Turning the Brain Drain into the Brain Gain

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • August 20, 2012 6:41 PM EDT

Haiti is one of the most brain-drained countries in the world. According to the IDB's General Education Statistics' International Monetary Fund publication, "Emigration and Brain Drain: Evidence From the Caribbean" (2006), the university enrollment rate in Haiti is slightly under 1 percent while 84% of all university graduates have left the country.

On  another note, unemployment rate in Haiti is 40% (est. 2010, CIA), yet it may be challenging finding qualified people to employ. Are there any short and long term solutions?

In 1997, Conor Bohan, a high school teacher in Haiti at the time, gave $30 to one of his students to register for secretarial school. Since then, he began matching sponsors with deserving students in order to help them get higher education in Haiti.

Conor is certain that there is a strong correlation between education and economic and social stability and growth.

As of Today, Haiti Education and Leadership Program (HELP), founded by Conor, has helped over 150 students get through college, but also acquire additional skills they need to be able to compete at higher levels: IT, English, Citizenship and Leadership skills.

You need post secondary education to compete in the post industrial economy

Every year HELP selects from hundreds of straight A applicants, who would not dream of going to college, and gives them financial support for college, as well as advanced courses in IT, English, Citizenship and Leadership, that are supported by private and public funders.

The transformation is incredible. Young Haitians, many of them being the first in their family to get into even a primary school, are able to go to college, receive an education, and ultimately land well paying jobs in Haiti.

Local and international organizations jump on employing them. HELP graduates' employment rate is 100%, their salaries average about $12,000 a year, and 84% of them work in Haiti. These numbers are very different compared to the overall country  statistics where average salaries are $650 a year, and unemployment rate is over 40%.

"There has been an emphasis in the developing world on the primary education and some on the secondary education, and people think that if you get these people to high school it's good enough. But for better or worse, that's not good enough anymore. You need post secondary education to compete in the post industrial economy," says Conor.

Remember, Duvalier was a doctor

Conor Bohan believes that citizenship and leadership education is just as important as a professional education. That's why HELP provides a four year citizenship and leadership training to their students.

"A friend of HELP who is Haitian always says to us, "You can educate as many doctors as you want, but remember that the dictator Francois Duvalier was a doctor." So it doesn't matter how many doctors you educate, it matters what kind of doctors you are educating," says Conor.

The Leadership program is divided into Leadership Inside training which helps students understand who they are and where they fit into the society, both as a person and as a citizen; and the Leadership Outside program that encourages  them to help their communities. The goal is to create a group of young professionals who will go out and create change in the country, because at every level of the society there is enormous room for leadership.

"If you give them a little bit of opportunity you are able to see this vast transformation that takes place on an individual level and, hopefully, that will transfer into a more collective level. It really doesn't take a lot, just a bit of opportunity," states Conor.