Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Don't Blame the Indonesian Diaspora

Herry S. Utomo (President, Indonesian Diaspora Network, USA), en.tempo.co

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[T]he current challenges faced by the research, technology and higher education Ministry ... require [...] bold solutions. However, instead of looking for the right solution, the minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education is blaming the Indonesian Diaspora. His more bombastic step is to devise a way to prevent or bar bright scientists to go overseas to seek better opportunities. He used the dogma of “Bela Negara” or “Defending the” – a political card as the base for preventing Indonesian scientists from leaving the country. His move is unproductive. It is a rhetorical statement to get some attention at the expense of the diaspora movement. His strategy is not only wrong, it also shows a lack of clear understanding on the complex challenges faced by his ministry.
Using the dogma of “Bela Negara” and preventing the researchers/academics/scientists from going abroad is a counter-productive policy, especially, when it is not followed by fundamental improvements and an adequate budget. When China was unable to internally provide adequate learning facilities to meet international standards shortly after its Cultural Revolution, China took a bold policy to send out 3,000 students every year to study abroad. In 1997, Chinese scientists in the United States totaled 293,000. Currently, more than 400,000 Chinese diaspora researchers/scientists are in the US. To bring back the diaspora scientists, the Chinese government launched another bold policy by providing incentives and offer excellent facilities for their diaspora researchers to go back home. Now the Chinese diaspora are the backbone of its world-class research team, and every year they produce patents at a comparable number produced by developed countries such as the United States.
Not all the bright Indonesian diaspora students who study in the United States pursue their career overseas. In fact, most of them go back home. The achievements of these bright Indonesian diaspora scientists, however, are less visible compared to their peers overseas. This obviously is not caused by their intellectual inability, but by the lack of supporting factors mentioned above.
The Dogma of “Bela Negara” to prevent Indonesia’s accomplished/talented scientists to go abroad is not a productive approach and will only lead to brain drain and a waste of intellectual potential if the adequate supporting facilities are not available. The Minister is the executive who has the authority to execute bold policies needed to change the fundamentals of the problems. This is a complex problem that requires serious, smart, and sophisticated approaches. Blaming Indonesian Diaspora scientists through the dogma of “Bela Negara” is baseless and instead, signifies his limited understanding about the Indonesian diaspora.
The notion that Indonesian diaspora is not patriotic is simply wrong. The term of diaspora reflect the love of the mother country (Indonesia). Therefore, the Indonesian Diaspora will always possess the spirit of giving back and helping Indonesia. Anyone who declares him or herself as a diaspora, loves and is willing to help Indonesia. An Indonesian American has the freedom to decide whether to cut links with his/her homeland or to become diaspora. This is a personal choice and no one is forced to become an Indonesian diaspora. Many Indonesian diaspora, therefore, care deeply about Indonesia and they are willing to go the extra mile to help improve his/her mother country. These diaspora are engaging in public diplomacy to help a transfer of technology, increasing the volume of trade, investment or tourism as well as other programs benefitting Indonesia.
One of the most valuable asset of Diaspora is their natural ability resulting from their interactions with Americans in their everyday lives down to personal levels. This natural capability allows them to serve as public ambassadors to do a soft, people-to-people diplomacy in many aspects, including in the areas of politics, social, cultural, economics, investment, technology, education, industry, products and services, export / import, empowerment, poverty alleviation, ecological protection, handling of disaster victims, etc. This is an irreplaceable function and is uniquely held only by Diaspora. When it’s channeled properly, this specific ability could translate into the biggest contribution of the Diaspora to Indonesia.
The world has changed and we live in the era with high mobility of people, information and technology. To be successful, government will have to adapt to these changes. But preventing scientists from going abroad and blaming the Diaspora for internal problems will not help. In an era of "competing talents", isolation will not work to improve the quality of Indonesian researchers. Improvement can only be achieved through a bold policy to change some of the fundamentals outlined. 

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