France is not suffering from an exodus of entrepreneurs: the world is benefiting from mobility

Mar 25, 2014
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The following guest post originally appeared on Frederic Montagnon’s blog (in french). Frederic is a French entrepreneur, co-founder of Overblog and Ebuzzing, currently based in New York City.

The media landscape shows a growing « France bashing » spirit those days, in France and abroad. The blame is that France’s gloominess is pushing its talents outside of its frontiers. In this article by the New York Times, a french entrepreneur based in London declares : « I’ll tell you. France has a lot of problems. There’s a feeling of gloom that seems to be growing deeper. The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good.” According to the journalist, despite François Hollande’s and Fleur Pelllerin’s attempts to restore France’s image, there is not turning back in inducing people to leave. According to me, that’s not such bad news.

France is not the victim of an exodus: mobility is increasing worldwide.

Instead of using an individual example, I looked at figures. In the past ten years, the number of expats for entrepreneurial motivations has raised from 10 to 18%. I previously noticed that globally, the volume of expats grows 7 times quicker than the population in France (read my blog post in french here). There is no denying that there are strong obstacles in France, mainly due to taxes, that pushed entrepreneurs abroad, especially after François Hollande’s election.

Yet, I think that instead of pointing out the French “brain drain”, the New York Times article should have better looked at the issue from a broader perspective and described why, on a global scale, mobility is increasing.

The number of expats is in fact growing from 2.6% since 2009, everywhere in the world, and should go on like that to reach 57 million in 2017. On the contrary to popular belief, this does not only concerns migrations from developing countries to developed ones but also mobility from developed countries. Among OECD countries, the number one country in terms of expats moving abroad is… the UK – where the French entrepreneur mentioned in the article has found “rescue” – with 3 million British living abroad. Even in the USA, although historically the “dreamland” for immigration, there is a growing worry about the number of citizens who give up their US citizenship.

What is happening now is much more interesting than a French “brain drain”: it’s a worldwide mix operating and accelerating year after year.

France’s priority should be to encourage mobility: it’s a great source of growth and innovation.

I think that the increase in mobility is a very good news. As in biology, mixes are at the basis of enrichment. They enable knowledge and skills transmission and are the source of innovation. Mobility is a strong factor for growth, a particularly important issue in those times of economic gloom.

The challenge for France – and for all countries – is not to reduce the number of emigrants but to find ways to attract more foreign talents. The Silicon Valley already got it in 2012 by fostering tech profiles’ expatriation. People will choose their country of expatriation according to what it has to offer, in professional and well-being terms.

On an economical point of view, France is the 4th country to receive the most direct foreign investment, after the US, China and the UK. In terms of quality of life, France is well-rated in the Expat Explorer from HSBC: 51% of respondents declared that they appreciated France’s cultural richness and quality of life. In terms of education, France’s reputation is all set: since 20% of the State’s budget is dedicated to education and R&D, France’s schools and universities are well-placed in several rankings (Shanghai, Financial Times, Times Higher, European Report on Science and Technologies…)

Yet France’s main problem is a communication issue. France has a lot to offer but doesn’t manage to let the world know about it, especially those days. Its needs a good marketing director to make its offer clearer and communicate about it throughout the world. The same way French universities, perceived as the best, appeal to the best talents, France needs to become more attractive.