By Yusheng Zhang (BSBA ’19)
The year 2019 has seen a multitude of events unprecedented in recent history. A crippling polar vortex followed by a destructive heatwave. Debate over blockchain and 5G permeating board rooms and Capitol Hill. The raging U.S.-China trade war.
How do major global events like these affect those of us watching from the sidelines? Ultimately, people will do what is best for themselves and their families, which elevates entrepreneurship to a top focus for leaders in business, government, nonprofits, education and the arts. In a world reluctantly acclimating to both globalization and polarization, entrepreneurs and those who support them have a responsibility to realign people’s priorities and incentives to create peace and collaboration. In the five months since completing my honors thesis entitled, “The Global Race for Talent: Entrepreneurial Talent Flow between the U.S. and Asia,” I have grown firmer in this belief.
My thesis was driven by personal and academic curiosity. Personally, I am an immigrant who came to the U.S. and found transformative opportunities. Academically, I wanted to pursue the notion that when one nation challenges another for global hegemony in the natural course of economic and political development, the shockwaves can inflict uncomfortable changes on the lives of individuals. One of these changes could be the erosion of trust. Fortunately, trust is the bread and butter of entrepreneurs. Airbnb, Doordash, and Alipay are all services built on a foundation of trust between people: trust that vacationers will keep the owner’s beach house clean, trust that the one’s sushi will arrive fresh and on time, and trust that the online shopper’s money will be transferred to the vendor and credit card information will be kept secure. Direct lodging rentals, food delivery, and mobile payment are all new services in the modern economy. Entrepreneurs somehow created a new kind of trust and realigned incentives between people who previously wanted nothing to do with one another.
Entrepreneurship’s power to redefine incentives and forge bonds between strangers, even adversaries, is why 2019 is a critical year for global entrepreneurship. As East-West tensions boiled, I feared that the exchange of people and ideas would cease and that global innovation would suffer. My research suggested that the exchange of people and ideas is crucial for global innovation for both direct and indirect reasons: directly, a Chinese student who studies abroad in the U.S. gains exposure to a whole new set of values, knowledge and networks which she can then leverage for the rest of her life. Indirectly, she could then become a leader and supporter in her native community to use her newfound knowledge to support other entrepreneurs. Researchers at Stanford University (Bernstein et al. 2018) found that inventors who collaborate with colleagues from different backgrounds and cultures tend to be more productive over their careers, measured by the number of patents they receive. Diversity and diffusion of ideas are hardly new concepts, but impending economic and immigration sanctions may endanger both by severely hamstringing the U.S.’s symbiotic relationships with China and the rest of the world.
My research has slightly assuaged my fears by showing that the number of students from Asia coming to the U.S. for higher education has grown over the past decade. Nevertheless, the number of immigrants who have returned, or “boomeranged,” to their home countries after education and careers in the U.S. has also risen sharply. This is the “reverse brain drain” phenomenon (Wadhwa 2012). After returning home, these boomerang immigrants have worked tirelessly to aid aspiring entrepreneurs in their local communities, so much so that unicorn company founders in China and India today are actually mostly natively-educated locals.
Unfortunately, many successful entrepreneurs and those who support entrepreneurs, while reaping the benefits of the exchange of people and ideas, could be doing more to build global peace and collaboration. More entrepreneurs must design global business models with peace, stability and cultural understanding as central pillars, in addition to mere profitability. Similarly, leaders in business, government, nonprofits, education and the arts must also support entrepreneurs who champion these pillars. For example, venture capitalists may guide their portfolio companies to design supply chains that foster local economic growth in underserved emerging economies and pay fair wages. My work with the Global Entrepreneurship Network, my time at the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations and my experience with the EY Entrepreneur of the Year program showed me that the world becomes a better place when people come together to admit challenges and share solutions. While climate change and trade wars are currently the status quo, they do not have to be our permanent reality.
Bernstein, S., Diamond, R., McQuade, T., & Pousada, B. (2018). The Contribution of High-Skilled Immigrants to Innovation in the United States. (Working Paper No. 3748) Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Wadhwa, V. (2012). The Immigrant Exodus: Why America is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. Wharton Digital Press.
Yusheng Zhang is fascinated by the intersection of business, government and social impact. As a UNC Kenan-Flagler GLOBE® Fellow, Yusheng’s studies spanned the world – from Chapel Hill to semesters studying at Copenhagen Business School and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and expeditions throughout 26 countries. After graduation, Zhang spent the summer as a Research Associate at the Global Entrepreneurship Network in Washington, D.C. before joining Ernst & Young (EY) as a consultant. He hopes to continue amplifying the dialogue on global entrepreneurship throughout his career. Yusheng loves music, cooking and yoga.