Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, this international symposium was organised by the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (Berlin) together with the Tajik National University in Dushanbe.
The topic was of crucial importance to the development of political economies in Central Asia: labour migration and brain drain.
The question was how brain drain, i.e., the migration of students and high-skilled workers to foreign countries, could be altered such that it becomes brain circulation, thus ultimately creating opportunities for ‘brain gain’.
Originally, the idea for this initiative arose from a meeting between Jürgen Grote (Dialogue of Civilizations [DOC] Research Institute) and Kairat Itibaev in autumn 2017. When Grote held a Marie Curie Chair in Public Policy at Charles University in Prague (2006–10), Itibaev was one of his students from Central Asia. In the meantime, Itibaev was registered for an additional degree at a Berlin-based university where he was working on issues related to labour migration and ‘brain drain’ in the Kyrgyz Republic. When discussing that topic with him and with Behrooz Gharleghi, a colleague, economist, and senior researcher at DOC Research Institute, it soon became clear that this type of problem perfectly fit the exigencies of our institute. Equally clear was the fact that more extensive comparative analysis would be required from an economic and socio-political standpoint to gain deeper insight. Indeed, labour migration and brain drain concern all countries in Central Asia, not only Kyrgyzstan. Supported by the then-head of the fundraising department at the DOC Research Institute, Carl Drexler, we began to evaluate the prospects of receiving funding for a research endeavour involving the entire region. Given the vast expertise in Central Asia’s scholarly community but scarce opportunities to engage in dialogue, such a project would have to bring together participants from relevant countries to discuss potential strategies to overcome the negative effects of brain drain and possibly initiate a virtuous cycle of ‘brain circulation’.
After in-depth study on the topic (Grote and Gharleghi were both newcomers to the field), we started looking for a local partner in the region and soon identified Professor Muzaffar Olimov of the Tajik National University (TNU) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Olimov was not only ideally placed but had studied labour migration for many years in countries across Central Asia. The three of us subsequently drafted an application which was then sent to the Volkswagen (VW) Foundation, a prestigious organisation that was running a Central Asian research programme. We eventually obtained a grant from VW to organise an international symposium in Dushanbe. Next, we shared our text online and published a call for applications via several international conferences and event platforms. We soon received some 60 declarations of interest together with brief abstracts of papers and presentations. In selecting the most promising, we tried to maintain a balance in terms of nationality, age, and gender. We also aimed to choose a mix of applications from leading scholars in the field as well as early career researchers. We finally achieved our goals by mid-October 2018. We received a high number of Tajik applicants given that the conference would take place in Dushanbe. We also received many enquiries from scholars in other parts of the region. Candidates came from Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.
While sending invitations from our Berlin offices, Olimov and his team also oversaw the logistics, arranged hotels, prepared handouts, identified professional translators, and reserved an ideal conference site on the TNU premises. Grote and Gharleghi anticipated an intriguing experience when leaving Berlin for Dushanbe; none of us had ever visited Central Asia. Our expectations were more than met upon arrival. Thanks to Olimov’s work and the efforts of members in DOC’s Moscow office (Professor Alexey Malashenko, Roman Okhotenko, and Maxim Mikheev), the event was more than perfect. The university’s main entrance was adorned with a large banner announcing our event, the lecture theatre was set up beautifully, all participants had arrived on time and were booked into their hotels, and lunch and dinner arrangements left nothing to be desired.
In retrospect, the most rewarding aspect of the symposium was the overwhelming response from conference participants. We were told while many events had addressed labour migration, our symposium was the first to promote true knowledge exchange embracing the entire region. Our three days in Dushanbe were invaluable in establishing networks across borders, age, gender, and fields of scholarly expertise. We would especially like to express our gratitude to the VW Foundation for having made this event possible and, of course, to the lively debate and contributions from conference participants. There was a unanimous sense that something similar should be organised in the near future – this time perhaps more focused on specific aspects of the brain drain phenomenon, such as the importance of remittances in countries of origin or the roles of migrant diasporas in receiving countries.
Regarding the texts from these proceedings, extensive reports from key speakers and from participants who supplied full papers or presentations are summarised in Part 1. An overview of the event appears in Part 2, followed by a policy brief and recommendations based on the preceding contributions and additional literature in Part 3.
You may also be interested in:
The coronavirus and global economic vulnerability
How to deal with the coronavirus recession: Social solidarity and state intervention
Eurasian partnership: A new balance of power?
The Africa-Europe relationship: A strategic outlook
A new Cold War or a roadmap for comprehensive and collective European security