David Bowie had a rare gift: the capacity to sense the future and bring it into the cultural fabric of the present. Visionary business leaders have achieved similar feats for society—from Henry Ford anticipating mass mobility, to Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia pushing for sustainability and climate action years ahead of others, to Elon Musk spearheading not just an e-mobility revolution but also the dream of humanity as an interplanetary species.
In the first article of this “Innovation Without Borders” series, we showed that people crossing borders are not only generating trillions of dollars of innovation and growth benefits for destination and origin countries but also spreading ideas, knowledge, capital, and even human rights. Yet migration remains a hotly debated topic and a source of political gridlock in many countries. As a result, firms, societies, and individuals are not fully capturing its promise:
- While the absolute number of globally mobile people now stands at about 200 million, the corresponding numbers for skilled people remain significantly lower at roughly 52 million.1
- In fact, migration rates for skilled people actually seem to be in decline: In 2000, 7.5% of all skilled talent had moved across borders. Today, the rate is close to 6.4%—this gap translates into 10 million skilled workers who stayed home.
We argue that there is now a window of opportunity to build bridges into opportunity for skilled global talent that would ignite innovative growth. It’s not politicians but business leaders who hold the keys to make this happen. We lay out two reasons why forward-looking CEOs and aspiring founders should care, describe four strategies that they can pursue to drive firm-level advantage, and show what specific actions look like.