“We have to listen to the youth more often. We often think that the older, the wiser and more experienced, but the world changes quickly and the future has to be created by young people themselves,” says businessman Vladas Lašas, when asked what is necessary for fellow countrymen to return. Invest Lithuania director Mantas Katinas states that Lithuania is particularly in need of people working in the so called new economy, those who have a new, different way of thinking. Visions how to return emigrated Lithuanians back were discussed on the LRT Television talk show Dėmesio Centre.
V. Lašas stresses that it is crucial to listen to the people, attract those who can generate the most interest and attract others to return. “I would like it to be shown that Lithuania is not just limited, but that we have many ambassadors who can irrevocably improve things by doing interesting things. There are excellent stories of how Ireland did it, other countries. […] Let us think if we can perhaps attract Tesla, have a Gigafactory constructed or something along those lines, something which would ensure and interest many Lithuanians to return, create and do interesting things,” he said, albeit noting that it can be done through small steps and the starting point does not have to be something as massive as Tesla. The businessman points to the case of his family where his children returned from abroad, with his daughter running a start-up and his son taking over the family business.
“We have to listen to the youth more often. We often think that the older, the wiser and more experienced, but the world changes quickly and the future has to be created by young people themselves,” V. Lašas stresses.
M. Katinas points out that there is too much emphasis on averages and that at this point, the major cities of the country – Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda are actually attracting people through their rapid growth, both former emigrants and individuals from the regions. The emphasis here, he notes, should be on pulling more of the country’s cities “from under the waterline” and this could halt emigration or even begin pulling people back from abroad. This is not a pipe dream either, Katinas points out that there are success stories such as Ireland or even Estonia, whose net immigration turned positive last year. While a large wage can be earned abroad through manual labour, it is certainly possible to earn a good wage in Lithuania now, particularly if you know how to work with modern technologies, the head of Invest Lithuania says, adding that businesses could employ some 20-30 thousand people within half a year, people they are seeking, but that are lacking. He points out that there will be increasing demand for people capable of working with modern technologies and this trend is only to continue.
When asked if perhaps a focus on highly educated specialists returning could be beneficial, as they could generate increased added value and start businesses, which would incentivise lower qualified emigrants to return, V. Lašas agrees, pointing out that there have been examples of this even in Lithuanian history. At the start of the Sąjūdis, there was an initiative to attract educated expats and the re-establishment of the Vytautas Magnus University was a catalyst for changes in higher education, with many professors and scientists with foreign educations arriving into the university, catalysing the entire academic field. Nowadays similarly individuals who have studied interesting and useful subjects in major foreign universities should once again be drawn homeward and given the freedom to work and develop back home, through which they could draw much attention and investment, he explains, pointing out that it is not even necessary to advocate for permanent return right away; several years of work and individual contributions are a benefit as well, as demonstrated by initiatives such as Create Lithuania, Let’s Teach and Global Lithuanian Leaders. “When they see that their voice is heard, we can achieve great things,” V. Lašas says.
As for how attention from abroad and emigrants should be drawn to Lithuania, M. Katinas says that it is important to establish a think tank just for this purpose, to gather talents who could develop a state strategy, to directly see what could attract representatives of individual topic areas, professors, businessmen, doctors, teachers. The businessman points out that if state sector reform was undertaken, it would require high level specialists from across a wide variety of fields, each of whom could act as a catalyst for improvements in their sector. What is needed is projects how to make each field increasingly appealing for potential returnees.
Concluding V. Lašas says he believes work is being done in these directions, but it should be done with more courage, decisiveness and speed, involving all relevant institutions, not just one, especially given that a breakthrough in one sector can stimulate breakthroughs in others, just that it needs to be clearly communicated. “We dare state that we want Olympic medals in basketball. This is ambitious and once took courage. I feel that the public has the interest and enthusiasm to change the situation. We all only need the understanding and pursuit of what connects us and to do those things together,” he says.