New Argonauts, Different Fleece

Larry Prusak, long-time management consultant and author of Working Knowledge, earlier noted the affinities between AnnaLee Saxenian’s New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in a Global Economy and Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations. 

He is right, of course. Knowledge doesn’t flow from place to place along currents in the upper atmosphere, like some fairy dust, or even person-to-person over the Internet. It is laboriously acquired by immigrant students, scientists and engineers, who, under some circumstances, may return to their homelands and, again, under certain circumstances, start companies that may in time, often surprisingy little time, become substantial industries.

Saxenian, dean of the School of Information Sciences at the University of California at Berkeley, is hardly the first scholar to study the mechanics of “catch-up.”  But by zeroing in on the stories of the foreign-born, technically-skilled entrepreneurs who travel back and forth between Silicon Valley to Taiwan, mainland China, india and Israel, she brings into sharp focus the reason why open borders are an important key to economic growth, especially for the well-trained. 





Comments (1)

1 Comment

  1. Clay Wescott Said,

    May 7, 2006 @ 3:22 am

    Your mention of Saxenian’s work prompts this comment.

    I recently led a research project on the increased use of associations of highly skilled expatriate nationals in knowledge exchange and capacity development, and on the policies and level of awareness among Asian countries to capture the benefits of such practices. The emphasis is on knowledge exchange rather than knowledge transfer, since the former suggests the two-way knowledge flows increasingly evident: from host to home countries (e.g. advanced technology) and from home to host countries (e.g. reputational advice on potential business partners). Detailed reviews of such knowledge exchanges were carried out in the Philippines, People’s Republic of China (PRC), and Afghanistan to explore innovative means of improving policies and using networks for knowledge exchange that might otherwise be carried out by non-diaspora, expatriate professionals. Such knowledge exchanges can increase the development impact of remittances, and are valuable in their own right. The studies were carried out in consultation with the respective diaspora organizations, and were completed in 2005.

    Other researchers have attempted to conceptualize these practices with respect to diasporas under the rubric of “transnationalism”, “scientific diaspora”, and “brain circulation” (Saxenian). Another line of research suggests that the strong family ties linking traditional overseas Chinese business networks are morphing into much larger and more dispersed networks with weak ties. These weak tie networks, which include many of the emerging networks among overseas professional diasporas, are less costly to maintain than strong-tie networks, and are good for casting a broad net for unique and novel information. However, weak tie networks are less effective for transferring complex, non-codified knowledge, i.e. tacit knowledge that isn’t written down, and derives from personal, practical know-how, nor for transferring knowledge that is dependent on other hard-to-access knowledge.

    For a summary of the research, see “Promoting Knowledge Exchange through Diasporas”, in Government of Australia, Proceedings of G-20 workshop on Demographic Challenges and Migration : 265-308.

    Clay G. Wescott
    Asia Pacific Governance Institute
    Manila, Philippines
    skype cwescott

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