close this bookThe Courier - N°159 - Sept- Oct 1996 Dossier Investing in People Country Reports: Mali ; Western Samoa
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View the document'Brain gain' : A cost - effective UNDP programme
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'Brain gain' : A cost - effective UNDP programme

On the scale of the brain drain problem facing the developing countries, the UNDP's Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTEN) project may not amount to much, but it has proved, in its 19 years of existence, to be a cost-effective way of getting highly qualified expatriates from the developing countries to contribute to the development of their countries of origin.

It all started in Turkey in 1977 by pure accident. A Turkish mineral expert in Alberta, Canada, was asked by a compatriot if he would be kind enough to come over to Turkey and explain his innovative coal cleaning process to the staff and students of his old university in Ankara-the Middle East Technical University. He expressed his interest in the project. Soon afterwards he was contacted by the UNDP which offered to fund part of his trip to Ankara. The expert spent one month in Turkey giving a series of seminars, not only at the Middle East Technical University, but also at the Istanbul and Dokuz Eylul Universities. During these lectures, he made recommendations on resolving Turkey's specific coal utilisation problems. His impact was immense and such that the UNDP was inspired to set up the TOKTEN project along similar lines to help developing countries gain from the knowledge of their expatriate professionals.

The system is simple. Member States of the United Nations can apply to join the project. The latter is administered in each country by a National Working Commitee (NWC) which is made up of representatives from the government, local organisations, the private sector and the UNDP. Institutions of that country (government ministries and agencies, private and public sector enterprises, universities, research and development institutions, hospitals, etc) can apply for assistance in a variety of areas.

Applications are processed by the NWC and recruitment of experts is usually in one or more of the following ways:

— through consultants with lists of experts recognised by the Government as having extensive contacts within their expatriate communities;

— through embassies and missions, alumni associations and research institutions;

— through prominent members of the country's expatriate community who identify and alert other high level expatriates of the opportunities to return home and serve their countries.

When the Working Committee chooses a consultant, an offer of assignment is made. The beneficiary organisation and the consultant will then determine the timing of the mission and inform the UNDP.

TOKTEN assignments last between one and three months depending on the ability of the consultant and the needs of the beneficiary'. They are not meant to be highly remunerative. Consultants are only entitled to round trip economy fare tickets (by the most direct route) and a daily subsistence allowance at the prevailing UN rate. The costs are paid out of the beneficiary country's 'Indicative Planning Figure'(IPF) which is the amount of assistance the UNDP makes available to a developing country over a five-year programming cycle. Health insurance cover and accommodation is not provided. Usually these are the responsibilities of the beneficiary government or organisation. The salaries of the consultants during their absence are paid by their affiliated employers whose agreement is often necessary for the projects to go ahead.

TOKTEN consultants are thus not motivated by money but by a genuine desire (with a modicum of patriotism) to contribute to the development of their countries of origin to which they retain strong cultural and linguistic ties. And their impact on the ground is usually immediate and measurable. Pressures are not put on volunteers to return permanently to their countries, although many have chosen to do so since the programme began in 1977.

The system is not only low-cost and cost-effective. It covers a great variety of specialised fields and enables programmes to be implemented with speed.

Conditions for success

A UNDP assessment of the programme in 1987, ten years after it began, concluded that regular monitoring of its operation had enabled information garnered to be applied to increase its effectiveness. It had been found, for example, that short-term expatriate consultancies were especially beneficial when the problem tackled was specific and the consultant selected was of international standing, when both the requesting organisation and the expatriate were well prepared in advance, and when the initial mission was followed up by a series of measures, often including a return visit.

By 1992, 35 countries were participating in the programme and over 3800 consultancies had been run. Since then, the number of countries has increased dramatically to 51 and con

sultancies to 5000. In 1994 and 1995 alone, 28 countries reported over 700 consultancies.

It has also become clear that, whereas the main recipient institutions have been government agencies, science and technology research institutions, universities and organisations, the private sector is increasingly showing interest in the programme. The number of female specialists is also increasing: in 1991, 40 consultants were women and last year this figure rose to over 100.

So far, the ACP countries participating in the programme are; Benin, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Dominica, Ethiopia, Fiji, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Liberia, Nigeria, Sao Tome & Principe, Sierra Leone, St Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago and Uganda.

Success stories include a highly skilled Guyanese medical practitioner in the United States who returned home after 17 years to assume the post of minister of health. He had been sent to oversee the introduction of certain aspects of health care such as preventive medicine (immunisation, general child care and nutrition), treatment of trauma (victims of accidents and violence etc) and the establishment and management of the physical facilities for emergency patients. During his stint, his recommendation on the upgrading of the emergency room facilities was rapidly implemented and this contributed significantly to improving patient care. Another story involved a Guinean banker who, after a consultancy stint in Guinea, abandoned a lucrative job in France to return home permanently to work at the Central Bank of Guinea, helping to set up a new loan system for commercial imprt and export businesses. Guinea, in fact, has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of the TOKTEN programme with numerous consultancies involving the University of Conakry, covering more than 20 disciplines.

For very small sums the programme is ensuring that developing countries which have invested enormously in the education of their expatriate nationals have a return, at least, in the form of the knowledge they oquired.

A.O

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