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Diasporas scientifiques

Rémi Barré
Valeria Hernández
Jean-Baptiste Meyer
et al.

English Version

Appendix 2. Specifications of the collegial expertise survey

Testo integrale


1The international mobility of skills is an important aspect of globalisation today. It is a major issue for developing countries, as it can mean either access to external knowledge resources or the loss of skills the country needs more than ever before for its development. Many recent studies reveal that expatriation of highly qualified people, which was long regarded as a bad thing in itself for the country of origin, can in fact be an asset if the country is able to mobilise its expatriates. The following international conferences and official reports that have recently recommended making use of the intellectual diaspora and regarding skilled expatriates as actors in co-operation and vectors of development.

  • United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA); International Development Research Centre (IDRC); International Organisation for Migration (IOM), “Brain Drain and Capacity Building in Africa”, Addis Ababa, 2000;
  • International Organisation for Migration (IOM) conference presenting the MIDA programme (Migration for Development in Africa) in Libreville, 9-17 March 2002;
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “International Mobility of Highly Skilled Workers; from Statistical Analysis to the Formulation of Policies”, Paris, June 2001;
  • International Labour Office (ILO) Department for International Development, UK, "Skilled Labour Migration from Developing Countries: Analysis of Impact and Policy Issues", October 2001;
  • European Commission, "Defining a new European Migration Policy", October 2001;
  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); World Human Development Report, December 2001.

2The "diaspora option" of recovering expatriate skills seems to be a very promising solution to the brain drain, and one that is in the interests of North and South alike. Scientists and engineers do not have to abandon their host country to get involved in their home countries. They are all the more useful to the home country if they are well integrated in the host country and can use its social, economic and cultural resources. They are links between the two worlds and their position facilitates partnership for co-development between the two ends of the migration route.

3As yet, however, little is known of the practical ways and means for systematic use of highly skilled emigrants. Until now, the diaspora option has been taken spontaneously, empirically, without retrospective analysis, without co-ordination or information exchange between the countries, organisations and actors involved in such experiments around the world. This lack of knowledge reduces the operational efficiency of such approaches.


4The purpose of the survey is to gather scattered information about this promising option, and to answer a basic question:

5How can developing countries use their expatriate scientists and engineers for their development?

6The way the question is posed emphasises the practical side of the issue and the aim of finding operational possibilities. But the question is also limited: it refers only to co-operation and development options provided by diasporas with highly skilled members. It is this conjunction of "highly skilled diaspora" AND "development action" that is of interest, not one or other of these issues separately.

7The information available on the subject is disparate and unstructured. Highly qualified diasporas are recent, scattered and not very rationalised. The survey therefore has little access to formalised stores of knowledge accumulated over time. It is not a routine operation using stable, localised, homogeneous data. It is a response to a real need for information, but its potential documentation base will not cover all aspects to the same extent. This is because the phenomenon in question is embryonic, unstable and very varied. To make up for the paucity of information, the survey includes prospective elements that can add to the list of operational options it proposes.

8The survey will be divided into four parts with separate but complementary objectives:

  • quantify today's intellectual diasporas, particularly from countries in France's priority solidarity zone;
  • identify and compare existing diaspora networks;
  • examine their actual and potential input to co-operation and partnership;
  • consider the contribution ICT can make to these co-operative and associative movements.


Quantify the intellectual diasporas, particularly from countries in France's priority solidarity zone (ZSP, zone de solidarité prioritaire)

9A first goal is to quantify highly skilled expatriates from developing countries in OECD countries and define their main characteristics (place of origin, occupations, qualifications, concentration).

10We would like to know what proportion of a given country's research capacity is living abroad, whether they are working in fields closely or only distantly related to their home country's concerns, what local associations or networks can be counted on, whether the ZSP countries are strongly represented in France and elsewhere, what percentage it would be realistic to mobilise and how its members could be identified, located and possibly contacted. The existing, accessible information is in the main host countries in North America and the European Union. In the EU, particular attention will be paid to France and the African and Indian Ocean countries whose relations with France involve both migration and co-operation.

Example 1: situations and questions addressed
According to US sources, the number of highly skilled migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire) in the USA increased during the 1990s. Is it possible to compare this information with data from other sources and find out whether French and Belgian statistics show a similar trend? Might one explanatory factor be a shift in subject matter towards more practical disciplines? What rate of return can be seen from studies in the United States and Europe, compared to rates of return from the USA to other countries? Can one correlate these observations with fellowship allocation choices or other factors?

Tasks involved in quantifying the diasporas

11This will mean gathering all available information that will help draw a rough portrait of highly skilled expatriate populations. This is mainly but not exclusively quantitative information. Some is available from authoritative publications (IMF, NSF), some from statistical yearbooks (Unesco) or existing databases (SESTAT, Eurostat).

