12:01 AM, June 06, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015



If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.
  — George Bernard Shaw

The first thing that strikes a visitor in Bangladesh is the joyous, positive attitude to life. The smile on the faces of the people is symbolical of one of the greatest assets of the Bangladeshis. We are friendly, confident, optimistic—and without envy. We give a new meaning to the word resilient. We live in a small country. Yet we show a great interest in international matters. We are conscious that in an interconnected world, the destinies of all countries are closely interwoven.
The poverty level in Bangladesh has plunged. It is one of our greatest achievements since independence. But it is not enough. The economy is suffering a widening gap between rich and poor. The idea that people should benefit from their hard work is a cardinal tenet of a healthy economy. There is ample evidence that it hasn't held true here for quite a while.
The prosperity of a country depends on more than lifting people out of destitution and giving them the middle income status. It requires that they thrive in peace and harmony. Some of our problems have got out of hand. We need to fix them now. We need ideas that will tell us how.
As part of our focus on ideas, the Star is honouring some emerging ideas in business, technology, and art and culture. These are concepts with potential to change Bangladesh: to make us healthier, better educated and more prosperous, to give us back our pride and dignity.
We are not reinventing the wheel. We have not addressed all our problems. The reasons are obvious. Many of these ideas have already gained traction. Some may never take flight. But all may spark dialogue among thought leaders in their fields. That's why they're all worth pondering. We don't always grasp the importance of one when we see it for the first time, but we recognise them in hindsight.
These ideas come from a wide range of leaders in their respective fields. They are agents of change. They don't assume–they analyze. They have courage. They build things instead of cutting deals. They ignore the nonsense of conventional wisdom. People matter to them. They do what they say. They care about genuine issues. They go for great not just good. They are humble about their revolutionary success.
Therefore, have courage—care about others—be humble.
How's that for an idea?

Dr Muhammad Yunus. Photo: Star File
Dr Muhammad Yunus. Photo: Star File


In a rare interview, Dr Muhammad Yunus, Nobel laureate and founder of Grameen Bank shares his ideas on the potential of social business in reducing inequality. 

We must be proud that we have been able to eradicate absolute poverty.  Grameen Bank (GB) under your leadership has played a vital role in achieving this success. Now how can we reduce inequality? And how to invigorate and promote the spirit of self-esteem and the freedom to choose?
It is indeed a great accomplishment. It gives us tremendous confidence as a nation and inspires us do more. Now we have put a process in place to address the problem of extreme poverty. This process will have a natural tendency to speed itself up. We must make sure that people who came out of poverty do not revert back.
Before we address the inequality issue, we should focus on the bottom level economic existence. We must push those at the bottom way above the discomfort zone. This would be much easier than reducing inequalities.
Inequality is built into the capitalist system that we practice. Today the 85 wealthiest people in the world have more wealth than half of the world's total population. This is the ugliest outcome of the system. We need to redesign the system. I have proposed to redesign the system by introducing another concept of business –social business, i.e. Non-dividend Company to solve human problems. By introducing this concept the (personal) profit centric business world will be reshaped as dual objective world. Each person will have the choice of working to make himself richer, or to work to make the world a better place, or do both.

The consensus among the international community is that Bangladesh has huge potential. How do we realize that potential?
We don't need to wait for the assessment of the international community. Our results show that we have done well. We could have done much more if we could solve our political problems. Politics is holding us back. We have created a wrong culture of politics. If we can get away from the culture of lies, violence, corruption and hatred, we can transform this country very quickly.

What kind of support is needed from the Government and what may be the role of the private sector to promote social business in our country?  Do you think there should be an autonomous body to provide training, technical assistance and coordinate social business initiatives?
Anyone can do social business – individuals, companies, NGOs, Foundations, etc. Government can create social business companies to solve people's problems. A good outcome of this approach for the government would be that these businesses will be sustainable, so they would not be a permanent burden on the tax payers.
Social businesses should not wait for anybody else's action. In the context of politicisation of all our institutions, I would not recommend any government action for social business. Such action may become counter-productive.

Social business is about making complete sacrifice of financial reward from business.  How do we motivate young men and women to become social business entrepreneurs? Do you think it may be necessary to organise programmes at the national and root levels to educate people on Social Business and identify business opportunities?
Young people have to decide for themselves what kind of world that they would like to live in; what would be the purpose of their lives. That's the critical issue. Once they have a general idea about the purpose of life, they will start looking around how to achieve this.
Social Business is a part of the learning process for all young people. It should be taught in the class rooms.
You see, you are talking in terms of “sacrifice”. It is because we were taught to think in those terms in our classrooms. Your mind immediately categorised it as a “sacrifice”. When you buy a dress, do you “sacrifice” your money? No, you don't, because in the exchange you are happier. When you become happier you don't call it a sacrifice.
If you move from personal profit-making business to social business, is there a sacrifice? No, there isn't, since it makes you happier. Nobody forced you to do it. You wouldn't have done it if it made you worse off. To make this point I always remind people that making money is happiness; making other people happy is a super happiness. You are better off by making other people happy.

