Cosmopolitan society: going places

Advances in technology and transport have turned the planet into a vast open office. With business and work transformed by global mobility and the internet, Vision investigates how a new generation of entrepreneurs and talent is dissolving borders

Across the globe, millions of people are on the move. The world has become a place of global nomads, with migration flows changing the way we do business and shaping the character and social architecture of the world’s emerging economies.

Twenty years ago, the expat worker was still a relatively rare breed. Now, according to a new report by Ernst & Young, the number of people working outside their home country is set to spike by 50 per cent over the next decade, fuelled by the globally connected nature of trade, technology, capital and regulation that will necessitate a swell in the movement of employees between countries.

The number of people working outside their home country is set to spike by 50 per cent over the next decade, fuelled by the globally connected nature of trade, technology, capital and regulation

David Lloyd is one of this new generation of ‘millennials’, who see the world as their office and have aspirations far beyond their own country of birth. The British 28-year-old co-founded his own company, Intern Latin America, in 2010, helping young graduates find formal internships and work opportunities in Latin America. Two years later, business is booming. “For almost every internship interview, we have 30 applicants,” he says from his office in Santiago, Chile. “Every day, I speak to young people, not just from Europe and the US, but increasingly from India, Indonesia and Australasia, who are incredibly clued up about what it means to live in an increasingly globalised world and the need to differentiate and stand out. They are all aware that being fluent in just one language, or having experience of working in just one country, won’t make you attractive to future employers.”

Emerging markets

According to Lloyd, it’s not the New Yorks and Londons of the world that are of interest to the majority of young people who come to Intern Latin America.  “Emerging markets are where the most ambitious and aspiring people want to be,” says Lloyd. “People want to go to places off the beaten track. We have a lot of interest in Colombia and we are looking to expand to Brazil and Africa. Dubai is our next key location, as internships are massively on the rise there. These destinations are the future.”

Governments across the world are also alert to the benefits of attracting international talent, new business perspectives and cross-cultural flows of people into their growing economies. In Dubai, a scheme to offer start-up assistance to expatriate entrepreneurs was launched by the government in 2009 through the Mohammed bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development. The organisation was founded to help budding Emirati entrepreneurs start new businesses and bring them to market, but it expanded to include foreigners in recognition of the value they can add to the economy. The scheme is a reflection of Dubai’s growing reputation as a global hub for fostering entrepreneurial start-ups. Currently small and medium-sized enterprises account for roughly 85 per cent of employment in the UAE and contribute 46 per cent to GDP.

Claire Fenner, a British expat, is the Co-founder of Heels & Deals, a fast-expanding business providing networking opportunities for female entrepreneurs. The company launched in Dubai in 2009, but has since expanded to Hong Kong. It has its eye on another eight international destinations. “When I first moved away from home, it was a different environment,” says Fenner, who has been living out of the UK since 1997. “Now there is a sense of movement, a real feeling of change.”

Migration patterns from emerging economies are also changing. In the past, many countries suffered a brain drain as ambitious young professionals moved abroad to fulfil their career ambitions. This is changing. “There is a new and very mobile generation from both the old and new economies who are looking abroad to start their careers, but are then coming back with skills, experience and networks that greatly boost the business environment in their home countries,” says Torgil Lenning, Chief Executive of iHipo, a virtual recruitment agency that places people in jobs across the world.

Returning home

Nicolas Martelanz is a young Chilean who has lived in Saudi Arabia and Ireland before returning to Chile to start Motion Displays, a software start-up. “There is a big change going on in Latin America, culturally and in the business environment,” he says. “In Chile, there is a lot of innovation, a lot of investment in entrepreneurship and a real drive to get the economy to thrive, so it’s an inspiring place to be over and above the more traditional global business capitals. It’s much more interesting for me to return to my country of birth and contribute to making it one of the next emerging economies.”

Fundamental to this new era of global migration has been the development of technologies that enable people to set up shop wherever their passport takes them. Thanks to social media, mobile and smartphone technology, cloud computing, software that allows you to set up a website in hours and manage your own content, web forums and online networking sites, your workplace can easily be a café in Tokyo or a pop-up workspace in Kuwait.

“People don’t respect the idea of borders and boundaries any more,” says Torgil Lenning. “We’re no longer tied to traditional ways of working. You can get a sense of life in another country by going online and making informed decisions about places you’ve never even been to because we have access to so much information. This is incredibly empowering,” he says.

Cheaper travel

The rise of cheap air travel has also helped fuel global migration flows. Flydubai, the UAE’s first budget airline, was launched in 2008, and now has a potential reach of more than 2.5 billion people, one-third of the world’s population, within four hours’ flight time. “When we started operations, low-cost travel accounted for less than 20 per cent of the region’s total passenger traffic, compared with 35 per cent in mature markets, such as Europe or the US,” says Ghaith Al Ghaith, flydubai’s CEO. “Three years later, the sector has grown to represent 20 per cent of the market.”

Fenner believes this opening up of places such as the UAE is having a huge effect on creating integrated and cosmopolitan societies. She points to her local street in Hong Kong, where you can eat Spanish food and listen to Korean pop music while surrounded by people speaking myriad different languages. Ignorance is dangerous, she says. “People believe that the world is their oyster,” she says. “It’s a positive thing. We all live on the same planet, and it’s fantastic that we’re sharing it together.”