Indian Millennials Leading ‘Reverse Brain Drain’

For decades, Indian policymakers have been grappling with solving the country’s long-running ‘brain drain.’ With scores of Indians creating growth in Silicon Valley, the Middle East, and various other regions, India has failed to capitalize on its technological talent. As a result, innovation in India has been slow to evolve, and only recently has the country begun pioneering new technologies in the internet and cyberspace.

Indians currently lead Microsoft, Mastercard, and Alphabet, and Indian software engineers provide the backbone for information technology services around the world. They are innovating creating new products, and generating growth in countries and cities far away from where they grew up. Partly due to lack of existing opportunities in India, and the higher salaries available working abroad, Indian engineers, software developers, and other professionals long preferred to settle down in the West.

However, this trend is changing, and Indian millennials are responsible for a new ‘reverse brain drain.’ In recent years, foreign-educated millennials and young professionals have begun recognizing the vast potential in India, and are returning back home with their ambition, degrees, and expertise in tow. No longer is a career on Wall Street or Silicon Valley the dream for this new generation of Indian millennials.

As the West increasingly closes its borders, Indian millennials – a generation far different from its predecessors – are beginning to notice the opportunities and potential to establish businesses in India. Whether they seek profit or social change, coming back home provides many opportunities not available in the United States or Europe. As India continues to lift its citizens out of poverty in the midst of a burgeoning middle class, this new class of people will consume goods and services more than ever before, creating growth in all sectors of the economy. Millennials are gearing towards capitalizing on this demographic dividend.

One such millennial is Priyanka Kanwar, founder of Kite Cash, a digital wallet which enables individuals and enterprises to virtually transfer money to people even if they do not have a bank account. After finishing her undergraduate degree at Yale, Priyanka returned to India instead of working on Wall Street to further her goal of expanding financial accessibility. Less than three years into Kite, she has processed over $50 million in transactions, and is now considering expanding her business and begin issuing credit cards.

Acknowledging that there are immense challenges to doing business in India – from burdensome regulations to the lack of available data – Kanwar was determined to fight for a cause close to her heart: expanding financial inclusion. Kite grew out of this desire to bring people into the formal banking sector, and now enables businesses and individuals to transfer money to each other electronically. While she hasn’t drawn a salary since starting her own business, the billion-dollar valuations of digital wallets such as PayTM and MobiKwik should provide her with some ease of mind.

And it’s not just Indian millennials who are founding new businesses and jobs at home. Recognizing the vast array of opportunities to generate an impact, an increasing number of foreigners are also flocking to India. Gautam Kumar grew up in New York and graduated from Harvard University in 2013. Shortly after graduating, Kumar moved to India to start Yobi Technologies, a company which provides weather analytics to the Indian government. When asked about his decision to give up jobs in the US, and move to India, he said, “When I was looking at opportunities in the states, we were looking at problems which were already 90% solved, so we’re looking at how to get to 95%. In India, most of the problems are 20-30% solved, and those seemed a lot more interesting and exciting to me.”

As Silicon Valley increasingly ‘solves problems which don’t exist,’ with high-profile investments in companies such as Juiceroo turning into spectacular failures, recent graduates and entrepreneurs all around the world are seeking jobs which enable them to impact more lives. India is therefore becoming a desirable destination to do business and produce actual results.

Recognizing the potential of young entrepreneurs, the prime minister has launched a number of initiatives and schemes to make it easier to do business in India, particularly in the technology sector. Programs such as ‘Startup India’ and ‘Digital India’, have removed many hurdles for young entrepreneurs to start their own ventures, and have provided many opportunities as well. Along with launching a website and mobile application to register startups, Startup India gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to access a Rs. 10,000 crore fund set aside for startups, a reduction in the fee to register new patents, a friendlier bankruptcy code, and other simplifications of the rules and red tape that have hobbled innovation in India. Furthermore, as last year’s demonetization ushered millions of citizens into the digital economy, it created multiple opportunities for digital payments and cash transfer applications to take off.

Around the world, economic nationalism is leading to more restrictive immigration regimes, deterring Indian millennials from building their businesses and lives in places they perceive to be unwelcoming. As India continues to forge ahead economically and its citizens move from rural to urban areas, Indian millennials are tapping into an endless field of new opportunities at home. Millennials are stepping in to start their own companies, create more jobs, and lead innovation from within India.

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