Corrupt practices have become rampant in the country.  We wonder how food vendors can put formalin and other toxic elements in the food we eat. We cannot trust our hospitals and other service providers. It seems everything that is decent in human spirit is in decline. How can we address it, from the point of view of an economist? Can Social Business fight such vices?
First of all, social business would not do such things. If they did it, they would not be called social business. Social businesses are designed to solve people's problems. The more social businesses we have, the fewer problems we'll have.
In the context of all the contamination in food, and recklessly harming of consumers' health, it originates from the obsession with making a quick buck. Regulations were brought in to check that. But regulators, administrators, politicians all got involved in the same game – making quick money. Social business can give us a way out – if we want it. Social business is supposed to make us happier. We must feel it deep inside of us. We must ask ourselves: do we?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed. Photo: Prabir Das
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed. Photo: Prabir Das


Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chairperson of BRAC, the largest NGO in the world, offers insights into what the transition from a poor country to a middle income country really means.

What can Bangladesh do to reach the goal of becoming a middle income country and what roles can BRAC and NGOs for that matter, play in this regard?
We are 6-7 years off from becoming a middle income country given that the economy grows at a rate of 7 percent. But what does a middle income country really mean? To me it means lowering child mortality rate and maternal mortality rate— where a child has the right to a good education, nobody remains hungry, no child grows up stunted, he or she has proper nutrition to realise their genetic potential, and workers have a decent life.
India is already a lower middle income country. But there are lots of people in India who are very poor—40 percent of its children are stunted. Their infant mortality rate is higher than that of Bangladesh; their life expectancy is lower than Bangladesh's. NGOs have played a leading role in achieving this success.
BRAC has been working towards providing education and nutrition, lowering child mortality rate, educating mothers. We are going to develop graduate midwives who will have a four year university degree. We will send them to villages. Hospitalization is required only in 10 percent of births when complications arise. Ninety percent of births are natural and midwives can handle them.
We have not yet reached the genetic potential of our race. From 0-3 years, many things happen in the child's brain such as development of motor skills, intellectual skills and so on. A lot of mothers do not know that children need nurturing to learn these skills. We have a lot more to do in early child development. BRAC University is offering an MA in the subject. We will produce at least 200 MAs in the next five years who will train mothers and caregivers. We have to raise emotionally stable children who are capable of developing social-emotional skills or soft skills. Thus if we can reach our genetic potential, we can become not only a middle income country, we can become a high income country.

BRAC is synonymous with success. Among many other achievements, BRAC's education model too has proved effective and efficient. We are lagging behind in English learning. Can BRAC promote the learning of the English language in our country?
We are working on that. Learning English is important in the sense that if we want to be connected to the global economy, we need English. Our migrant workers can get better jobs if they know basic, communicative English. We are going to offer two to three months' customized English training to workers in the construction and hospitality industry, and household maids who go abroad to work. BRAC University's language department is doing that. We have 30 training centres in the country where we are going to start offering evening courses on English.
Top marketing experts in the world are unanimous in their opinion that Bangladesh needs a brand name. How can BRAC contribute toward promoting Bangladesh and Bangladeshi products as a brand?
A lot of people think our brand image is bad because we do not advertise enough. A brand image cannot be created by launching an ad campaign alone. We have to address the root problems. Accidents like building collapse and industry fire have done a lot of damage to the image of Bangladesh. Even tourism has declined. Good governance is a must for the positive image of a country.

Various studies have found that about 40 percent of the food products in our market are adulterated. Can BRAC do something to fight this menace? Aarong is already producing milk and butter for the domestic market…
Mismanagement, inefficiency, corruption and lack of implementation of law are at the root of this problem. When you break the law and you do not face the consequences, you go on doing it over and over.
 A law was enacted which made the mixing of iodine mandatory to all salt factories in Bangladesh. The government and Unicef started distributing iodine and iodine mixing equipment. But factories were not complying. So I built an iodized salt factory. Seeing our commercial success, other companies followed suit. But it took us five years.
Excessive use of pesticides on vegetables is a big problem. I thought about producing EurepGAP certified vegetables and selling in the Bangladeshi market. If we do it, we will have to do it on a large scale. Otherwise, ordinary people won't be able to afford it.

How can we create jobs in the rural area?
The number of jobs in the rural areas will decrease eventually. Seventy percent of the population used to work in the agriculture sector. Now it's only 30 percent. Agriculture used to contribute more than 60 percent to the GDP —now it's less than 25 percent. Eventually, more than 50 percent of the population will live in cities. That's the future. There's nothing you can do about changing it. All over the country we will have to build at least 30 more cities with the same amenities as Dhaka. And in cities, government must allocate land for low cost housing for workers who provide services to the middle class and the rich.

Dr Kamal Hossain. Photo: Prabir Das
Dr Kamal Hossain. Photo: Prabir Das


It is necessary that we all agree at least on some basic things, says Dr Kamal Hossain

