This is a follow up to A proposal for the "Network of Iranian Academics Abroad" (part 1).
In the previous post, I explained that one of the most effective ways to reduce the adverse effects of brain drain from Iran is to establish scientific cooperation with Iranian scientists living abroad. For this purpose, I am now proposing the establishment of a Network of Iranian Academics Abroad (NIAA). Although the network can in principle include people from a wide range of areas, from sociology to engineering, NIAA's main focus is on the science. It is very important that any proposal has to be first practical. Nice and ambitious ideas which could never come to practice are not useful. In this proposal, the establishment of the network is done by the new generation of Iranians who have left the country in the last decade or so and are currently graduate students or faculty members in the universities abroad. The primary objective of NIAA is to help the development of science in Iran and not networking among Iranian diaspora as opposed to many existing Iranian associations outside Iran.
NIAA will have an executive committee consisting of two main groups, inside and outside Iran. These two groups will be the graduate students and new university professors at universities inside and outside Iran. At the beginning, NIAA should be based on volunteerism, however to guarantee its continuation, it has to gradually set a funding system and pay some of its staff. NIAA should also try to keep a strong relationship with the governmental offices in Iran so as to facilitate its activities inside Iran. I believe this kind of relationship is a necessity for a scientific network such as NIAA and has to be considered regardless of the government's political agenda. There will also be an NIAA's advisory board of respected Iranian scientists from around the world. This would help the network to keep ties with an older generation of scientists in order to use their experience.
An easy and practical start would be to systematize the visits by Iranian scientists to their home. Every year, in the summer and Christmas holidays, many of the Iranian graduate students or professors go back to Iran for a short visit. NIAA should take advantage of this opportunity and organize different seminars and workshops by these people as a way of transferring knowledge to Iran. The NIAA committee inside Iran will do the logistic works for these activities where the committee outside Iran would arrange the trips and plans the seminars. For this reason, it is essential that the committee members should be dispersed in different universities and different areas of science.
What we have to do first is to develop a web site which contains a database. This database should include the information about the Iranian scientists outside Iran, the conferences and workshops in Iran, the universities and research centers in Iran and Iranian scientific and technical societies located outside Iran.
In the long term, this network can make some ties with organizations such as the United Nation Volunteers (UNV). There is a program called TOKTEN (Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals) which is now done by around 25 developing countries under the umbrella of UNV. In this program, which first started in Turkey in 1976, qualified expatriate professionals from developing countries return to their countries of origin for short periods of time to share the skills they have gained during their residence in developed countries. To my knowledge, TOKTEN has only very weak connection with Ministry of Science, Research and Technology of Iran through Iranian Scholars' Scientific Information Network Office (ISSINO). Such a collaboration with UNV and other similar organizations could be a great financial help as well as an important factor in strengthening the network.
At first glance, NIAA may not seem to be very useful for the current situation of Iran. One may argue that having few seminars more every year doesn't do too much regardless of whether scientific development should be any concern at all. I would like to emphasize this proposal is just a practical start. We could hope that this network grow in future and expand its activities to other fields and much more than seminars. Just as an example of what such a network of diaspora can do, we can look at the rapid development of information technology (IT) in India which owes a lot to the contribution from Indian IT professionals living outside India, some of whom have gathered in Silicon Valley Indian Professionals Association (SIPA).