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Create Lithuania: Lithuania’s recipe for reverse brain drain

Create Lithuania: Lithuania’s recipe for reverse brain drain

When you have a country that’s lean and agile like a startup, public service becomes a place where changes can be implemented quickly and have a long-lasting impact. And the public sector is only strong if the people involved are diverse, well-educated and have a broad and open worldview. International experience, be it in NGOs, government institutions, huge corporations or startups, certainly helps. This notion is behind the core idea of Create Lithuania (Kurk Lietuvai), a programme that helps talented Lithuanians from around the world to develop and implement meaningful projects across a range of spheres – from education and migration to national defense.

How did Create Lithuania get started?

The inception of Create Lithuania took place 10 years ago, when brain drain from Lithuania was taking a toll on the country’s talent pool. With the opportunities that European Union membership (Lithuania joined the club in 2004) brought young people, thousands of them would be going abroad to complete their undergraduate and graduate degrees from top universities. With ambitious career goals on everyone’s mind, there were not a lot of straightforward paths of using their newly gained knowledge and experience to good use back home.

Milda Dargužaitė, an ambitious Lithuanian professional with a degree from Princeton and an established career at Goldman Sachs, was one of many Lithuanians that had built a successful life abroad. She was asked to return to Lithuania by the Prime Minister at that time, and after a short stint at the Ministry of Economy, became the head of Invest Lithuania, the country’s Investment Promotion Agency. Coming back to Lithuania and adjusting was quite a challenge, because she was on her own. Trying to find a way to bring more ambitious Lithuanians back home, she thought that if there was some sort of “acclimatization” programme, where people would participate in groups and have each other for mutual support. This is how Create Lithuania was born.

How does Create Lithuania work?

Each year, a cohort of twenty-odd participants is selected from Lithuanians from all around the world. For most, participation in the programme coincides with them permanently moving back home. In fact, throughout the years, the programme has attracted 211 highly educated and qualified people, 80% continue to reside in Lithuania.

Not only that, many of the alumni have continued with successful careers in the public or private sectors in Lithuania. Notable alumni include Virginijus Sinkevičius (ex Minister of Economy and Innovation, currently EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries), Rytis Kėvelaitis (ex Vice Minister of Energy), Donatas Paulauskas (gender equality champion in Lithuania), Lukas Savickas (ex advisor to the Prime Minister, currently Member of Parliament), Arūnė Matelytė (Head of GovTech Lab Lithuania), Paulius Vertelka (Government Affairs & Public Policy Manager at Google), Rokas Pečiulaitis (Managing Partner at Contrarian Ventures).

“To me and many other young talented Lithuanians from all over the world, Create Lithuania opened the doors to further careers in business, politics and the public sector. But most importantly it taught a lesson of responsibility for the future of your own country and Europe,” says Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries.

When applying for the programme, applicants disclose what they’re most passionate about, and then get appointed as project managers to one of the partnering public institutions. As teams of 2-3 participants, they spend their first 6 months handling a specific project focused on bringing innovations into the respective field. After that, they get rotated to a different institution for another 6 months. That way, they can combine their knowledge and co-create changes that live on long after their rotations are over.

According to Monika Merkytė, the Head of Create Lithuania, who was once a participant herself, the programme provides a great platform for co-creation.

“The whole idea is that you identify a particular problem and create a solution or bring back one that works somewhere else and implement it in your country with the help of the public sector. However, what is even more important – quite often the main challenge of our projects is the lack of coordination and communication regarding a particular problem or question,” Monika Merkytė says.

“So, sometimes the best projects may not be the ones that generate an unusual or novel solution, but those that manage to bring all the different stakeholders together at one table to create a solution that would work.”

The programme relies on a formula that combines agency and responsibility, clear terms and a livable wage. Participants get employed for 1 year, get direct access to decision-makers and a wide network of professionals. All participants get paid a salary, close to the average public sector salary. The most important part is the supportive network that fosters the collaborative approach that the programme provides.

Create Lithuania is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for those seeking to kickstart their career in Lithuania. The acceleration you get during the programme does not fizzle out when people go on to individually create for Lithuania,” according to Create Lithuania alumnus Paulius Vertelka, Government Affairs & Public Policy Manager at Google.

What kind of projects do Create Lithuania participants take part in?

Notable projects. Create Lithuania projects run the gamut from education to defense. Here are some of the most notable projects/directions:

  • Mental Health. A number of projects have been implemented in this area, including the first Lithuanian language emotional support app, the “social receipt” model where physicians can prescribe social activities to seniors, an anti-mobbing platform for school kids, a support model for relatives of addicts, and so on.
  • Startups. The concept of the StartUp Visa was developed by Create Lithuania project managers, now it helps Belarusian and other foreign founders to emigrate to LT. The country’s ICO guidelines, revised Blue Card procedures were also devised by Create Lithuania participants.
  • Business climate. GovTech Lab – an organization bringing startups and government institutions together was developed by Create Lithuania (and is led by its alumna). The social entrepreneurship model has been brought to Lithuania by Create Lithuania participants as well. Another fine example is Spiečius – a network of co-working spaces in smaller Lithuanian towns.

Where can I find more about Create Lithuania?

You can find more information on past and ongoing projects on the website. It also has all the needed information regarding the application process, which takes place every spring.