Perhaps the most difficult challenge Bangladesh faces is how to build a consensus for shared goals and values. Citizens seem to be sharply divided along political and ideological differences. The values and principles that won us freedom in 1971 seem far away in our rear view mirror. The dream of a society that provides the optimum opportunity for the fullest realisation of the potentials of an individual remains unrealised.
Politics used to mean an active participation in popular movements which led to positive changes in people's lives. The language movement, Six-Point and Eleven-Point movement and the non-co-operation movement that led to the war of liberation are examples of that. If we could do it then, why can't we do it now? Can we reconstruct our shared past for building a better future for all? “If Bangladesh is to move forward, we must regenerate the sense of national unity and forge a consensus on national values and goals, as well as modalities to attain these goals,” says Dr Kamal Hossain, lawyer and statesman.
No one is above the law. “That can only be sustained through an impartial application of law by law enforcement agencies that are free from interference and influence, in particular, from the executive and the ruling political party. The judiciary has to be independent.”
Law enforcement agencies need modernisation. “A systemic change needs to be brought about in relation to the police. The draft of a new Police Act has been kept on the shelf. The nineteenth century Police Act and the mind-set on which it was based require to be replaced by a system where police is seen as the protector of the rights of citizens and the community.”
Discrimination in any form and shape be it on the basis of religion, region, or ethnicity must be eliminated. The constitution gives every citizen equal rights. “Communalism, or the abuse of religion for political purposes leading to extremism, intolerance and terrorism and the practice of discrimination on the basis of religion, must have no place in our society.”
An effective, participatory and elected local government help democracy flourish and reduce inequality. “Local government institutions must be strengthened and adequate resources made available to meet the needs of local communities and be free from partisan interventions.”
Education is the key to bringing about real change. Universities must be centres of academic excellence that produce future leaders in science, arts and business. “Educational institutions must be free of armed cadres and campuses made free from their predatory activities.”
The voices of the silent majority must be heard over state-owned media. “An Independent Broadcasting Trust, led by trustees who enjoy public confidence and respect could significantly contribute to the process of change. The muted voices of the silent majority could then be heard throughout the country so that they can reach their public representatives and expect them to respond to their needs and priorities.”
We need to develop institutions to manage conflict, and strive to create a culture where differences of opinions are not simply tolerated but embraced. We can no longer blame the British Raj or the Pakistani military junta for our problems. The enemy this time is us. “The challenge of change calls for a truly unified, well-coordinated national effort rising above partisan interests. We need to reach out to all citizens who can make meaningful contributions to change. Our goal is to forge a national consensus so that we can move forward in unity and establish a state that can secure justice, equality and peace.”

Dr Anisuzzaman. Photo: Prabir Das
Dr Anisuzzaman. Photo: Prabir Das

Think. But How?

Dr Anisuzzaman, Professor emeritus at the Department of Bangla at the University of Dhaka is a thinker-scholar who has participated in all progressive movements the country has witnessed— the Language Movement of 1952, the Mass Uprising of 1969, the War of Liberation of 1971 and the anti- autocracy movement of 1990.  He has written prolifically on the war, national identity and religion, and cultural pluralism. On a recent May afternoon, Dr Anisuzzaman talks about how we are to think.

We must encourage free thinking; at least we must encourage each individual to think for himself. It is important for the development of the individual mind and the nation as a whole. Unless we think rationally, we won't be able to find solutions to problems that baffle us all. There are those in our society who still defend obscurantism and   superstitions in the name of religion or ideology. We heard not too long ago that the portrait of a person convicted of crimes against humanity was seen on the moon. This is a classic example of rational and scientific thinking taking complete leave of us. In schools, in our families, at work and in social circles, we must let rational thought flourish. If you are seeking knowledge, you must ask questions. The constitution guarantees that right. It also limits us from hurting other people's beliefs and so on. We will abide by that and respect that.  But we must stand our ground courageously when it comes to expressing ourselves freely. The youth must get organised and resist all attempts to divide people on the basis of religion, caste or ethnicity. The principles of equality of men and human dignity should guide us in everything we do. Democracy accommodates more than one point of view, and there'll always be clashes of ideas and opinions. But there are certain issues on which we must be united. It is difficult to achieve that given the conflicting process of political development.  I cannot really say that you must do this or that. But this is a goal we must achieve at all costs. Or else, we cannot go forward. 

Selina Hossain. Photo: Prabir Das
Selina Hossain. Photo: Prabir Das


One of the most prolific authors in Bangladesh, Selina Hossain is also an editor, academician and activist who works to champion women's advancement. She has received numerous awards among them the Bangla Academy Award (1980), the the Ekushey Padak (2009) and the Rabindra Smriti Puroshkar from Indian Institute of Planning and Management. Her novels Hangor Nadi Grenade and Pokamakarer Gharbasati have been made into films. Currently serving as the chairman of Bangladesh Shishu Academy, she is member of National Human Rights' Commission, Bangladesh, UNESCO Executive Board, Paris, France, and executive director of Fareea Lara Foundation, Dhaka.

Selina Hossain is also synonymous with progressive thoughts. When I approach her for an idea that could change the country, she offers ten. With her quiet dignity and measured dictum, she is passionate and yet stoic.
Here's Selina Hossain's ten:

1.    Cultural studies should be made mandatory at educational institutions of all levels in order to promote secularism and free thinking. Education should get the highest allocation in the national budget. Prosecute those involved in question paper leaks
2.    Bring Madrassa education under the regulation of the general education board
3.    Implement the National Women Development Policy for ensuring Women's rights
4.    Eradicate corruption from all spheres of the society
5.    Formulate and implement policies to protect and preserve the environment.
6.    Complete the trial of the perpetuators of crimes against humanity in 1971 and execute the verdicts by the year 2015
7.    Ban Political parties that misuse religion and adopt violent means
8.    Make sure that development is not affected with a change in government
9.     Implement the peace accord of 1997 for ensuring the rights of the ethnic communities of Bangladesh
10.     Strengthen the community clinics to guarantee the health of mother and child.

