They could be the State's best ambassadors abroad, but there are those who would like to see them back here, living and working in Israel. The fight against the brain drain is back on, and a first-of-its-kind database of over 4,500 names of scientists, academics and high-tech experts living abroad has been compiled. The goal: To reach every single one of them and convince them to return to Israel.
The database includes the home and work addresses of the expats, and the government plans to form a personal plan for each individual aimed at bringing them home.
The project is the brainchild of two Israeli businesspeople, Dr. Nurit Eyal and Dan Vilensky, who decided to volunteer to bring Israeli brains back to the Jewish State. The two approached the Ministry of Science and Technology, which decided to step up the fight.
With the help of the Yad Hanadiv Foundation, the ministry funded an extensive campaign to locate high-tech experts and scientists abroad and set an initial target of at least 5,000 people. As part of the efforts, various marketing tactics were employed to reach the expats, including ads in foreign media, on online social networks, and in universities around the world.
According to the data collected so far, there are currently 3,348 Israeli 'brains' living in the United States, 385 living in Canada, 340 in England, 131 in Australia and a few hundred others around the world.
The numbers show that people working in the high-tech and computer fields make up the majority of Israelis emigrating for economic reasons. Data is still being collected, and the plan's next phase includes practical steps to try to reach the expats.
30 research excellence centersAn inter-ministerial committee, comprised of representatives from the Education Ministry, the Science and Technology Ministry, the Council for Higher Education's committee for budget and planning and the Israel Academy of Science and Humanities, is currently forming and operational plant to enable the professionals' return to Israel. The committee is headed by Gilad Avrahami, a senior deputy director general for economics and entrepreneurship at the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.
One of the campaign's main plans, spearheaded by Education Minster Gideon Sa'ar and Professor Manuel Trachtenberg, head of the budget and planning committee, aims to open 30 research excellence centers that would bring back some 300 excelling Israeli researchers. "It's a plan of Zionism and excellence," Minister Sa'ar said, "Which will highlight the universities' and higher education institutes' strong points."
Professor Trachtenberg said on Sunday that the committee has already been contacted by scientists abroad who wish to join the excellence centers. "In order to ensure they have a safe landing," he explained, "each returning scientist will be integrated in the academic staff of one of the universities and will receive some of the highest and longest research grants given since the establishment of the State. We're talking about NIS 2 million (roughly $500,000) for five years to carry out research, and another grant for the purchase of laboratory equipment, literature, and digital information databases."
Dr. Eyal, who started nanotechnology companies and now works as an advisor in the field for various companies, explained that the main hurdle keeping Israeli professionals abroad is the lack of employment in the State. To combat this, Israeli high-tech companies are currently being contacted in hopes of recruiting them to absorb the Israelis coming back to work.
According to estimates, says Eyal, there are currently between 20,000 and 30,000 Israeli academics living abroad. "In universities in the US alone there are some 1,400 Israeli researchers employed in senior staff," she said. "We have come to understand that something must be done to get the scientists back in Israel. We met with many Israelis who showed interest in the prospects of coming back, but are not aware of the existing opportunities or cannot find jobs that suit their skills."
"Every Israeli that we manage to bring back brings with him some NIS 3 million (roughly $800,000), since in professions such as medicine and biology, the State invests some NIS 2 million (roughly $500,000) training them, and they acquire much experience in the countries where they live. There will be those who will bring back even more, since they include executives who can start up new industries in Israel. People want to come back, because this is their culture and this is their home."
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