Tech Industry in South AsiaAs recently as a few decades ago, the pursuit of worldly education and career in Western countries was a badge of fame for South Asians. India, Pakistan and other South Asian nations could not offer the same level of job opportunity as the West. Therefore, many people in the educated class chose to emigrate in hopes of a wealthier lifestyle. Two factors contributed to this trend – the lack of opportunities at home and the increased quality of life abroad. At one point, over 80% of the graduates from India’s most prestigious university, IIT, used to pursue opportunities abroad.

As a result, the tech industry in South Asia fell to a baseline, sustaining itself without thriving. However, a phenomenon is occurring that has been dubbed a ‘reverse exodus’. Many of the South Asian professionals that emigrated to the West have returned to their mother country. This mass-return of individuals to their home countries is causing a boom in the industries that traditionally experienced what is known as ‘brain-drain’ (the loss of skilled professionals to emigration).

These five factors are integral to understanding the resurgence of the tech industry in South Asia.

5 Factors Causing The Resurging Tech Industry in South Asia

1. One of the major reasons behind the reverse exodus is for family. Parents that had once wanted their children to grow up in Western nations are returning to South Asia after a strong development in the education sector. Allowing children to grow up alongside a larger, more connected family creates a stronger bond than when oceans separate families. In addition, the parents of these emigrated high-skilled tech professionals are aging. The choice is to “bring them there or return home.” Oftentimes, the family will choose to return to their mother country to care for their aging parents.

2. The rapid development of South Asian opportunities pulls professionals back home. Rich with a younger population well-versed in global technology and a large market for labor, South Asia’s economy is on the cusp of a boom. This is recognized not only on the global economic scale but by the individuals choosing to return as well. In an interview conducted with a returnee, Ram, he notes that “there were opportunities in India – India is growing”. Ram already has a family and was advancing in his career steadily. However, the economic opportunity offered to him if he returned home was a stronger pull than anything in the West.

3. Industry specific zones are springing up, allowing clusters of innovation and clusters of returnees from the West. One example of this cluster effect is the Andhra Pradesh MedTech Zone in India, where medicinal technology is being innovated and discovered at a rapid rate. Medical and technology professionals from the West that returned to this sector find themselves surrounded by a silicon-valley type industry cluster. They also find clusters of similar-minded people. Returnee Ram meets people from Chicago and other US cities: “in the community of people (…) it’s like a mini-US”.

4. Capital for businesses is now readily available in South Asia. After the economy surged forward, jobs became widely available. Funding was plentiful for those that wished to start their own businesses. The IT industry hosts a yearly gathering in California for individuals who might want to return to South Asia. Companies like Intel, Amazon and Yahoo have started to attend the job fair. These potential opportunities for job growth pull many of the interested population back home. The job market and capital is potentially more accessible than in the West.

5. Government support is present for those that want to return and pursue a higher standard of living. Ram noted that entrepreneurial activities are “open to everyone”, fully accessible to anyone that wants to try their hand. The government streamlines the process so that “if you come and expect that you’re going to open your own company in a few weeks,” it’ll happen. Though there may be a more established support system in the West, the clear government support for individual development in South Asia is one of the strongest factors causing many to return.

Though the South Asian region continues its development as a result of the high-skilled professionals returning home, there is still substantial work to be done to retain the talent. Government support, economic opportunity, and familial support are all strong initial pulls. However, the issue of brain-drain won’t be fully resolved until there is sustained regional development. Focusing on industry development must be a mainstay for countries in the region in order to retain their talent and continue the growth of the tech industry in South Asia. Hopefully, through a region-wide commitment to development, South Asia will fully recover from the past losses of brain drain and develop into a hub for the global technology industry.

Pratik Samir Koppikar
Photo: Flickr

Brain Drain in IndiaThere is a common joke in Silicon Valley that the most spoken languages are Hindi and Telugu. Like many common jokes, this one reveals a staggering truth: nearly 60 percent of the engineers in Silicon Valley are of Indian origin. Over the past two decades, high-skilled migration has brought dramatic innovations to the American Information Technology (IT) sector, while leading to what some commentators have called the brain drain in India and other developing countries.

In 1990, as the American IT sector began to boom, Congress passed the H-1B program, granting visas to thousands of foreign nationals in “specialty occupations.”