Dwijen Sharma. Photo: Prabir Das
Dwijen Sharma. Photo: Prabir Das

A Constant Gardener

Gardens are part of our being, says Dwijen Sharma

We have evolved as part of a natural process and our ancestors lived for millennia in natural conditions. As a result, there lies deep-seated within us a natural love of country sights and sounds and smells and an instinctive need for occasional moments of quiet alone with nature. As English philosopher C E M Joad observes, “The smell of fallen leaves or new-mown hay, the tang of a mountain brook, the feel of lush meadow grass against the face,…these things touch in us an ancestral chord that stretches back to our savage, perhaps to our subhuman past." But we exploit nature more than we need to. We turn everything into products we may not even need. We don't care.
Dwijen Sharma, environmentalist, botanist and writer, does. At 85, he still dreams of building a large garden where we can commune with nature. Throughout a long and distinguished career, he built gardens wherever he found an opportunity—at the BM College, Barisal, the Notre Dame College, Dhaka, the National Museum, Dhaka, Dhaka Central Women's College, Bangla Academy and many other places.
Compared to other cities in the world, Dhaka has very few parks “that are nothing but large gardens.” “The Ramna Park has been reduced to anarchy due to poor planning. Surhrawardy Udyan was designed in 1955 by Fazlul Karim who used to work at the Eden Botanic Garden in Calcutta. A skilled agriculturist, he had no clue about landscape designing. Very few still do,” says Sharma on a recent rainy afternoon. Then he tells a story: A young man, inspired by his books, wanted to study landscape design. But no Bangladeshi university or college offers the course. So he went to England, finished his MS and returned home to see if he could apply his knowledge to making this city a bit more livable. To a hundred leading architects of the country he distributed a questionnaire that contained questions like do you plant trees when you build a structure, how many trees do you know, do you know any aquatic plants, flower plants, wild plants, endangered plants etc. Out of the hundred replies came from only six whose knowledge about landscaping is what can be called elementary. He had sent the questionnaire in pre-paid return envelopes.
“The botanic garden in Mirpur is managed by the Forest Department and they have made it a forest,” says Sharma. A classical botanic garden has a collection of domestic and foreign trees and plants, a museum, a library, a system for the identification and preservation of the flora of the country, preservation of economic and endangered plants, and research facilities for developing new varieties of fruits and vegetables. And it must be linked with universities and institutes for higher studies. “So by this measure, ours is not a botanic garden,” says Dwijen Sharma. “It's just a park where people walk in the morning and evening.” So what can be done to correct the mistakes assuming the authorities would listen? “A botanic garden must have a herbarium. The former collects and preserves samples of live plants and trees while the latter is generally a collection of dried, preserved plant specimens. They must be parts of the same organization. In our country they are two different entities.”
Dwijen Sharma posits that the government should create Bangladesh Botanical Survey which will be responsible for all these activities. Accordingly, Bangladesh Zoological Survey may be established centered on the national zoo. And these institutions should be run by scientists instead of bureaucrats.
We as a nation were never good at designing and raising gardens. We didn't try and we didn't have to. Nature took care of it for us with her flora and fauna grown on the alluvial soil of the land and in the rivers and ponds. We have destroyed all that. We have created a new urban reality. The end of living and the beginning of survival has started. “We need gardens to keep us sane in the midst of bricks and concrete. Gardens are essential. They are part of our being,” concludes the octogenarian environmentalist.

Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury
Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury

Health—You are Everything

Bangladesh's health care delivery system is broken and we need to fix it now. The question is how. To find answers, I approach Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, the warrior turned crusader of social development. The following is an account of what he believes needs to be done:

Trained as a general and vascular surgeon in United Kingdom from 1965-1971, Dr Zafrullah left the UK in 1971 to join the liberation war as a guerrilla fighter. Later on, along with other doctors, he set up Bangladesh Field Hospital, the first field hospital for freedom fighters and refugees, located in the border between Tripura State of India and the then East Pakistan. It was a make-shift 480-bed hospital run by 5 Bangladeshi doctors and large number of women volunteers who had no previous medical training. This experience led him to establish Gonoshasthaya Kendra (GK), a multi-faceted community and development programme whose activities range from agricultural cooperatives, community schools, primary health care centres and hospitals, women's vocational training centres to economic enterprises.
The war gave him important lessons. The volunteers—young women who had fled from occupied Bangladesh— were given hands-on training to become surgical assistants, medicine dispensers, nurses as well as nursing aids. This experience of successfully training a paramedical force, both skilled and caring, in a few weeks, convinced him that it could be done on a bigger scale and that health care delivery need not be doctor centred. Many routine functions of doctors could be delegated to trained nurses and other health workers. For example, there is no reason to start sending all pregnant women to hospitals once labour starts. Trained midwives can do the job unless there are complications. But that's not something privatised, commercially run healthcare providers are interested in. We need a more prudent health policy for a poor country like ours. Ageing is a real issue. The number of elderly people is growing fast in Bangladesh. They have specific health problems. They don't only need medical care; they need a warm hand and a friendly smile. Often physiotherapists are of help, and it is important to teach them those skills. Cancer treatment is exorbitant and out of the reach of ordinary people. It need not be so.
At hospitals and clinics, doctors and staff must be available round the clock. Absenteeism is 74 percent in Bangladesh compared to 43 percent in India and 66 percent in Pakistan. The price of medicine must be regulated. The national Drug Policy of 1982 made sure that good quality drugs were available at low prices. In 1994 the government through a notification by the Ministry of Health lifted price control from all but 117 medicines. Successive governments since then have showed no interest in changing that. All the 370 essential medicines on the WHO list should be price controlled. Non-essential drugs should be taxed. Doctors must be trained to respect patients. They must be trained to work in rural areas. The government can offer incentives like opportunities for higher studies to doctors who serve 3 years in rural areas. Medical students may spend at least a month a year in rural hospitals. Community clinics and Union Health and Family Welfare Centres must be upgraded. These workplaces are ideal for interns to learn. We have 250 formulation companies but the number of raw material producing companies is less than 10. We import most raw materials. The government must give incentives to those who want to set up raw material producing companies. Private clinics should not provide treatment that is unnecessary. Rates for tests and procedures need to be displayed at the reception so patients can compare. The public must be aware. The media has an important role. They ought to cover these topics on a regular basis.
[This article in no way intends to disrespect the innumerable number of health care professionals who perform their jobs with the highest form of professional integrity.]

