Runaway knowledge, brain drain stories

In the summer of 2017, Gimara’s client was a young pharmacist and researcher from Turku. It was a time when Gimara was receiving several clients a week based on referrals and he was one of them. The goal was to obtain Finnish citizenship and pass an intermediate language test. We were quite fast and flexible in onboarding clients, but pretty quickly we learned that this client was heavily involved in our product development and giving us advice on service design. For some reason, it took us a week to respond to her payment. We received feedback immediately. She also caught our attention because she was one of those customers who always paid for her monthly gym card before the due date and was always on time – with jokes in mind.

This young man had completed a master’s degree in pharmacy in his home country, worked in a sales and marketing team GlaxoSmithKline in Pakistan and AL-Shafar Group(now Aster Group) in Dubai. He had then come to Finland and completed his Master’s degree in Production Economics (MBA & E) at the University of Vaasa in just 16 months (the normal time is 2 years).

On 26 April 2019, he presented his thesis on the outsourcing of innovation by large multinational companies in 20 countries. He has studied the issues to consider when outsourcing innovation and how to manage the risks. He completed his PhD in 4 years, or actually 7 months early. He also passed his language test and obtained Finnish citizenship, and worked on an EU-funded project on the operation and consolidation of small and medium-sized enterprises in Finland.

She has never had the opportunity to participate in integration training, she has paid for her Finnish language studies herself. His knowledge of Finland and Finnish culture exceeds that of many average Finns: if I want to hear the latest news about Finnish politics, for example, he has probably already linked the news to some channel. He has experience from dozens of jobs in the Vaasa and Turku area. During his studies, he was awarded as the best employee of a temporary employment agency.

This young man is a brave, proactive, brilliantly intelligent, efficient, inspiring and enthusiastic team member, albeit rather outspoken, yet very flexible and overall a treasure for any company. He is Dr Afnan Zafar Khan, a specialist in Asian marketing and social media marketing, whom we have had the good fortune to get to know and also recruit to Gimara with the limited resources we have had at our disposal.

In the case of Gimara, it quickly happened that through Afnan’s contacts we gained a huge amount of basic knowledge about Pakistani culture, such as how to set up a subsidiary, how to open a bank account or how to make payments from there, we got openings for cooperation, networks, we got to visit schools and try out education in Pakistan and Dubai. Within a very short time, our social media marketing started to reach targeted customer groups. Even today, our Facebook channel is followed by almost 5000 interested people from Finland, Russia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, UAE and other Middle Eastern countries just to name a few targeted countries, not to mention 6000 followers Youtube channel, to which Afnan has also spammed us.

As a small growth company, our eyes are still on the periphery of Pakistan – our dream of building bridges to learning for those who are excluded from learning opportunities because of social, economic or, for example, women’s social roles – and who has opened our eyes to this reality if not Afnan? The enormity and untapped nature of the Asian market also puts pressure on us to act – we have all the tools if we can just get the muscle to act. These muscles we are now growing through research – what has not been researched does not exist – so we are now making our ideas visible.

We have a top expert like Afnan at our disposal when planning future services to South Asian countries. We have asked for bids from local companies and of course there are risks involved. Our innovations can become someone else’s in an instant and we are left to lick our chops. But we are in a privileged position as a small company, we have a 100% reliable and loyal expert who is unyielding, unrelenting and incredibly well-connected to Finnish values, and who knows exactly what risks to take into account when buying an innovator from outside.

I’ve been listening to the excellent podcast on the 75% employment target of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment lately, and in particular Afnan’s first day of March podcast, which discusses why a top foreign talent would want to come to Finland, comes to mind.Reetta Raedy is joined by Jari Gustafsson, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the Mayor of Turku, Minna Arve. I challenge Jari Gustaffsson and Minna Arve to look at Afnan’s situation in concrete terms, because here we have an example of a person who would really like to serve Finland, grateful for the education he has received, who likes Finland and who is currently thinking of applying to Canada or the USA, where the labour market is easier to access.

How many talented people do we have to lose before we are ready to change as a society, as a country? It is a question of the cross-section of our whole society, of the ability of ordinary people and the working communities of the implementing agency to absorb knowledge and see it as an opportunity.

Recommended reading for Afnan’s recent PhD thesis:
Zafar, Afnan (2019) The Outsourcing Innovation Paradox: A Company’s Growth Option or a Risk to R&D Capabilities. Acta Wasaensia 418. dissertation. University of Vaasa.
All publications.

Afnan Zafar

Kuvat: Sami Peltoniemi