A recent article published in India’s The Quint claims, “[the brain drain in India] adversely affects the quality and quantity of human capital formation, which is the bedrock of modern economic development.”

Although this is a common contention, it is far from correct.

A recent study published by the Center for Global Development suggests, “better-paid jobs [in the U.S.] incentivize [Indian] students to choose certain majors and supply a highly-educated workforce to Indian firms.” Thus, at the same time as thousands of high-skilled Indians emigrate to the U.S. every year, thousands more acquire STEM degrees in India and never leave. As for those that do find higher-paying jobs abroad, many eventually return to India when their visas expire.

Because of this, between 1998 and 2012, the Indian IT sector grew from 1.2 percent of GDP to over 7.5 percent. By the mid-2000s, India had surpassed the U.S. as the largest exporter of software.

Far from producing a brain drain in India, Gaurav Khanna and Nicolas Morales’ study finds that the American H-1B program not only correlated with the birth of India’s IT sector but also caused a “reverse brain drain” in India.

While some have wrongly criticized the H-1B program for hurting developing economies, others have argued that free movement of labor has imposed downward pressure on American workers’ wages.

A recent article in the Huffington Post suggests that H-1B visas only benefit American tech companies that “want to hire cheap, immobile labor—i.e. foreign workers.”

Although high-skilled migration has certainly led to wage stagnation for certain occupations in the U.S., Khanna and Morales find that the influx of Indian workers has simultaneously motivated many American students to attain even more specialized degrees that lead to even higher paying jobs.

In the end, the new study released by the Center for Global development offers much-needed clarity about the complicated subject of labor migration. Overall, it finds that high-skilled migration is something to be encouraged rather than banned. Indeed, the free movement skilled labor has been proven to bring mutual benefits to both the American and Indian economies.

Nathaniel Sher

Photo: Google

App Fighting FGMFive Kenyan teenage girls have been invited to participate in the finale of the international Technovation Challenge in Silicon Valley in August. They have developed I-Cut, an app fighting FGM, or female genital mutilation.

I-Cut offers help to girls that are in danger of FGM or have already experienced it: it connects them to rescue centers and gives them information about where to get legal or medical help. In situations of immediate risk, girls can also use the app’s panic button to alert local authorities.

FGM was outlawed in Kenya in 2001 already. Its prevalence has since declined: from 37 percent in the late ’90s to 21 percent in 2014. Young women today are less likely to get cut than their mothers.

A 2014 study found that the prevalence of FGM in Kenya gets linked to the levels of education, socioeconomic status and media exposure. Additionally, girls are at a higher risk of being cut in rural areas. The highest prevalence got found in the North Eastern province, where 97 percent of women had undergone the procedure.

FGM does not entail any health benefits, but the risk of numerous immediate and long-term risks to the victims’ physical and mental health. Possible effects include infections, death, urinary and sexual problems, death, childbirth complications, PTSD, depression and anxiety.

I-cut was developed by Ivy and Macrine Akinyi, Cynthia Awuor, Stacy Adhiambo and Purity Christine, aged 15 to 17, who call themselves the “Restorers.” In an interview with Reuters, the girls said they had friends who became victims of FGM, and that they wanted to “restore hope to hopeless girls.”

The team beat nine other Kenyan semi-finalists and qualified for the finale of the Technovation Challenge, an annual event sponsored by Google, Verizon and the United Nations. Technovation challenges girls to create apps that address problems in their communities and translate them into a business. It aims at teaching girls entrepreneurial and leadership skills.

The girls will compete against five other teams of girls from all over the world in the competition’s senior division and hope to win $15,000 with their app fighting FGM.

However, it is not merely about winning. As Owino states, “Whether we win or not, our perspective of the world and the possibilities it has will change for the better.”

Lena Riebl
Photo: Flickr

Silicon Valley & Global Energy Poverty
Over one billion people around the world do not have reliable access to electricity. Furthermore, 2.6 billion people are reliant upon biomass to cook, which causes harmful indoor pollution. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately four million people die each year due to habitual inhalation from these toxins.

The Silicon Valley is at the apex of technological achievement and is inhabited by some of the brightest and most creative minds on the planet. There has been a mounting international appeal to Silicon Valley to use their intellectual tech brilliance for philanthropic efforts.

