I spent May 15 in Toronto attending the Conference Board of Canada’s 2014 Immigration Conference. Surrounded by immigration wonks such as myself, it was a very interesting and highly informative day.
In a panel entitled “Leveraging Immigration as a Source of Innovation”, an all-female panel presented the case for immigrants an innovation drivers in Canada and elsewhere, for the benefits of diversity, for the immigration imperative (that Canada needs immigrants to grow its economy and population), and for improving services to this population.
U.S-based research consistently shows that immigrants are over-represented as business owners, founders of high-tech start-ups, patent holders, Nobel Prize winners, and exporters. Canadian research also indicates that immigrants are more likely to be self-employed or to own a business compared to the Canadian-born population, but the differences are not as great as in the U.S.
In her own research, Conference Board of Canada Senior Research Associate Dr. Michelle Parkouda found that
though forming just under 20% of Canada’s population — 35% of Canada Research Chairs are immigrants, as are 23% of Governor General Performing Arts Award winners (based on contributions to arts in Canada, no less), and 29% of Giller Prize winners.
Canadian research is not as comprehensive as American research on this topic, but evidence indicates that immigrants punch above their weight in Canada too, especially in terms of academic, literary and arts-related accomplishments.
Why are immigrants more innovative? By their nature immigrants are risk-takers in that they have made a decision to leave something known in favour of unknown opportunities, and acting on such a calculation indicates that they are often more optimistic too. Research indicates that immigrants not only have a greater tolerance for risk, but also that they are highly motivated in their quest for achievement and power. These are outlined in more detail in the book Innovation Nation, co-authored by presenter Dr. Wendy Cukier of Ryerson University.
Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator