Elite Returnees in Beijing and Bangalore: Information Technology and Beyond

HKUST IEMS Working Papers No. 2017-47


Kellee S. Tsai

Based on industry data, research reports, and field interviews in both cities, this paper compares the networked effects of return migration in three areas: ICT, VC, and philanthropy/social entrepreneurship. We find that Chinese returnees play a substantial role in ICT companies listed abroad and dominate the domestic VC market. Overseas Indians and returnees have represented key links to multinationals’ outsourcing activities, and are as dominant in VC as their counterparts in China. In both Beijing and Bangalore, entrepreneurs draw on school- and work-based networks, whether domestic or international. A greater contrast between the Silicon Valleys are their areas of comparative advantage. ICT firms in Beijing are geared towards serving the domestic ICT market, while Bangalore has been oriented towards global outsourcing. In the field of philanthropy, despite high profile exceptions, returnees are less active than domestic entrepreneurs in both countries. However, returnees are increasingly active in running non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social enterprises.

Analytically, the paper outlines a framework for understanding returnee impact that includes both the individual attributes of returnees and the institutional context of different policy environments.

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