There has been criticism for focusing on solutions to micro problems that intend to only service the individual, as opposed to global humanitarian issues. Responsibility, however, cannot rest solely with the entrepreneurs themselves. Widespread global issues do not always necessarily lend themselves to the venture capitalist system.

Tech entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa notes this struggle: “Investors believe that the quickest hits come from building apps or games that go viral, or from creating websites that automate business processes. This was surely the case in the social-media era, when even children who had not completed their college education could write apps. But we’ve built enough messaging and photo-sharing apps, and have bigger opportunities now. It is possible for the young and the old to solve real problems, to great effect.”

Continents like Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, have limited access to electricity and are being viewed as a possible new frontier for tech consumption. In some parts of the continent, Africans walk miles to the nearest power grid just for a cell phone charger. Even then, because of the demand, it can take hours and it is expensive. For this reason, solar energy has recently seen a boom in usage particularly by telecom companies being funded by tech investors. The rationale is that broadening electrical access across the continent will hopefully cause a surge in mobile phone usage.

Tesla has created a Powerwall home storage 10kwh battery that is capable of powering 1,000 watts of current for 10 hours. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates the average American household uses 1,200 watts, 24 hours per day. The battery is capable of recharging via solar or wind energy. The only downside is that the battery unit costs $4,000, which does not include installation. The average per capita income in Sub-Saharan Africa is well below $3,000, making the unit well out of most price ranges.

Nonetheless, the Powerwall home storage stands as a promising, albeit a rudimentary example of Silicon Valley creativity and ingenuity being applied for a global purpose.

The Borgen Project

Sources: National Geographic, Huffington Post, Wadhwa, Forbes
Photo: Silicon Beat

Global Development Lab Brings Silicon Valley to Washington-TBP

USAID’s mission to fight global poverty has just received significant support with the recent addition of the Global Development Lab. USAID has long been the leading government agency seeking to alleviate poverty, yet their mission has primarily been that of implementation. The agency is now not only committed to the physical deployment of aid, but also the development of future relief systems.

Founded in April of 2014, the new subdivision seeks to change the ways in which aid is delivered and developed. According to the official website, “The U.S. Global Development Lab is a new entity within USAID that brings together a diverse set of partners to discover, test, and scale breakthrough solutions to achieve what human progress has only now made possible—the end of extreme poverty by 2030.”

The Global Development Lab is bringing the fight against extreme poverty into the 21st century information age. Its aim is to use strategies that top technology companies have used, such as crowd sourcing, big data collection, and constant research and development to find the best solutions in terms of ending extreme poverty.

USAID has appointed Ann Mei Chang as Executive Director for the Global Development Lab. Chang worked for twenty years in Silicon Valley, spending eight of them working for Google as lead engineer of its mobile division. With both experience in the technology and nonprofit sectors, Chang brings a fresh outlook on new ways to implement global development.

The lab is revolutionary in its mission to use resources and partners from both the public and private sectors. The Global Development Lab is partnered with technology companies that are synonymous with innovation. Microsoft, Intel and Nike are listed as cornerstone sponsors. Many of the nation’s top universities, including the University of California, Duke and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have also partnered with the lab. USAID hopes that these partnerships will “leverage the combined skills, assets, technologies, and resources of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to deliver sustainable development impact.”

USAID and its new Global Development Lab are not only attempting to alleviate extreme poverty through donations and other tried methods, but the agency is now attempting to end the suffering of millions around the globe by seeking cutting edge solutions through science, innovation, and collaboration.

– Joe Kitaj

Sources: USAID, The White House
Photo: USAID Blog

Outsourcing is a controversial topic in the United States, oftentimes discussed alongside the current unemployment rate. The phenomenon has been addressed politically since the emergence of a world market and is especially infamous in the high-tech industry.

It is difficult to take a hard stance on the issue. On one hand, outsourcing is viewed as unfairly stripping Americans of much needed jobs. On the other hand, outsourcing is seen as essential for the success of some businesses, often involving tasks that Americans have little or no desire to do at unreasonable wages and levels of demand.

Perhaps both stances can be fairly arguable under different contexts, but under which context do American voices fight for the needs of the people taking these outsourced jobs? If high-tech is the future of international industry, shouldn’t the leading nations give way for developing countries to enter the new world market?

