I have a deep respect for those who took the leap of faith and went back to their home country after many years – if not decades – abroad. I am particularly referring to those who saw opportunities to step up, make a change and “go back”, after the political changes that struck the Arab region. It takes a lot of courage and self awareness to stop pretending you can be more useful abroad and start a more effective contribution on the ground. Hearing my friends who have done it , some of them giving up in the midst of the process, it can be a very stressful endeavor, full of challenges, doubts and disappointments. Nothing seems to really prepare you for this, and it is very different from changing offices within your company as an “expat” in Mumbai or going for a fun exchange program in Bologna.
What I have noticed however is the total lack of knowledge capital, lessons learned, and support system for this segment of usually highly driven professionals. We do find thousands of courses and studies on how to start your own business, how to move in a new country, how to deal with cultural shock, and similarly difficult experiences, but nothing really targeted for this segment – let’s call them “the Returners” for the sake of simplicity.
What makes a Returner successful? What are the common features? the ideal phase or time? the success factors? what are the common pitfalls? Lessons learned? What makes a come back to a home country successful vs unsuccessful? Are there mentors who have done it before and happy to help? There are definitely a large overlap between the leap of faith of starting your own company and the one of going back to your home country after a couple of decades abroad (despite the apparent belief that it should be doable and easy). Why is there almost nothing done, prepared and taught about the latter? It involves many emotional, social, and cultural issues – internal conflicts, reverse cultural shocks, waste of energy – that are worth addressing, hopefully resulting in concrete groups and trainings 100% dedicated to this, a ” toolkit for people with the ambition to return”, instead of letting each one of us – wannabe “Returners” – figuring it out on our own.
As with stimulating entrepreneurship and innovation, mere tax and legal initiatives with some generic talks are not sufficient. For now, it is either your are forced to go back or you do it voluntarily but in a very clumsy way, probably picking up the wrong time, the wrong steps and recreating the wheel all over again. I encourage diaspora networks to look at this matter more frontally and I am of course looking forward to helping.