Without reversing the brain drain, which is continuing to take a heavy toll on the country, Greece has no future. Tourism aside, innovation is a sector where, given the right national action plan, Greece could lure back at least some of the highly educated minds who have left and create a comparative advantage.
The Greeks who fled the country over the last few years, as well as those who were already settled abroad, could be of help to this venture. In fact its success depends on them.
The issue is well known, but came to my mind during a recent gathering with friends and leading Greek academics, in Boston. They were disappointed with Greek society’s inability to learn lessons from the crisis and to bring about meaningful change, and pointed out with a tinge of sadness, that this reality has undermined their own willingness and ability to contribute to Greece’s moving forward.
In a recent interview, Constantinos Daskalakis, a distinguished professor at MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department (who was not present at our gathering), said that even founders of Greek startups had had their initial optimism dashed by the sclerosis of the Greek system and sought better prospects abroad.
However, despite the basically unwelcoming Greek reality, Daskalakis underscored his willingness – and that of other Greek scientists living abroad – to help Greece, saying that some of these people would entertain the thought of returning to Greece as long as their life wasn’t made difficult.
Talk about the capabilities of Greeks living abroad and events like the recent warm reception offered to Daskalakis by the Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos are all fine. But at some point we must get to the meat of the matter and discuss the specific measures that must be taken in order to tap the potential of these individuals.
These would certainly be a far cry from the way the government treated the NASA astrophysicist and Johns Hopkins professor Stamatios Krimigis.
Greek universities produce excellent minds. Daskalakis is a graduate of the National Technical University of Athens. Michalis Bletsas, director of computing at the MIT Media Lab, studied at Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University. Examples abound – including scientists from Harvard University and other leading institutions in Boston.
Many exceptional minds that excel in the US and elsewhere are willing to help. They are a source of pride but also of power. Hellenism has vast capital to draw on and it’s a pity that we fail to tap its potential.
To do so we would need a workable structure and a practical framework so as to stop the painful brain drain and activate a real brain gain. It shouldn’t be that difficult.