Blog: Brain Gain in Somalia By Anneli Milén & Paula Salo

An exciting development co-operation instrument is being applied by the Finnish government.  First and second generation Somali diaspora health professionals trained in Finland or in other Western countries are facilitated to return for 6-24 months to transfer knowledge and skills to local health workers in hospitals, ministries of health, and training institutes around Somalia.

Returnees are ready to sacrifice a lot as they are highly motivated to “help our land”.  But… Are the local health workers so ready to be trained by the ones who had a chance to leave in difficult times?  How could knowledge and skills actually be transferred from one expert to another?  These are traditional questions when Western expatriates have been sent to Africa.  It is any easier and more successful when a trainer and trainee share the culture and language? Or is their culture the same? How about mechanisms required to support learning, such as human resource management?

We started to ask more questions and ended up beginning a study to find out some answers with the ultimate aim to find ways to enhance brain gain in Somalia. Our study aims to shed light on how temporary return of diaspora health professionals can be used as a development modality that has a convincing positive influence on strengthening health systems through skills and knowledge transfer. In December 2016, we travelled to Hargeisa in the north-western part of Somalia, to carry out interviews.

 

All images © Salo, Milen 2017

In December, when our plane was landing to Hargeisa, the vast dryness was the first thing one could see. Sand everywhere, no trees or water were visible to a human eye. The view from the plane was truly astounding. By now, one could realize that drought is a severe issue challenging all life in this environment. Despite of the dryness, Hargeisa is a lively city with buzzing atmosphere. The street life in Hargeisa is truly diverse. At the same second, you can witness honking cars moving from one place to another, donkeys pulling water canisters, people exchanging piles of Somaliland shillings to dollars at the money market, goats running around, and ladies selling oranges from wheelbarrows.

Although the environment in Hargeisa was definitely different from what we are used to in Finland, our trip was a success. Our time in Hargeisa was filled with warmth and friendly smiles, and we were encountered by such hospitality and helpfulness of the local people. Our local team member, who was a UK trained health expert, had many roles during our trip, which illustrates the complex reality of life in Hargeisa. He was a specialist in an area of health services and at the same time an expert in Somali culture, a driver, a caring father of children suffering from “winter” flu, an expert in on-the-job training, a son of a respected religious scholar with a huge and helpful network including 30 children and 200 grandchildren, a husband of locally trained medical doctor, a certified guard carrying a gun, as it is required to accompany foreigners, and many more.
Without the help of our local team member our trip would have not been as successful!

Now we are all excited to analyse the first data and gain better understanding on how this kind of development strategies, based on brain gain, can be utilized in order to provide the best possible results in strengthening healthcare systems.