Brain Drain: Greece’s Lost Generation | Economy

Student demonstration against austerity policies in Athens in 2017.Emily Molli (Getty Images)

The demographic pyramid of Greece over the last decade is not only made up of births and deaths, but also of absences. Between 2008 and 2013, 223,000 Greeks between the ages of 25 and 39, mostly college graduates, fled the country due to future suffocation which represented Europe’s worst peacetime economic crisis. In June 2016, there were 427,000. To date, it is estimated that more than half a million have emigrated.

Greece is aging, and demographic pressure is clouding the economic recovery after eight years of nagging austerity. The population has steadily contracted since 2011 (11.1 million) to reach 10.7 million currently (and with a forecast between 8.3 and 10 million by 2050). Today 21% of Greeks are over 65, but in 2050 it will be more than a third. The three Troika bailouts have cut pensions a dozen times, and there will be more cuts in 2019, but no one knows who will foot the bill in an unfavorable environment: there are only 1.3 workers per retired, against 2.5 deemed necessary to ensure the sustainability of the system; ie 3.6 million employees for 2.8 million retirees.

To a birth rate of 1.4% is added the lack of the best brains, of the youngest, of entrepreneurs: a lost generation, that of those born in the eighties and nineties of the century latest ; a panorama of scorched earth with a precipice ahead – the risk of derailing the reforms imposed by the troika – and many loopholes behind. In 2016, the flight of human capital cost the Hellenic State 9,100 million euros, which it stopped paying in taxes and contributions, against 8,000 million that it had invested in its training; Conversely, expatriates contributed $12.9 billion to the GDP of host countries, according to consultancy McKinsey Greece and Cyprus.

The diaspora, the only one comparable to that which, in the 1950s, emptied the country of people fleeing post-war hunger and hatred, shows no signs of ending, and few dare to return to the path. A few reasons: the lack of meritocracy — a system completely foreign to Greek culture — and the endemic corruption, against which the troika’s recipes have hardly been used; retail tax evasion, cheating, undeclared payment, continue to be commonplace. In a recent survey of expatriates, the economic crisis appears only in second place among the reasons justifying the brain drain, behind the two mentioned. The report, by consultancy ICAP, shows that half of respondents have worked abroad for at least three years and a third do not plan to return to their country “permanently”.

a new diaspora

The New Diaspora virtual platform documents Greece’s mass exodus from the crisis. Since 2013, its creator, filmmaker Nikolaos Stampoulopoulos, has recorded, first from the Netherlands and then from Athens, the profiles and experiences of nearly half a thousand expatriates who make up what he calls ” a nation without borders”. New Diaspora started as a space that hosted autobiographical stories, but quickly promoted cultural and commercial events in many host countries and, over time, became a Greek travel blog that serves as material for many experts. , such as a good mapping of lost (and found) talent.

Stampoulopoulos and his team also shot a series of documentaries chronicling the efforts of Greek professionals abroad to contribute to change in their country. So the documentary Reload Greece shows how the platform of start the most relevant of the Greek Diaspora. “Just as there are many sites on the traditional diaspora [la de los que emigraron en el siglo XX], it is the only one that saves the current one. At first it was just a box of personal stories, but over time we have become a link for the emigrants themselves, but also for researchers, universities and Focus groups. Sometimes we even distribute polls, exponentially expanding their universe,” says Stampoulopoulos. “In addition to being a meeting place, another of our objectives is to show a Greece that moves, that does things abroad, from art to gastronomy or business; We also want to break the stereotypes: that of the idle and lazy Greek, so widespread by many media during the crisis, and that of the foreigner as a paradise where everything is perfect”.