Runa Khan. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq
Runa Khan. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq

Where No One Goes

Runa Khan is the Executive Director and founder of Friendship in Bangladesh—a value-based organisation, and also of Friendship International, currently operating in five countries. An internationally recognised speaker on social entrepreneurship, she has been a guest speaker at universities such as Insead, Cornell and The European Business School. She has received many awards, among them Ashoka, Schwab, IDB, and is the only Rolex Associate Laureate from Bangladesh. Also the country chair of Global Dignity, an organisation founded by the Crown Prince of Norway, she is a published author with eight books, six on pedagogy and two children's story books.

The way basic healthcare is provided to the poorest of the poor changed forever in the year 1994 when Yves Marre, a French sailor, sailed a barge from France to donate it to Bangladesh. Runa Khan founded Friendship and converted it into a floating hospital—an idea too radical even for NGOs to fund. Yves and Runa Khan managed to convince Unilever to fund the project. Friendship works in the most remote and inaccessible chars and riverbank areas of Gaibandha and Kurigram district in the North as well as the remote Coastal belt districts of the South. No one had helped these people before—they were too poor for everyone. Not for Runa Khan. She built schools for them, created jobs, built infrastructure to supply clean water, took care of them after cyclones, and gave them the most precious thing of all—dignity and hope. Friendship's fleet comprises of 3 ships, 14 boats, and 2 river ambulances and are equipped with separate units dedicated to ENT, dentistry, surgery, gynecology, pathology and general health. Under the mHealth project, Friendship is developing the Friendship Community Medic-Aides (FCMs) who, empowered with mobile phones containing data collection software, will be able to provide medical services at point-of-care. Some have accused her of “spoiling the market” by giving everything for free, to which Runa says, “If neither the government nor any NGO is going to help them, we will.”So how to provide affordable healthcare to the poor of the country? “The question you need to ask is how to deliver efficient healthcare services to those who so desperately need it. Healthcare is their universal right and it is pointless to argue if they can afford it or not.”

Dr Tasneem Siddiqui
Dr Tasneem Siddiqui

Make Them Visible

Migrant workers are major contributors to our economy. We must do everything to make life in foreign lands easy for them.

Labour migration is a major economic asset. Each year four to six hundred thousand Bangladeshi male and female migrants go abroad for work. Income from migrant remittance is three times higher than the net foreign exchange earnings from garment sector. They also bring back knowledge and skills.
And yet they are marginalised and abused within Bangladesh and in the countries of destination. “Fraudulence in processing migration, passport confiscation by the employers, restriction on movements, poor work and living conditions characterise the labour market,” says Dr Tasneem Siddiqui. Dr Siddiqui is the Chair of RMMRU (Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit) and a professor of Political Science at the University of Dhaka.
The government has acted to remove some barriers. “At the national level a new law has been enacted, a migrant welfare bank has been established; a system of online recruitment is being experimented. To reduce cost the government is also experimenting with G2G with Malaysia,” says Dr Siddiqui who was instrumental in lifting a ban from female labour migration in Bangladesh and liberalisation of central bank policies on remittance transfers.
The government needs to do more and do it fast. “It needs to strengthen its offices of labour attachés in the countries of destination. In order to get legal redress it should support migrants through ensuring interpreters and lawyers,” says Dr Siddiqui.
Migrant workers have few means of expressing their grievances. The government needs to be more active at international forums to ensure their rights. “GoB should ratify key ILO conventions, C97 on migration for employment and recommendations revised 1949; C143 migrant workers (supplementary provisions 1975); C181 on private employment agencies 1997 and C189 concerning decent work for domestic workers 2011,” says Professor Siddiqui. “It should continue its work to incorporate the issue of rights of labour migrants in the 68th UN general assembly sessions on post 2015 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG ) agenda. It should make significant contribution in the upcoming meeting of UN Global forum on migration development in highlighting the plight of migrants in different destinations.”
According to news reports, Bangladeshi labourers working in countries such as Malaysia and some Middle Eastern countries are often treated inhumanly by their employers. “In the context of Gulf and other Middle Eastern countries Kafala system fosters condition of exploitation and abuses of migrant workers,” says Dr Siddiqui. “The UN high commissioner for Human rights, N Pillay observed that tying of workers with the employer, retention of passport, non-payment and undue deduction of salary, fines for overstay, slow judicial processes create adverse work conditions for the migrant under the kafala system. The government should articulate the adverse impact of the kafala system and inform the labour receiving countries so that receiving and sending countries can jointly reduce the scope of misuse of the kafala system by the middle man. The government should stop issuing clearance to workers who go under free visa.”
In the US there are programmes through which Mexicans go to the US on a temporary work visa, work in the agriculture sector and at the end of the contract, return to their native Mexico. Some Bangladeshi farmers have achieved remarkable success in agricultural farming in Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Can our government negotiate similar contracts with foreign governments?
“If the government is interested to pursue non-traditional markets, agriculture is one area where it needs to do research in the context of Middle East as well as South East Asian countries,” suggests Professor Siddiqui. “The Bangladesh government hardly invests in their media in highlighting positive contribution of Bangladeshi migrants in this respect.”
One thing often gets ignored is that even “illegal” immigrants have rights. Irene Khan, an international human rights advocate writes in the article titled Invisible people, irregular migrants (June 7, 2010, The Daily Star), ““Fundamental international labour and human rights norms apply to all migrants, whether or not they have legal status. The UN Convention on Migrant Workers explicitly addresses undocumented as well as documented workers, but is the least ratified of the major human rights treaties.”

