Canadian Immigrants are Innovators
The current Canadian immigration selection system favours skilled immigrants. They are viewed as part of the solution to the problem of an aging population and shrinking workforce. But beyond this, immigrants are making Canada more innovative and that is a good thing according to a just-released report by the Conference Board of Canada, entitled “Immigrants as Innovators”. The report indicates that “innovation” is now the fundamental driver of output and productivity and it is critical for a country’s continued economic growth.
Lester Thurow, the eminent economist and former dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management believes that the world has fundamentally changed. According to Thurow, the “old foundations of success are gone. For all human history the source of success has been the control of natural resources—land, gold, oil. Suddenly, the key to success is ‘knowledge’” and in particular, the ability to exploit the value of knowledge. Simply put, innovative individuals use their knowledge and creativity to turn information and ideas into value. They have become the most important currency for industrialized countries and businesses. The report purports to evaluate the extent to which immigrants are contributing to innovation in Canada and concludes that they are making a positive difference.
This finding should come as no surprise because immigrants, by definition, are motivated go-getters, who are ready to face the challenges of migrating to a new country and take risks in their desire for greater gains. They are looking for a better life, a better way—and that, after all, is the very essence of innovation. In the past, immigrants have been recognized in Canada as a source of low-skilled labour. They played a large role in building our railways, helped on farms and toiled in our mines and factories. Today’s economic immigrants are a different breed. They are likely to hold a university degree, a skilled trade certificate, or have experience in the management of a business. As a group, they tend to be highly ambitious. After all, we are talking about voluntary migration here. Most immigrants to Canada nowadays come from developing nations and while it is true to say that there is more opportunity in Canada, the vast majority of their fellow nationals choose to stay where they are. The immigration journey is not for the faint of heart.
As proof of the premise that Canadian immigrants are innovators and drivers of our economy, consider the following list of enterprises and guess what they all have in common.
• Research in Motion – of Blackberry fame
• Barrick Gold – the world’s largest gold producer
• Magna International – international auto parts giant
• Future Shop – Canada’s largest electronics retailer
• Roots – the iconic Canadian clothing retailer
Yes, that’s right, all of the above were founded by Canadian immigrants. And it’s not just the big guys. The next time you walk by a green grocer or through a food court, take note of the entrepreneurship and the cultural diversity all around you.
Employers too are starting to come around to the idea that a culturally diverse workforce is a sure way to boost output and productivity. Rather than discounting foreign experience, leading Canadian companies such as XEROX Canada, Pratt and Whitney Canada, and the Steam Whistle Brewing Company have implemented policies to take full advantage of the world class talent that now calls Canada home. They have seen enhanced productivity as a result.
As a final note, I want to offer my congratulations to Naheed Nenshi, the mayor-elect of Calgary. Given no chance of victory at the outset, this 38 year old son of immigrant parents electrified voters with a new vision of what the city could be. He talked of big ideas and a detailed, transparent roadmap of how to get there. The electorate overwhelmingly nodded in agreement. Among voters, his religion (Ismaili Muslim), ethnicity (Indian by way of Tanzania) and local origin (a visible minority Calgary neighbourhood) proved to be non-issues.
Good luck to you Mr. Mayor. You are every immigrant parent’s dream and every immigrant naysayer’s nightmare.