Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. Why Europe needs girls like Reem.

By the Imagine Foundation

“Safety and opportunity depend mostly on what country you live in. For those of us born in safe, prosperous countries, this seems quite fine. Migrants are people who aspire to shape the course of their lives.”
— Michael Clemens, IZA Bonn

Imagine a world in which people can freely unfold their talents. A world in which aspiring and inspiring people from outside Europe move effortlessly towards opportunity. A world in which firms scale to the sky, powered by global talent. A world in which Europe does not seal itself off from migration but one in which Europe invites and welcomes young talent.

We imagine such a better world and are committed to bringing it forward. To this end, we today set up the ‘Imagine Foundation’.

We are a small yet determined group of startup entrepreneurs, computer scientists and academics with a dedication bordering the unreasonable and a desire to better our future.

Our starting point: We want to make it less painful for foreign talents to find a job in Europe. Easier and faster for qualified talent. More effective for HR recruiting managers. Inspiring our societies to take fresh perspective at the rich promise of immigration that works for all.

To shape this new reality, we are looking for people like you. People who pride themselves in the art of rethinking conventions and in the practice of ‘getting stuff done’. We don’t care how you look like, what you did before or where you are — as long as your heart and mind propel you to advancing our mission.

Join us or sign up for our newsletter: Click here.

Our mission is universal, but our resources are not. We thus start with tech talent from Middle Eastern countries and German companies. We kick off with a small cohort of a handful of talent from Egypt and surrounding countries. We will then branch out.

1 | Meet Reem

How did we get here? Let’s back up. Meet Reem.

Reem in Berlin, ready to go to work

Reem is a rock star computer engineer from Cairo, Egypt. After she completed her bachelor, she worked as a software developer for a firm founded by two Egyptian-born expats living in the United States.

Since early age, Reem always had one dream: work and live abroad, preferably in Europe. She applied to jobs in Germany. Many jobs. She received more than 300 rejections, until she stopped counting. She lived off her savings until they nearly depleted. But she persisted. Finally, she had a lucky break through — a recruiter recognized her potential and offered her a job. Reem now lives in Berlin and works as sales developer for a Berlin-based software company. Soon she will get her Blue Card — and be on Germany’s path to permanent residency for highly skilled foreign talent.

Reem is now doing well, but her path to get here was arduous. It should not be. Not everyone is as lucky or persistent — in that case, Germany is losing a talented resource. And not only that: The world is losing out on a great triple win opportunity.

2 | The opportunity

Reem intuitively understands a basic insight. Bringing different people, ideas and opportunity together is still humanity’s best recipe for growth and prosperity. For many people, this means moving to opportunity — migrating. Many of us have moved a few times now in our lives. Within cities, within countries or also across borders.

Economists call international migration — the flow of labor across international boundaries — the biggest yet most underexplored opportunity to improve our collective wellbeing. More precisely, as Harvard University’s Lant Pritchett points out, there is no (!) other investment available in the world that offers similar outsized returns than supporting people with the right skills in moving towards opportunity. The numbers are truly eye opening:

  • People who move realize about 4x higher lifetime earnings (median country, adjusted for differences in price levels)
  • If just 5% of people from developing countries were allowed to move, world GDP would instantly increase by many trillions. Gains from such movement dwarf all other additional benefits from free trade or capital movement

The idea of making it easier for qualified people to move and work in Europe is a ‘win-win-win’ solution. Everyone benefits.

  • First, Europe wins. Let’s look at Germany for example. While there is no general countrywide ‘Fachkräftemangel’ yet, the Bundesagentur für Arbeit conducts regular assessments and finds a clear, substantial and persistent shortage of talent in specific jobs, notably in IT and related fields, but also in healthcare. Even more so, skilled immigrants create jobs and work complementarily with native workers. As a result, immigrants tend to raise wages of native workers and do not cause unemployment.
  • Second, the home countries win. Many people are often surprised to hear this. Do not fear the so called ‘brain drain’. Skilled people who leave temporarily or permanently also benefit their home countries. Over the last 10 years, academics have found time and again that emigration rather leads to ‘’brain gain’ — not a ‘drain’. How so? Every successful emigrant is a sign to the communities back home that education is worthwhile. In economists’ speak, the ‘return to education’ is increasing. As a result, more people at home study, such that the one person leaving more than replaced by those who now choose to educate themselves as well. What’s more, countries with large ‘emigrant diasporas’ benefit from faster diffusion of technology and receive high inflows of capital (so called ‘remittances’). It even turns out that fertility and norms tend to get spread from Europe back to home countries. In short: Migrants make their home countries become more like ‘us’ in Europe.
  • Third, talents win. They clearly benefit financially as well as personally. Migrants tell us they appreciate better access to public goods like transportation and also access to better quality services, from gyms to restaurants in cities in Germany. Talents working in Germany contribute via their taxes to the financing of our public services.

3 | The challenge

How many people like Reem are there in Europe? Remarkably few. Take a look at the numbers for Germany: In 2017 only about 5.900 people came to Germany as “highly qualified immigrants” using the blue card scheme. Another ~16.000 people came for work but did not meet the blue card criteria, meaning they either had a net salary of less than 2.100 Euro/month and/or they didn’t have a university degree recognized by Germany.

