Argonauts, ethnic scientific communities

AnnaLee Saxenian, The New Argonauts, Harvard University Press, 2006
William Kerr, Ethnic Scientific Communities and International Technology Diffusion, HBS Working Paper 06-022, 2006
Ajay Agrawal, Devesh Kapur, John McHale, Defying Distance: Examining the Influence of the Diaspora on Scientific Knowledge Flows, Working Paper 2004

Entrepreneurial networks carry regional advantage across distance

AnnaLee Saxenian has long been a follower of localized firm and professional networks in the hi-tech industry, highlighting their superiority over corporate hierarchies in her book "Regional Advantage." More recently, in "The New Argonauts," she has turned to ethnic professional networks in Silicon Valley, especially in the Indian, Chinese and Israeli communities. These networks, originally founded for social purposes, evolved to become professional networks for advice, capital and know-how for immigrant entrepreneurs. As immigrant entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley identified business opportunities in their home countries, the networks extended to support these new ventures. They also tied into their home-countries' networks through alumni associations and family ties.

Thus, organizations that were once highly localized began to reach across continents - and their benefits with them. Access to tacit knowledge (technical and managerial), a common understanding of entrepreneurship, shared language and culture have all been considered factors that are bound by geography and contribute to the success of regional economies. Now, they are transcending vast distances thanks to the kinds of networks described by Saxenian. New "Argonauts" (people who work in two or more regions, shuttling back and forth several times per month) literally carry market and technological knowledge, contacts, business models and capital around the world.

As a result:
Silicon Valley, once the uncontested technology leader, is now integrated into a dynamic network of specialized and complementary regional economies.
These new technology regions are not replicas of Silicon Valley, nor are they becoming new Silicon Valleys [...] Even as the returnees seek to use their experience in Silicon Valley to reshape these institutions, distinctive regional and national histories ensure that the identities and technology trajectories of these regions are unlikely to converge.

Some quantitative evidence

Ajay Agrawal, Devesh Kapur and John McHale analyzed patent citations within the Indian diaspora. They found that co-ethnicity increases the likelihood of knowledge flows. Diaspora membership is also found to substitute for co-location as a conduit for knowledge flows.

In a similar study, William Kerr has found quantitative evidence for the power of ethnic networks in a patent citation study. By linking patent data with an ethnic name-database, he was able to analyze ethnic scientific communities in the United States and the communities' home countries. He found that ethnic communities contribute significantly to technology adoption within the first five years of a new technology being developed.

Kerr also found tangible benefits for the home countries using a factor productivity approach: Greater integration with the US technology frontier contributed to an increase in manufacturing output in these countries. In more advanced economies the effect was due to productivity increases; in less advanced countries, productivity increases combined with a reallocation of labor from agriculture to manufacturing.

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