One company is framing outsourcing in a whole new light. Samasource, an innovative Silicon Valley startup, views outsourcing jobs to developing nations as not only mutually beneficial, but a key element to lifting communities out of extreme poverty (living on less than $1.75 a day).

Samasource is based in San Francisco and partners with pioneering Bay Area tech giants such as LinkedIn, Google and Microsoft. These companies send Samasource large collections of data (referred to as “big data”) which the nonprofit breaks down into simple projects according to their Microwork model.

The work is then given to their overseas employees in one of nine delivery centers in Haiti, India, Kenya and Uganda. Employment is granted to qualified women and young adults who undergo 2-4 weeks of training. Aside from the fact that tasks are as basic as content moderation, photo-tagging and routine data entry, the workplace imagery resonates with a typical First World office environment that many Americans can identify with.

And that’s the point. The people living in extreme poverty are often educated and willing to work but there is the standing assumption that developing nations have a populace who are limited due to lack of education or political stability. However, many have found that these areas simply lack the economic infrastructure to work in advanced industries.

When founder Leilah Janah graduated high school a semester early to volunteer as an English teacher in Ghana she was surprised to see so many educated and capable individuals living in extreme poverty. They could even speak English, but there just wasn’t any work.

Janah has been praised as a Silicon Valley superstar for her individual incentive to work hard domestically to bring jobs to those in need. Embracing the ideology of “sama,” which means “same” in Sanskrit, Janah has adopted the perspective that everyone deserves the agency to help themselves live a dignified lifestyle through employment. To accomplish this, Janah found outsourcing to be the answer.

Currently, 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.75 a day, and Samasource has calculated that 43 million people can benefit from their Microwork model by creating new jobs in the tech market overseas rather than sending them away. Samasource has already lifted 15,000 people out of extreme poverty by providing jobs to 4,100 workers with families to support. Continuing their efforts to help everyone succeed, the nonprofit has recently created their SamaUSA program which teaches City College of San Francisco students high tech skills at no cost.

Samasource isn’t the end-all solution; international aid is still necessary to provide basic needs for people. Once basic needs are met, providing jobs is the next step to helping those in need to help themselves.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Forbes, Mission Local, Samasource, The Telegraph
Photo: The Telegraph

For any aspiring tech giant, setting foot on the coveted ground of the Silicon Valley is like entering Hollywood for the aspiring actor. A veritable hot bed for up and coming technology, Silicon Valley serves as a who’s who of past, present, and future industry players.

The prospect of an undeveloped African country gaining footing in the tech industry seems far-fetched. For three young men from Ghana, however, their dreams of entering the industry are coming to fruition sooner than expected. While, for many in Ghana, having a home computer is still not a reality, Ghanaian entrepreneurs, David Osei, Kamil Nabong, and Philips Efah are bringing their startup Dropifi to Silicon Valley.

Through the unique mentoring program, 500 Startups, Osei, Nabong, and Efah have been awarded a four-month boot camp in Silicon Valley where they will learn all angles of the startup industry. At its heart, 500 startups is a venture capital firm aimed at building the next generation of startups from the ground up. With their inclusion of the Ghana trio, however, the firm has begun to set their sights beyond Silicon Valley, and into the developing world.

With the goal of streamlining businesses contact forms, Dropify, aims to provide a seemingly underutilized resource to businesses the world over. Despite worldly ambitions, however, the group has kept their feet firmly rooted on the ground and hopes to bring the brunt of business back to Ghana. “I never thought of moving to the Valley as soon as this, because basically we want to build a global startup company right from Ghana that is going to service the whole world,” Osei told CNN.

While there remains a lot of work for the four entrepreneurs, they have their goals set. Osei went on to tell CNN, “Our immediate goal is building a sustainable product that is going to deliver continuous value to our business,” says Osei. “Currently we are focused on the U.S. and international market – the U.S., U.K., Canada – but in a couple of years we want to become leaders in Africa.”

For a country such as Ghana, the hope of entering into the tech industry certainly serves as a goal worth fighting for. With globalized free trade, serving as a business hub in Africa will certainly be a boon to the country’s economy as well as surrounding African countries.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: CNN, Government of Ghana, 500
Photo: The Guardian