The basic ingredient is opportunity. Talent flows naturally to countries that create an environment for economic growth; that make life easy for enterprise; that attract and welcome investment; and that nurture a culture of achievement. Skills are attracted to challenge and possibility.
Opportunity on this scale is becoming a scarce commodity in many parts of the West. But this is not the case in the developing world – at least among countries with the appetite and determination to deploy strong governance and continually raise their competitiveness.
Second, quality of life matters greatly. A generation ago, many talented individuals would consider working outside the West a "hardship posting." Today, standards of living in the UAE, for example, are among the highest in the world. We have shown that the business of reversing brain drain is also the business of creating a better life for citizens and residents. Building happiness is, after all, the primary business of good government everywhere.
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Ours is a story of great hope for the Middle East in particular, where generations of conflict and despair have driven high levels of outward migration. I have always argued that, besides good governance, the best solutions to the divisions and strife of the Arab world lie in grassroots development and economic opportunity. Now, we have shown that it is possible to reverse the forces that had driven away our most talented young people.
Another source of hope is that this turnaround can happen remarkably quickly. Research shows that small countries suffer disproportionately from brain drain. But we have shown that even for a small country like the UAE, and even in a region divided by conflict, it is worth building an island of opportunity.
But let me be clear: reversing brain drain is about more than plugging a leak. It means turning a vicious cycle into a virtuous one. By attracting the best talent from around the world, we can create a vibrant and diverse society that fuels innovation and prosperity – which in turn attracts still more talent.
To make this work, we must believe in people. Human beings – their ideas, innovations, dreams, and connections – are the capital of the future. In this sense, the "brain regain" is not so much an achievement in itself as it is a leading indicator of development, because where great minds go today, great things will happen tomorrow.
Commentary by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2014.