandit implies that some sort of government regulation of the aid industry may be the only way to prevent locals from jumping ship and thus hamstringing domestic government.

Over at Aid Thoughts, Matt Collin responds to the Skeptical Bandit by pointing out that it is hard to condemn internal brain drain as a wholly negative phenomenon, because workers might return to civil service after working for aid agencies with increased knowledge and more skills. He writes, “What about the net effect? Is it positive or negative? We really can’t say—this is an area of aid that has been neglected from day one—partially because it’s difficult to collect and analyze data on the internal brain drain, and partially because the donors really don’t care.” Collin concludes that aid agencies may want to consider subsidizing talent within recipient governments by creating general reward funds for high performing civil servants.

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