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Diasporas scientifiques

Rémi Barré
Valeria Hernández
Jean-Baptiste Meyer
et al.

English Version

Synopsis – point four. Summary, and conclusion: The diaspora option as a rational choice

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1The question laid before the panel of experts was, How can developing countries use their expatriate scientists and engineers for their development? It was specified that the main concern was the countries of the ZSP, France's priority solidarity zone.

2This question was expressed in terms of examining the idea of a support policy for S&T diasporas (self-organised groups of expatriate scientists and engineers wishing to help develop their countries of origin). This would require a new type of government action designed with the S&T diasporas factored in. This conjunction of government policy in host countries and home countries with voluntary organisational initiatives has been called the "diaspora option".

3We divided this general idea into two basic hypotheses:

  • S&T diasporas are a driving force for S&T development because they provide channels for co-operative projects through which developing countries can benefit from expatriate skills;
  • S&T diasporas are amenable to government policy in the host country.

4In practical terms, the question is whether the government should encourage the development of S&T diasporas or devote the equivalent amount of energy to other forms of action.


5The findings that emerge from the survey are as follows:

6Finding No. 1: The large and increasing number of highly skilled migrants, their tendency to organise spontaneously, and the development of ICT combine to produce a situation conducive to the formation of S&T diasporas. However, little is known of the real potential these self-organised actors represent, and the countries that are least developed in terms of S&T are only now beginning to take notice of their activities (Point One).

7Finding No. 2: No single model of S&T diaspora emerges: for each defining criterion, we find S&T diasporas throughout the spectrum of possibilities. This means that an S&T diaspora support policy cannot simply be an extension of conventional support procedures. S&T diasporas will always be a complex and varied phenomenon. However, from case studies of S&T diasporas we can identify a certain number of conditions for successful, useful networks (Point Two).

  • 1 Not in general, but in particular centres of excellence; it is these that are involved in S&T co-o (...)

8Finding No. 3: The emblematic case of the USA in its relations with India, China and their diasporas looks paradoxical in that the host country has no policy towards S&T diasporas as such, yet the S&T diasporas are very strong and are increasingly valued and used by their countries of origin. The explanation for this paradox is the high level of S&T development of the partner countries1, which limits the scope of the lessons to be drawn from these particular case for French S&T co-operation with France's ZSP (Point Three).

9Finding No. 4: International organisations and the European Commission are paying more attention to the notion that diasporas in general and S&T diasporas in particular are a driving force in development and can be incorporated into government policy, and are in favour of this idea. Recent initiatives suggest that France could outline a policy of supporting S&T diasporas as a strand of its S&T co-operation policy (Point Three).


Conclusions about the basic hypotheses

10Conclusion on basic hypothesis A (that S&T diasporas are a driving force for S&T development): S&T diasporas are a component of S&T development and are increasingly recognised as such by the main emerging countries (cf. Finding No. 3) and by international organisations (cf. Finding No. 4), but not yet by all the less scientifically and technically advanced countries (cf. Finding No. 1). The only cases identified of S&T diasporas operating effectively are in situations very different from the countries of the French ZSP (cf. Finding No. 3). This mitigates the relevance of this conclusion for the countries that most concern us.

11Conclusion on basic hypothesis B (that S&T diasporas are amenable to government policy in the host country): There is no evaluated example of a host country's support policy for S&T diasporas, because those cases where S&T diasporas are most actively involved do not depend on government programmes in the host country (the United States) (cf. Finding No. 3), and the functioning of S&T diasporas has not yet been assessed (cf. Finding No. 4). Furthermore, because there is no standard or stabilised model for S&T diasporas it is hard to draw up direct operational objectives for official action (cf. Finding No. 2). For the time being, this task is further complicated by the paucity of information about the potential the S&T diasporas represent (cf. Finding No. 1).

General conclusion

12Our general conclusion on the initial question and the hypothesis that a policy of support for S&T diasporas is appropriate, is that there is partial evidence, but only partial evidence, in favour of this.

13However, considering the strategic nature of the issues, for host countries and home countries alike, and the considerable growth potential of the S&T diasporas which will one way or another have a major role to play in S&T development, the fact that our validation is only partial should not mean rejecting the hypothesis. On the contrary, it should be accepted, taking a prudent approach appropriate to the situation.

14The panel suggests the idea that there are two contrasting dangers to be avoided:

  • The danger of over-estimating S&T diasporas as instruments because they are cheap (being Largely based on voluntary work), easy to manage (their promoters and beneficiaries handle that aspect) and generate symbolic profits (the image of brain gain replaces that of brain drain and national pride is bolstered). Used on its own, without specific projects or sustained links with host institutions (local, national or regional) and a supportive environment, S&T diaspora support will be no more than window-dressing. This particularly applies to countries that have expressed no interest in research or have neither the material nor human resources to invest in it.
  • The danger of under-estimating S&T diasporas as instruments because they are not well known or are not the ones the home country usually deals with. This amounts to an obligation to innovate, which can be uncomfortable and may not be viewed with favour. Furthermore, with regard to the ZSP countries, it is clear that without support, the S&T diasporas' initiatives can only have occasional, limited results. The role of government policy is clear: only such a policy can deploy and properly utilise the efforts invested by the actors concerned.

15It is therefore the experts' opinion that the “diaspora option” must be taken, while taking account of the many uncertainties involved in such a policy. To have a chance of success, a diaspora support policy must be designed and developed as a pioneering public policy project. It must take into consideration the inherent dynamics of cooperation involving S&T diasporas, which result from the relations established between three parties: the host country government, the S&T diaspora and the home country partners.

16In the panel's view, the purpose of the diaspora option is not to substitute for support for local research programmes and regular exchanges among researchers. Rather, it should be regarded as an additional asset, an investment that acquires its strength as one of a set of complementary investments. The recommendations below suggest some ways in which this instrument can be rendered operational.


1 Not in general, but in particular centres of excellence; it is these that are involved in S&T co-operation operations.

© IRD Éditions, 2003

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