Knowledge Transfer from High-Skilled Diasporas to the Home Country: The Case of Lebanon and the United States Open Access
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Concepts such as “brain drain,” although now outdated, capture the essence of the uneven distribution of costs and benefits of the migration of skilled workers from south to north. There is solid evidence of the positive contributions of skilled immigrants to their host economies. Nevertheless, the sending countries, with few exceptions, have not fully capitalized on the skills and networks of their high-skilled diasporas. This research adopts the diaspora option concept, which capitalizes on these skills and networks as a viable strategy for economic development. Using the migration relationship between Lebanon and the United States, this study contributes to a growing area of research that investigates the search role of skilled immigrants and returnees and their impact on knowledge transfer to the countries of origin. The research presented herein attempted to answer the overarching exploratory question: What are the patterns and dynamics of high-skilled diasporas and returnees’ direct and indirect (search) contributions to the home country and what related policies or facilitative interventions are needed to leverage and enhance these contributions? To address this question, the field research employed interview and survey techniques. The findings of this research revealed that Lebanese diaspora high achievers and networks, as well as high-skilled returnees, have engaged in different forms of direct and indirect contributions to the home country, but their impact remains less than transformational on Lebanon’s innovation system. There is substantial evidence of the nascent emergence of institutionalized Lebanese transnational search networks attempting to bridge and translate capabilities and opportunities between the home country and the global knowledge markets. These networks hold a growing portfolio of gestating projects and initiatives that have not yet materialized in tangible investments or success stories. Institutional factors at home, such as economic and political instability, weak infrastructure, and outdated regulatory and legal frameworks, in addition to the absence of diaspora engagement public policy, appear to be the main impediments for optimal and transformational engagement. These impeding factors represent areas for possible improvement if diaspora linkages and contributions were to be leveraged. Thus, the case of Lebanon demonstrates a laissez-faire diaspora option that encapsulates the suboptimal incorporation of skilled diasporas into the development process of their home countries without notable diaspora engagement public policy. Consequently, this research advocates for a proactive and fully endorsed diaspora option to better capitalize on countries’ skilled diasporas and returnees for transformational impact.