[Dr Tasneem Siddiqui is one of the key members of committees which drafted the National Overseas Employment Policy of Bangladesh and the Emigration and Overseas Employment Law.]

Shameem Ahsan
Shameem Ahsan


Shameem Ahsan is the President of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS), the national trade body for Software and IT Enabled Service industry of Bangladesh. A member of the Prime Minister's Digital Bangladesh Task Force, he shares his views about how to develop the ICT sector.

There are four things we want to achieve in the next five years: ICT export to reach USD 1 billion, provide training to 1 million people, bring internet services to 10 million people, and make sure at least 1 percent of the GDP comes from the software and business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. It is a 400 million dollar industry. There are at least forty thousand people who make more than a thousand dollars per month from outsourcing jobs. And there are those who even make 4 to 5 thousand dollars. The number of students in schools, colleges and universities is about 3 million now. This number will grow to be around 6-7 million in the next 5 years. If we can train at least half of these students on skills like data entry, web site development, programming and mobile apps development, they will be able to find outsourcing jobs and earn money. If we can do this and present a positive image of Bangladesh to the world, we can become a high income country in the next 15years. This is the only way for our country to move forward fast. ICT can flourish even in the midst of poor infrastructure and political unrest. All one needs is a computer and an internet connection. It is also the most environment-friendly sector. Our education system needs an overhaul. Rote learning is encouraged which impedes analytical thinking. Curriculum needs to be upgraded. Samsung wanted to hire 2000 skilled workers locally. But after hiring 500 workers they were unable to find workers who meet the requirements. We need to develop a country brand name. You cannot build a 1 billion dollar industry with a budget of USD 150,000 which is roughly the annual budget of our Export Promotion Bureau. Financial institutions must learn to appreciate intellectual property.

Shykh Seraj. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq
Shykh Seraj. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq

Daddy, Don't Sell the Farm

Bangladeshi farmers are perhaps the most neglected and laborious lot. Helping them will help the economy.

In Bangladesh, it's not uncommon to see farmers throw away their produce on the roadside as a form of protest, to express their frustration. Forget profit—sometimes they cannot even recover the primary costs for inputs like seeds, fertiliser and pesticides. “I would say farmers get zero support in these matters,” says Shykh Seraj, award winning agricultural development activist and journalist.
Although grown locally, we import many vegetables such as onions and ginger. “The government could discourage LCs through which these vegetables are imported by increasing tax on import and giving subsidies on agricultural inputs.”
If we don't give farmers this kind of support in a so-called open economy, how can they compete with imported products? It's like throwing you into a river with hands tied on your back, and then asking you to swim ashore. “We tend to think that agriculture is an issue that concern villagers. If agriculture had been an urban issue, the problems of the farmers would have been solved long ago.”
The definition and scope of agriculture have to be broadened. Agriculture is not only paddy harvesting for which the government had provided ample support with a view to achieving food safety. “You have to look at farmers as an integrated group who grow vegetables, fruits, and own or work in fisheries, dairy farms, poultry farms, etc.”
Many poultry farms and fisheries owned by young entrepreneurs are closing down due to the rising cost of feed and lack of policy support. “Who are we supporting— the young entrepreneurs or companies that import agricultural and poultry products?” says Seraj who has inspired many farmers to be self-reliant. “In Gazipur, some poultry farms have been turned into low cost rented housing for garment workers because it is financially more viable. “But such establishments hardly have the same social utilities,” says the host of the legendary TV series Hridoye Mati O Manush, the popular sequel to Mati O Manush that remained a hit in the state-owned BTV in the 80s and 90s.
We need to rethink business. Business is not only importing something and selling it in the local market. It is also producing raw materials; adding value all the way to finished products. A businessman could invest in producing tomatoes that are ideal for making tomato ketchup. The government may provide policy support by putting high tax on its import. Thus we could become self sufficient in tomato ketchup and even export it to other countries. Similarly, business initiatives could be launched to produce potato starch or chips and export them to foreign countries. “A small country like Bhutan has emerged as a major exporter of jams and jellies,” reminds Seraj.
It is often the middleman who robs the Bangladeshi farmer of the fruits of his industry. “In this scenario, factories will buy directly from farmers and this model could be replicated all over the country,” says the Ekushey Padak winning journalist. “Farmers will be able to build their own organised forum which will empower them to bargain prices.”
Cost of fertilisers and pesticides is a big concern. “Through new technology like Leaf Colour Chart (LCC) the heavy dependence on fertilizers such as urea can be reduced. Farmers need to be trained on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which is more environment-friendly and has less adverse effects on crops. They need weather based crop insurance.”
Our farmers have performed miracles in many countries among them Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. “A farmer named Farid tilled a piece of land in Qatar with a traditional Bangladeshi plough made in a local metalsmith shop. Unable to find any bulls, he had a couple of donkeys pull the plough. The rest is, as they say, is history,” says the TV host who featured Farid, originally from Chittagong in one the episodes of his TV programme.
In Bangla there is a proverb that goes like: you cannot make a donkey pull the plough.
Bangladeshi farmers like Farid have proved that you can.