12While it is easy to collate information from published sources, gathering less formalised data means scanning documents, identifying and selecting — an ongoing task for experts and documentalist(s) together. Experts familiar with the basic information from statistical databases will be required to cover the field by geographical zone.


Scientific and technical diaspora networks — assessment, case studies and comparisons

13After a decade during which more than forty attempts have been made to organise and network highly qualified diasporas, it will be useful to describe these experiments in as complete and detailed a way as possible. This will mean sometimes taking the wide view to grasp the overall process at work in diasporas worldwide, and sometimes focusing on specific cases to identify the precisely the conditions that favour the emergence of constructive initiatives. Early attempts (Colombia) and intermediate countries (India, China, South Africa, the Philippines) can shed some light on countries coming later (Madagascar, French-speaking Africa). Experiments in Morocco and Tunisia with several networks based either in France or in the USA also deserve close examination.

Example 2
The Colombian Network of Researchers and Engineers Abroad emerged at a time of strong political inspiration but ran out of steam after a few years. The SANSA network (South African Network of Skills Abroad), rationally built up and drawing lessons from the Colombian experience, has lacked political and social commitment by members. The French-speaking African countries with relatively large (or even over-developed) intellectual diasporas compared to their national scientific communities, are now treading in the footsteps of countries with traditionally more consistent (but now heavily affected) research communities, such as Nigeria and Kenya, who launched diaspora networks in the 1990s.

Tasks involved in assessing intellectual diaspora networks

14There is a small body of academic literature on these networks, with descriptions and conceptual contributions. However, is it essential to add to these sources by gathering documents presenting these networks and produced by the networks themselves. Most of the official networks have their information on the Web. This research and identification work has already been partly done and is easy to access, but a further joint effort by experts and documentalists will be needed. Obtaining fuller and more up-to-date information will require occasional help from network administrators. The experts on the shortlist have a sound knowledge of local networks of this kind and of the social circles from which they emerge.


Assess the input of scientific diasporas to co-operation and development

15The presence of expatriate intellectuals abroad is not enough in itself for an organised diaspora to form and develop a practical and active link with the home country. This part of the work is to identify and describe the conditions, factors, social, organisation legal and political arrangements that foster lasting, productive association among partners scattered around the world.

Example 3
The Colombian network's local associations, and associations of Malian migrants in France or Mexican migrants in the USA show that all kinds of mechanisms jointly promoted by the host country and home country through bilateral agreements foster fruitful exchange between the two parties. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs' encouragement for a federation of immigration solidarity organisations, and the new European migration policy currently being designed, open up new opportunities for such mechanisms.

Tasks involved in assessing diaspora input to co-operation and development

16The documentation base and the work to be done concern not only the intellectual and other diasporas but also international scientific and technical networks, new forms of co-operation in global organisations, and those needs of developing countries that their own expatriates seem to be in the best position to meet. There are two aspects to this work:

  • identifying those needs of the DCs to which intellectual diasporas can bring partial solutions;
  • a prospective examination: especially in the light of the diaspora experiences identified for objective No. 2, assessing which forms identified in other contexts (e.g. international organisations and multinational corporations) or created conceptually (clusters or génopoles, for example) could respond effectively to the issues raised by these experiences.


Catalogue the socio-technical tools (ICT tools) useful for diaspora networks

17For today's intellectual diasporas, information and communication technology is not just a set of tools useful for collective action. These tools constitute spaces where relationships and identities are forged and content exchanged among the scattered parts of the diaspora networks. The work on distributed intelligence is very important for the effective realisation of distance collaboration beyond mere sporadic exchanges.

Example 4
How can a biotechnologist from Cameroon, working in Sophia Antipolis in France, help the cellular biotechnology programme at the University of Yaoundé in its daily developments? They need to exchange information, share databases, give access to DNA sequences and conduct joint experimental manipulations. For this, electronic links have to be established and maintained with compatible protocols — stable means of communication through which the potential partners can identify and locate each other, gradually build mutual trust and conduct the work. Among the tools that make distance exchange possible are cognitive and social mapping software, teleconferencing systems and simulation techniques.

Tasks involved in cataloguing tools useful to diaspora networks

18It is useful to distinguish several objectives that ICT can help achieve in different ways:

  1. Sharing skills and knowledge to strengthen solidarity links between developed countries and developing countries in the ZSP. Using technology to strengthen solidarity bonds puts the emphasis on organising collective practices.
  2. Making use of the individual skills of diaspora members. E-learning technology must be envisaged in this context to help set up knowledge capitalisation and knowledge management strategies.
  3. Developing collaborative research projects.

19Using the new technologies to enable laboratories to work together remotely is the function of "collaboratories". With the development of effective distance collaboration via computer on a partnership principle, migrants need not return to their country of origin.

© IRD Éditions, 2003

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