Malaysia's Brain Drain Dilemma


This is the original article which was published on 28th Feb 2017 in The Malay Mail Online titled Believing in Malaysia’s Future and potential

This article concerning Malaysia's brain drain phenomena on The Malay Mail Online brought me thinking on this fine Saturday morning on the 1st day of the New Lunar Year, and I want to write about what I think of the Malaysian Brain Drain Dilemma

Malaysia spends time, money and effort to attract Malaysians overseas to return to Malaysia and contribute back to the country. The idea of getting people to contribute to the development of the country is on the right track: Heck, it's the only track that we have! There are no alternatives to not wanting people to contribute.

On the other hand, I do not see the point of getting Malaysians to Malaysia to achieve that. I feel the narrative of showing better lives for Malaysians who returned home after years away, or Malaysians who succeeded because they left home is missing the point.

In the 21st century you can be anywhere and still contribute

First, improvements in infrastructure, information technology and travel make it possible for any of us to be anywhere on this planet. In 8 hours you can be in Helsinki or if you spend 30 hours, you can be in Buenos Aires. You can communicate via email, share information on websites and discuss ideas face-to face via Hangouts or Facetime.

People who want to contribute to something are passionate about what they do and will know that they want to contribute. The missing piece is the effort that we spend to identify these people, reach out to them and connect them to like-minded people or institutions that can help them amplify their contributions.

TalentCorp says they have approved 4000 people within 5 years since 2011. Malaysians overseas are estimated at 1 million people, which translates to only 0.004%. Is 1000 per year of people enough to contribute? Is 0.004% an acceptable acceptance rate after 5 years? Are we doing too little, or is this too much?

Perhaps TalentCorp's mandate is to identify and attract talents with skills that can only be utilized if they are present in the country like surgeons to do surgery. But we know contributing to something is more than that, and we need all the help we can get, not only from the sciences but also from engineering and arts.

We also must not forget the homegrown talents and people that are doing wonderful jobs. Overseas Malaysians have different backgrounds, ideas and approaches to the same problem we all have and these differences are what we want to be accessible to our homegrown talents. They can learn from each other, improve and make something better together. Creating the missing piece of connecting these dots between locals and abroad Malaysiams is where we should put more effort in, regardless if the overseas talent will be coming home or not.

The writer checking email in front of Mont Saint Michel

This is a picture of the writer checking his email taken in front of Mont Saint Michel

Home is where the heart is

The second part is the most important factor of all: Where we call home.

Home is not where we were born. Making a place home is a self-conscious decision based on the different situations, personalities and opportunities of any given individual. This should and must be the overarching target for any returning program that we want to carry out: Making Malaysia home.

Once someone calls a place home, the good and the bad will be taken in stride. It is human nature to better their own home, for themselves and the generations to come, and when we can get people who want to contribute calling Malaysia their home, it will be a sustainable success story.

However, based on the article above, some individuals would return to Malaysia because they did not find the bed or roses they thought were waiting for them wherever they were:

"Who cares if there’s corruption and crime in Malaysia? I just go back, make heaps of money, and then live in a condo with proper security. Solved. Whereas here, I’m just an average Joe, and I’m struggling just to keep my head above water". - See more at:

These people do not call Malaysia their home. Making money is their intention, and when there are better opportunities elsewhere, they move on. What we should focus on for the long term are the stayers, the builders and the committed.

Given this is what we agree to, to make Malaysia home, the next big question is: How do you convince people to call Malaysia their home?

First, let's think of what makes a good home?. You would not want to live in a home that is fighting all the time. You do not want to live in a home that is wrapped in poisonous polluting gasses. You want to live in a home that is peaceful, clean and conducive to health.

We should accept and understand that the universal values that attract human beings with a purpose applies and this is where we should concentrate our effort: The values of justice, fairness, equality, fair reward for hard work, a genuine effort for betterment, a chance to better oneself, rule of law: Similar to the so-called The American Dream, a slogan that made America is the place to be for all people having dreams of a better future.

We do have an upper hand over overseas Malaysians to call Malaysia home, as they have family, roots and an eternal love for Malaysian food. But we should not take those for granted. More things need to be done.

And then it's not only Malaysians

Let's face it: Globalisation means people, capital and goods will move around at a much easier and faster pace than it has ever before. Our competition is no longer our neighbours like Singapore, Thailand or Indonesia, but it's New York, Rio de Janeiro, Beirut, Paris or even Banjul. It's not countries anymore but cities: Cities now try to attract the best people from anywhere around the world to come and live there. If people do not want to stay in Kuala Lumpur, all of these other cities will woo them and are more than happy to welcome their wealth, expertise and passion. The faster we realize this, the better it is for us.

The point here is that when we get our head around at aiming to make Malaysia our home, the universal values that apply to a good home will apply and attract many more people, regardless of nationality, colour and creed. This is what makes a country great: People believing in it and wanting to participate in its growth process. All these believers will come, and call Malaysia their home.

And when we reach this stage, we will be on a different playing field altogether. It will no longer be what race we are, or who are sons of soil, or where we are from but we will be in the race to be the best in the world.

I believe in this vision of our country, where everyone wants to make it their home and believe in its potential and future. In the end, this is what we mostly desire now: Believers in our country, its potential and its future.

Directory: 2017 Tagged: current affairs malaysia