Dr Abdul Matin.
Dr Abdul Matin.

Raise a Moral Child

Abiding by the moral law is a prerequisite to creating a just society

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them,” wrote Immanuel Kant, “the starry heavens above and the moral law within.” These days the moral law within is viewed with increasing confusion and without much admiration.
Morality is not just a topic in psychology but close to our conception of the meaning of life. Moral goodness is what gives each of us the sense that we are worthy human beings. We seek it in our friends and mates, try to nurture it in our children, advance it in our politics and justify it with our religions. Disrespect for morality is responsible for our worst atrocities. While what constitutes morality may be open to a philosophical debate, it is safe to say that some of the rules it invokes are universal. One can easily say, “I don't like fish, but I don't care if you eat them,” but no one would say, “I don't like kidnapping, but I don't care if you kidnap someone.” Nor would anyone argue that putting toxic chemicals in the food we eat is okay.
“To some extent we have managed to meet our basic material needs. We no longer have famines. We have become self-sufficient in food,” says Dr Abdul Matin. “But a moral breakdown has taken place in our society. The bad news—murders, kidnapping, burning people alive, adulteration in food—all these are caused by nothing but lack of morality in man,” says Dr Matin is Professor emeritus, Department of Philosophy at the University of Dhaka.
There was a time when politicians used to talk about what kind of a society they wanted to build. Now all we hear them talk about is how we can become a middle income country. Not that there is something wrong with that. But what good is money if it does not buy food that is safe and healthcare that can be trusted?
“Moral and social forces used to be stronger than political force which is the most powerful force these days. With great power come greater responsibilities. Political leaders have to lead with integrity.”
The question is how to build morality or moral character. “It must be done through education. The duty of the teacher is not only to teach but also build character,” says professor Matin. “Morality building must be included in the curriculum at the school level. We have to start by teaching them what it means to be man so they learn that man is better than someone who kills seven people and drown them in the river for money. And those who will teach have to practice it.”
Dr Matin has seldom walked into the media stage, and hence into our consciousness at all. His idea may sound clichéd. But if you really think about it, it makes perfect sense. If we are serious about solving our social problems, we must start with finding the root cause. “When a child sees horrific acts of violence on the news, what impression does it leave on his mind? We cannot blame him if he grows up with the idea that man is like that. We have a responsibility to prove to him that man is better than that. We can't give up.”
So how long must we try? Until.

Abdullah Abu Sayeed. Photo: Prabir Das
Abdullah Abu Sayeed. Photo: Prabir Das


Reading is important. In fact, it may be the most human of all activities.

Your parents told you reading is good for you. Having a grounding in literature and a basic understanding of the sweep of human history and culture would provide a solid foundation for any future career you pursued— whether you went on to become a doctor, an engineer, a teacher, a business owner, or a stay-at-home mom, they argued. Now research—cited in the Harvard Business Review—shows that reading fiction helps you interact well with others and increases your emotional intelligence—your awareness of yourself and others. It seems that reading fiction improves your sensitivity to and appreciation of complex human situations; it provides a richer 'toolkit' of understanding from which to pull when making decisions and building relationships. Through reading we understand our friends, our colleagues, and most importantly, ourselves more deeply.
In other words, reading encourages empathy. We understand that different people look at the world at a given situation differently. We learn to respect the opinions of others even if we may not agree with them. We learn to be tolerant. We expand the universe with our mind.
Abdullah Abu Sayeed, founder of Bishwa Sahitya Kendra, has taken the responsibility of doing just that by developing a reading culture, cultivating in the youth a love for literature and its humanizing values through exposure to the literature of this country and the world. “When we study the ideas, opinions, values and philosophies of the great people, we aspire to pursue a life larger than ours. Books help us develop a sense of duty and make us aware of our struggles. It gives us a total awareness of our existence, our life, our country, ourselves. To read is to hold the human civilization in our heart.”
BSK's mobile libraries roam all around Bangladesh and lend books to young readers for a nominal fee of Tk 10 a month. “The thought of a great writer is like light in darkness. If we can be illuminated by this light, we can rise above our pettiness and achieve greatness. If we can somehow raise this awareness even little by little, maybe someday ours will be a country where free and rational thinking will reign and happiness be possible.”

Rubana Huq. Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
Rubana Huq. Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo


The RMG industry in Bangladesh has been built The over a period of four decades through the dedication and hard work of entrepreneurs and employees without much support from the government and other local or international organisations. The collapse of Rana Plaza, however, has given rise to a lot of issues that concern all key stakeholders including retailers, consumers, workers, factory owners, governments, NGOs and international organisations. Rubana Huq shares with the Star what needs to be done to modernise the RMG industry. She is the managing director of Mohammadi Group, a position she has held for the last eighteen years, empowering several thousand women who manufacture and export a million pieces of ready-made garments every month. Rubana Huq is also a poet having won the SAARC literary award in 2006 and is currently a PhD candidate at Jadavpur University, India.

