9 January 2021

Brains coming back (and wanting to stay): here's the task force we need

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Reading Etty Hillesum (if you haven't already done so, do so) you learn something decisive for life: even in the most tragic circumstances - for her it was absolute evil in the Westerbork detention camp, the last stop before Auschwitz - there is always something good somewhere. "I believe that something positive can be gained from life in all circumstances.he has left us written. It is then a question of advertising it, of giving it a hand, of making it grow inside and outside.

Even in the dramatic circumstance of the pandemic that has overwhelmed us it is worth scanning for good things, to give them value and make them worthwhile. Here's one: many of the talented young men and women who have left our country to go and work abroad - the so-called "brain drain- are returned to Italy cause Covid and are currently working remotely. Of these many would like to stay here permanentlyre-importing skills and experience. This is a great opportunity for all of us: this 'restance' should be facilitated in every way. How?

Politics today seems unable to move without "task force to support with their expertise the most inadequate and unprepared ruling class ever. Why not set up one made up of these returning 'brains'? capable of modernising institutions, building innovative businesses and contributing to reconstruction? Perhaps starting with the "fight against bureaucracy", formula recited like a mantra that is never followed by concrete and effective political practices.

Italian girls and boys, writes the New York Times.

"Many young Italians who left in search of opportunities abroad now work remotely from Italy. The government has welcomed them, but experts say the economic benefits will be fleeting.

When Elena Parisi, engineer, left Italy at the age of 22 to pursue a career at London five years ago, she joined the long lines of talented Italians escaping a sluggish labour market and lack of opportunities in the UK. home country to find work abroad. But over the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic forced employees around the world to work from home, Parisi, like many of his compatriots, took the opportunity to really come home to Italy. In between meetings on Zoom and his other job for a recycling company in London, he took long walks on the beach near his family's home in Palermo, Sicily, and talked recipes at dawn with vendors in the local market.

"The quality of life is a thousand, thousand times better here", said Parisi, who is now in Rome.

As with many things, the virus has reversed a familiar phenomenon - this time, the brain drain, which has been affecting Italy for a long time now. How much things are changing and how permanent these changes will be is a matter of debate. But something is clearly different.

According to European Commission data, Italy, together with Romania and Poland, is among the European countries that send the largest number of workers abroad. And the percentage of Italians living abroad with a university degree is higher than the general percentage in Italy. Taking into account the money the country spends on education, the brain drain in Italy costs the country, according to Confindustria (Italy's largest business association) about 14 billion euros (about 17 billion dollars) every year.

Italian legislators have long tried to attract talented workers with tax breaks, but A gloomy labour market, high unemployment, baroque bureaucracy and few opportunities for growth have continued to attract many Italian graduates abroad. Then the virus did what they of incentives failed to do. In the last year, according to Farnesina data, the number of Italians aged between 18 and 34 who returned home increased by 20% compared to the previous year.

"It is the counter-exodus of the brain drain'.said in September Il Sole 24 Ore. "Now young people want to return to Italy," he wrote. The Journal of Sicily. L'Espresso, last month, called 2020 'the year of the turning point, of the return'.

The Italian government has welcomed the return of some of the country's best and brightest minds as a silver lining in what has been a brutal pandemic for Italy, calling the change a 'great opportunity'. There are also financial benefits, as Italians who spend more than six months in the country have to pay taxes there.

Paola Pisano, Minister for Technological Innovation, said at a conference in October that Italy had the opportunity to benefit from the skills and innovations that returning Italians brought back with them.

He also said that Italy must do its part to keep them there. First, the country needs to "a strong, widespread, powerful and secure Internet connection'.so that those who had moved abroad 'could return to their country and continue working'.

A group of Italians founded an association called Southworking to promote remote working in the south, in the hope that returning professionals will devote their free time and money to improving their hometowns. "Their ideas, their volunteering, their creativity remain in the land where they live," said Elena Militello, president of the association, who has returned to Sicily from Luxembourg. To promote remote working, the association is creating a network of cities with fast Internet connections, a nearby airport or train station and at least one co-working space or library with good Wi-Fi. To map them out, the association received help from Carmelo Ignaccolo, a PhD student in urban planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who returned home to Sicily after Covid. In recent months, Ignaccolo supervised exams with the Mediterranean in the background, lectured near his great-grandfather's oil mill and took refuge from the heat by studying in a nearby Greek necropolis. "I embrace at 100% a professional life in America," he said, "but I have a very Mediterranean lifestyle".

It is not only the south of Italy that benefits from the return. Roberto Franzan, 26, a programmer who built a successful start-up in London before finding work at Google, returned to his home in Rome in March. "You go to a bar and you can just start a conversation with pretty much anyone," he said. "It worked great for me." He said. a number of interesting start-ups and technology companies are springing up in Italy, and who can imagine investing in the country. "This moment has given us plenty of time to realise that going back to one's roots can be a good thing," he said.

Italian entrepreneurs urged the government not to waste the opportunity. "Coronavirus, the brain drain backfired," wrote Michel Martone, former deputy minister of labour, in the Roman newspaper The Messenger. He urged lawmakers to find a way to maintain the 'extraordinary army of young people who have returned home in the face of the emergency'.

But some experts say there are not many advantages. While many Italians may have returned to the Tuscan countryside or Sicilian waterfronts, their minds are still benefiting American, British, Dutch and other foreign companies. "Zoom is not going to solve Italy's problems," said Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley who focuses on jobs and the urban economy and is himself part of Italy's brain drain.

Rosa Brunello, an economist in London, another member of the diaspora, said that repatriated Italians 'produce for a foreign entity: they create value and income abroad'. She added: "the fact that they spend their salary in Italy does not really make a difference". A more likely outcome, he said, is that the virus will lead to economic wrecks and huge levels of unemployment that will set off another wave of emigration as soon as European countries unblock their borders. To really address the issue, he said, along with others, Italy needs to undertake a profound structural and cultural reform that will streamline bureaucracy and improve transparency, instead of relying on 'people going home because the food is worse abroad and the weather is bad'.

Ignaccolo, a PhD candidate at M.I.T., intends to return to the US to pursue his academic career, and the new company that Franzan, the programmer, is launching will be based in Delaware. The negative aspects of working in Italy also trouble Parisi, who is concerned that his professional growth would be hindered in a business world such as the Italian one, which has little room for younger workers. The lack of sunshine in London is bleak, the food bad for the skin, but other things are also important in life, she said. "I'm young, I'm a woman and I'm in a very high position," she said, explaining that she would return to her job in London when her office reopened. "It was a unique opportunity, keeping the job and living in Italy... "But I always knew it would be temporary."

Emma Bubola (translation by Elisa Vilardo).

The original article by New York Times here.

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