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Among the policies adopted to redress the broken skeleton of the country is the National Documentation Center (EKT, in its Greek acronym), a mix of CSIs that tracks the brain drain and an incubator for R&D-based businesses, a sector to which Greece allocated 1% of GDP in 2015. “It is a political initiative, to measure the results of research actions and put experts in contact with the business world”, explained Evi Sajini, director of the EKT, in March. The effort to create a new economy (“green economy”, former Prime Minister Yorgos Papandreou called it in his time), to modernize the stagnant fabric unproductive Greek, was a common denominator for the authorities during the crisis. The case of the island of Tilos, the first in the Mediterranean to be entirely supplied with sustainable energy, could well serve as an example, but the congenital weakness of the state plays against it.

“The first objective is to stem the brain drain from our universities, with a target of 20,000 beneficiaries by 2020. The program, launched in 2016, has already helped 1,400 graduates and doctoral students under contract, with lower salaries to those of private companies, but in sectors that are important to the real economy,” says Sajini. “Secondly, since many expatriates do not return, we hope that they will contribute to improving the employment environment in Greece: we welcome your Feedback, ideas and proposals. Additionally, we map all expats and monitor their jobs. A new generation, very relevant, is maturing professionally abroad, and we cannot separate ourselves from it”.

In Sweden or the Netherlands, Sajini recalls, there is not a single hospital where a Greek doctor does not work. Like Christos Mavraganis, 29, who chose Germany to specialize in gynecology. “I’ve been here three years and I have two left, after which I hope to continue training in Switzerland or England. I didn’t leave only because of the crisis, but also because of the waiting list in my specialty, which in Athens was 5-6 years. Let’s say that the crisis was not the main reason, nor the level of education, very high: there are many doctors and very good ones. But the management of hospitals, the functioning of the health system are failing,” Mavraganis laments, pointing to one of the main flaws that the bailouts have exposed: the practical dysfunction of the state, its archaism and, after the roll of the l ‘austerity, its more than the obvious scrapping. One fact: Funding for public hospitals more than halved between 2009 and 2015, February study finds The Lancet (general public expenditure contracted by 36% over the same period). Mavraganis does not believe that improving the situation depends not on an end to bailouts, “but on the political will” to modernize the state. In the meantime, he knows, “as many of my friends know, also expatriates”, that if he returns now, only a derisory salary awaits him.

“The priority objective is to stop the march of talent: if in 2008 there were 7,854 Greek teachers and researchers in foreign universities, in 2015 there were already 141,200. This country cannot afford it, not only economically, but also socially,” Sajini recalls. The career of Marilena Ragoussi, doctor in chemistry from an English university, post-doctoral researcher at the Autonomous University of Madrid and who now works on public energy policies at the OECD in Paris, is a good example of talent and effort. “I was away for 13 years, I left before the crisis started to train, with the idea of ​​returning when I finish my studies, but now the situation does not allow it. Who knows if in five or ten years, it seems that things will improve… but at the moment there are not many who dare to return.Among my acquaintances, only two have returned to Greece in recent years, and the one of them went wrong and had to go back abroad. What I’m doing here in Paris, I don’t know if I could do it in Greece, but if there were stimulating opportunities, and I think that there will be, I would consider coming back even if the salary was lower,” says Marilena.

Other initiatives, both public and private, are also concerned with recovering this flourishing generation, acting as an umbilical cord to retain talents and reinject them. An example is Marathon Venture Capital, a fund for Greek entrepreneurs, in which the Athens government, the European Investment Fund and the European Investment Bank participate. It brings between 50% and 90% of the capital to new companies and retains 15 to 20% of the shareholding. So far, it has injected 300 million into a dozen new companies. Or Reload Greece, a private platform based in London which, with a raised budget of two million pounds, has made 85 start since in 2012, five expatriate Greek friends decided to reverse the negative image that their country projected in the world due to economic uncertainty – the threat of Grexit – and set out to “show the creative and productive side of the country they say from the platform. Thousands of Ulysses scattered across the world navigate as the Homeric hero did in his time. The only thing that is not written is how long it will take them to return to Ithaca, if they return at all.

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