This means that of the ~300.000 non-Europeans who moved to Germany only ~2% move as highly skilled workers (2016). All other come to study, to reunite with their families, or to seek shelter from war, political, social or economic hardship. All great reasons to come to Germany.

Still it’s worth asking: Why only 2% — why do so few college-educated people come to work in Germany?

4 | First lessons learnt from 30+ interviews

Searching for an answer to this question, we conducted a series of ethnographic interviews. We spoke with (but mainly listened to) engineering talents from Egypt who so far unsuccessfully tried to move, people like Reem who successfully made it, recruiting agents looking for talent abroad, startup CEOs in desperate need of talent as well as government officials.

While we made some good progress, we still have much to learn. Here are some — non exhaustive — highlights of our first learnings:

  • German firms clearly need technical talent from abroad. We have yet to talk to a founder or HR manager who is not looking for tech talent, irrespective of place of origin. Out of 10 applicants for a job today there are about 2 Germans, 4 other Europeans and 4 non Europeans. Nearly all companies continuously have open positions for junior, mid-level and senior talent. Firms claim they already raised wages but still can’t find the people, who are not— in HR managers’ view — easily attractive by high salaries alone. This means German firms have ideas and capital that they are ready and willing to use for ventures that would generate numerous jobs for Germans and prior migrants, but are being blocked from doing so by the lack of available talent.
  • There is a sufficiently large, decent quality pool of talent in MENA (Middle East/North African) countries that is willing to move on relatively short notice (within 3 months). Quality talent pools form around leading academics and their working groups, institutes, international firms (e.g. Vodafone, Etisalat), domestic firms (e.g. Souq.com) and/or developer outsourcing companies.
  • Talents are not motivated by money alone. People’s motivations naturally vary, but are surprisingly little financially driven. Most people we spoke to aspire to learn more by getting closer to the source of data and world leading experts, or are driven by the desire to experience new cultures. Others also seek to escape the limits of their daily life, from escaping poor public services (e.g. 3 hour commutes to/from work) to seeking a more stable life for their families in well-established democracies.
  • Some support is already in place. There is a large and flourishing scene of agents helping firms or people with legal issues and administrative hurdles from arriving in Germany to finding an apartment. Agents are generally seen as competent and offer reasonable rates for the value they provide. Recruiters looking for talent on LinkedIn also provide viable solutions for a few talents. Some receive a tempting offer and move to Europe, complete with a small relocation package. Forward looking companies like Zalando, RocketInternet or GetYourGuide lead the way.
  • Finally, we discovered a surprisingly large pool of qualified women in tech in MENA countries. Computer engineering and science are somewhat less male-dominated fields in MENA countries than in Germany or the U.S. — though the share of women in software engineering fields and jobs in MENA is also far from gender parity. This is good news for firms who actively seek to increase gender diversity within their tech teams.
So, what is holding MENA’s best and brightest back? Right now our best answer to this question is: Friction. The “customer journey” for talent aspiring to move to Europe has MANY drop off points.

Even for the most enterprising talents, the entire “journey” very early on from discovery of the opportunity to work in Germany to the first day of a new job in Germany is long and confusing. Firms also find it challenging to fairly and adequately assess this talent. As a result, only a select few — too few — successfully follow in Reem’s footsteps.

5 | What next? Join us

To change that, we set up a pilot program. The program will allows us to more deeply understand the root causes of friction and find solutions to them. We plan to support a first cohort of ambitious, enterprising young talents in their search for a job in Germany. We will give them guidance along the way, from visa support to welcoming them to Germany, from helping with apartment search to spending time with them to help them navigate our curious German and ‘Berlin-ese’ culture as well as our collective quirks.

For this to succeed, we are looking for you:

  1. Tech talents outside of Europe: We are looking for front end/back end developers, data scientists or engineers who are willing and ready to relocate to Germany. We will support along the way, learn from the experience and then hope to build a scalable model. We currently have a shortlist of candidates we work with, but we also keep a long list of people for our intended future expansion once we have the means to do so.
  2. Contributors for our team in Berlin: We are looking for teammates (full time, intern, and/or volunteers) to advance our mission. Talking to people, building our processes, building our web presence, fundraising, creating content, building our operations — you choose. We promise a joyride and the learning opportunity of a lifetime.

Reactions? Please write us.

We love to hear from you. Johann & Louis

with Ashraf, Reem, Eman, Almasry, Justin, Julian, Malte, Florian, Amina, Philipp, Ahmed, Hisham, Michael, Mohamed, Katrin, Ahmad & Ahmad

A special thanks to the dedicated Egyptian Techies in Berlin community for early inspiration and support going forward

6 | Coda, early 2019

July 11 — go live with a post on social media in Egypt. Waitlist set up. August 30–120+ applications, 70+ students, first 2 Imagine Fellows. September 21 — another 9 Imagine Fellows graduate. September 25 — the first Imagine Fellow Omar receives 2 job offers! October 1 — team of 10 volunteers from 7 countries onboard. October 15–250+ applications, 150+ students, 15 Imagine Fellows. November 7–200+ students, 2 job offers, 1 new office. December 1–250+ students. December 9–400+ applications, 300+ students, 30 Imagine Fellows, 3 people on their way to Europe!

We are live for 6 months now at joinimagine.org and joinimagine.com.

Join us.