The bright side of brain drain



Ghana, like many developing countries, is dealing with brain drain, a phenomenon where highly skilled professionals and academics leave the country to seek opportunities overseas.

According to a report from the Diaspora Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, the World Bank estimates that there are 1.7 million Ghanaians living outside the country, which accounts for 7.6 percent of the overall population.

Based on census data from the year 2000, it was found that the population of Ghanaians living abroad amounted to 957,883 individuals, accounting for around 4.6 percent of the overall population. People often go to other nations for higher salaries, better working conditions, and access to advanced technology.

This exodus has resulted in the departure of many skilled and experienced workers, including doctors, nurses, engineers, educators, scientists, and IT specialists. Similarly, highly academic individuals, including researchers, professors, and scientists, have also left the country to pursue better educational opportunities.

As Ghana confronts the departure of its skilled citizens, its brightest young minds who aspire for international exposure and advancement see their path increasingly leading abroad, further perpetuating the cycle of brain drain.

It is believed that the emigration of experienced professionals to foreign shores is detrimental to the economic prospects of a nation, especially Ghana, which is working to enhance its workforce and drive sustainable development initiatives.

The departure of a skilled workforce is a drain on valuable human capital. Nevertheless, it is imperative to acknowledge that brain drain is a complex and multifaceted issue that cannot be categorized as entirely negative.

This phenomenon presents significant opportunities for Ghana’s advancement and prosperity. Even so, the positive implications of brain drain must be considered.

Financial remittances: a lifeline for economic growth 

When skilled professionals migrate abroad, they often return their earnings to their families and communities. The inflow of remittances to Ghana is essential for its economic development as it supports household consumption, investment, and poverty alleviation initiatives.

Remittances offer stable income, enabling families to afford basic goods and services such as food, healthcare, and education, thereby enhancing their standard of living. In addition to supporting household welfare, remittances fuel economic activities at the macro level. The influx of foreign currencies strengthens Ghana’s balance of payments, representing the country’s global financial transactions.

This stabilizes the currency rate, reduces volatility, and boosts investor confidence in the economy. The World Bank reports a significant rise in remittances from abroad to families in sub-Saharan Africa, including Ghana, from US$3.052 billion in 1995 to US$48.776 billion in 2019. In 2021, remittance inflows to Ghana amounted to approximately US$4.5 billion, accounting for 5.9% of the country’s gross domestic product.

The World Bank report shows a substantial increase in remittances to Ghana, indicating an essential economic opportunity and implications for the country’s future prosperity.

These remittances are a vital component of Ghana’s GDP, closely matching the net inflows of foreign direct investment. In 2020, despite a 2.7% contribution from foreign direct investments inflows, possibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remittance remained resilient, accounting for the nation’s 6.1% of GDP.

Ghana ranked fourth in total remittance inflows to Africa in 2021 and second in sub-Saharan Africa, highlighting remittances’ significant economic, political, and social impacts. As Ghana charts its path toward sustainable development, the steady flow of remittances offers a source of external financing and foreign exchange.

Diaspora investments

Ghana has one of the world’s largest and most vibrant diaspora populations, including skilled professionals, entrepreneurs, and people deeply connected to their home country. Beyond remittances, Ghanaians residing overseas possess substantial financial assets.

The scope of diaspora investments is extensive, encompassing various activities such as monetary contributions, entrepreneurial endeavors, real estate development, and charity projects. These investments inject essential capital into the Ghanaian economy’s diverse sectors, fostering innovation and expansion. Ghanaian entrepreneurs in the diaspora often leverage their skills, knowledge, and networks to establish innovative businesses and startups in their homeland.

In 2019, an Entrepreneurship by Diaspora for Development (ED4D) project initiated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) saw Zidicircle train several Ghanaian entrepreneurs from the diaspora, equipping them with skills to use their businesses to drive change and innovation in Ghana’s private sector.

This underscores Ghanaians in the diaspora’s active participation in home businesses and emphasizes the benefits of brain drain. The ED4D initiative promotes brain gain by leveraging diaspora expertise in various sectors such as agriculture, entertainment, energy, food processing, health care, sand mining, solar power, and waste management, challenging traditional notions of brain drain.

Ghana’s diaspora investment in businesses offers economic growth opportunities, promoting diversification, skill enhancement, entrepreneurship, job creation, and investment in critical infrastructure.

Knowledge transfer and skills enhancement

Over time, brain drain has benefitted many African nations as individuals return with new skills and knowledge.

The return of these skilled individuals can lead to transformative impacts across various country sectors. Firstly, in the healthcare industry, Ghana has witnessed the return of highly trained medical professionals who studied abroad and acquired advanced expertise in surgery, oncology, and infectious diseases.

Dr. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, a cardiothoracic surgeon, exemplifies how brain drain can revolutionize vital sectors such as healthcare and drive national development.

Dr. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng pursued his medical education and training in Germany, where he specialized in heart and lung surgeries. Upon his return to the country, he established the National Cardiothoracic Center at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, Ghana.

This facility offers critical cardiac care, including interventions and surgical procedures that preserve the lives of patients from Ghana and neighboring nations. His expertise and innovative approaches have significantly improved the treatment outcomes for patients with heart and lung conditions, reducing the need for medical tourism abroad.

Dr. Frimpong-Boateng’s study abroad journey has significantly impacted the country’s healthcare sector, highlighting the potential of brain drain for positive development.

Dr. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng and other key Ghanaian development figures have utilized their international education experiences to bring development to the country. Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, with a doctoral degree in Economics from Simon Fraser University, significantly influences Ghana’s economic policies and promotes technological innovation.

Dr. Joyce Aryee, a renowned business leader and former Minister of State, has contributed significantly to Ghana’s governance and business landscape through her postgraduate studies in the United States. The combined underscore the significant potential of brain drain when effectively directed towards national development initiatives.

Brain drain has been viewed solely as a negative phenomenon for far too long. While losing skilled professionals presents challenges, Ghana has a unique opportunity to rewrite the narrative.

By acknowledging the multifaceted contributions of its diaspora community – from remittances and investments to knowledge transfer and skills enhancement – Ghana can transform brain drain into a powerful driver of economic growth.

Diaspora investment in Ghana boosts the economy, stimulates local economies, and promotes entrepreneurship through remittances and skills transfer, enhancing the domestic workforce and fostering innovation.

Instead of lamenting the loss of talented individuals, let us celebrate the role of brain drain in driving economic progress and development.

The diaspora of Ghanaian professionals abroad is a valuable asset, fostering connections and facilitating trade, investment, and knowledge exchange.

Remittances from these individuals provide essential support to their families, while their experiences abroad enhance their skills and expertise, enabling local innovation and entrepreneurship.

In this light, brain drain presents a challenge and a catalyst for progress, showcasing Ghana’s economy’s resilience and adaptability in the global market.

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