What are the key areas for intervention to make the growth in the garment industry sustainable in the long run?
Bangladesh cannot afford to be the low end supplier anymore. A lot needs to be done in order to improve productivity, skills and marketing strategy. The manufacturers along with the government need to invest in branding Bangladesh globally with a focus to produce products that would have the label: 'Made in Bangladesh with Pride'. The government needs to allocate high lands (not like Baushia in Munshiganj) in places and encourage special RMG clusters equipped with proper infrastructure so that the weaker and smaller factories can relocate.
Both the manufacturers and the government need to work hand in hand and engage in economic diplomacy so that the global image of Bangladesh RMG sector can be salvaged. The brands could raise consumer awareness and share their supply chain strategies with more transparency with the clients. They could also partner in projects that involve improving non-wage benefits (setting up schools, hospitals, low cost housing etc) for the workers and work together with the owners in bettering the lives of the workers.
What can the garment industry do to make itself more transparent and accountable?
The garment industry can begin by stop being defensive. It is time we wake up to our altered realities where "business as usual" does not happen to be the case anymore. The real change can only be initiated from the industry itself. The manufacturers have to be helping each other out and plan on mentoring and monitoring smaller manufacturing units. If 250 responsible manufacturers can guide and take responsibility of 10 factories each, our RMG reality would change within 6 months. I think that it is imperative for manufacturers to bridge with labour. That is a key area through which we can all gain accountability. By giving labour access to negotiations, through Workers Participatory Committees or through Trade Unions, the manufacturers would gain instant credibility. There is an acute lack of research in RMG. The manufacturing community should encourage more research to be done in their factories so that well researched studies can emerge from the sector which will give a transparent and honest insight to stake holders.

How can the trust between employees and the owners be rebuilt?
Trust can only be built and re built through all parties staying engaged in dialogue. In many instances, the mid level management in the factories abuses power. Consequently, many deviations happen even without the owner's knowledge. One single message to the mid level management of having good practices in the factory will change the scenario. Owners could also press the brands for participating to match the owners' contributions to build a Workers' Welfare Fund. More incentive based payment systems could be introduced so that the workers' skills and productivity improve. Last but not the least, the workers need to feel the sense of ownership in the factory. Only then can real change occur.

Dr Saleemul Huq
Dr Saleemul Huq

The Climate it is a-changing

Dr Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and a leading expert on climate change issues in the world. A senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Dr Huq was a lead author of the third and fourth assessment report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Educated at the Imperial College, London, he teaches a course on global environmental policies in the same college.

In your opinion, what are the key areas for intervention to protect the environment in Bangladesh?
In my view there are three inter-linked longer-term issues for Bangladesh that need to be tackled simultaneously and in a concerted way. These are firstly the rapid urbanisation of the country, secondly, the environmental degradation and in particular the challenges of adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change and finally the need to educate the next generation of children and youths to be knowledge workers and not manual workers. All three problems need to be tackled over next two decades.

Experts say that in future, parts of Bangladesh will go under water when sea level rises. How many people will be affected?
Bangladesh is very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change including sea level rise. However the actual numbers of people who will be affected by salinity, followed by loss of land is not known accurately but will certainly be in the millions. Some areas of the coast are already facing severe challenges in getting fresh drinking water. Hence this is both an immediate problem as well as a longer-term problem that needs to be tackled.
If that happens, there will be a large number of environmental refugees in Bangladesh. What plans, if any, do the Government of Bangladesh and the International community have in place to rehabilitate them?
The government and people of Bangladesh have developed the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) which has six pillars and over forty actions identified which are now under implementation. One of the problems identified is the potential migration of people from the coast inland as well from rural to urban centers. Both of these issues are linked and are still in planning stage but will need to be addressed soon.
Loss and damage from climate change is an emerging issue that involves dealing with limits of adaptation such as loss of life and livelihoods and possible migration. At the international level it involves issues of liability and compensation from the polluting countries to the poorer countries such as Bangladesh.

Dr Zia Uddin Ahmed. Photo: Prabir Das
Dr Zia Uddin Ahmed. Photo: Prabir Das


Dr Zia Uddin Ahmed has been teaching at different universities in Bangladesh for over the past four decades. Currently he is a Visiting Professor in the Department of Microbiology at Jahangirnagar University. As a biologist with specialisation in Genetics he maintains strong interest in socio-biological issues including higher education in Bangladesh. He has written several books and edited several journals, and was the chief editor of the 56-volume Encyclopedia of Flora and Fauna of Bangladesh published by the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. He was elected Fellow of World Innovation Foundation in UK and Bangladesh Academy of Sciences. Professor Zia Uddin talks about how to deal with the growing population in the country.

Demographic projections suggest that our population may stabilise, under the present kinetics of population growth, towards the end of this century at about 300 million people. This will present a biological phenomenon of great significance – highest population density in natural setting that has no parallel in human history. The negative effects of high density are many. Disregard for rule of law may rise leading to a high level of social entropy. However, there are some advantages as well. In a high density population, per capita service delivery cost is less and process efficiency high. Notable examples of success include our population control, primary education, immunisation programmes, communication and several other human development indicators.
Land and is our scarcest commodity. Agricultural land is being lost to high level human activity at the rate of about 1000 sq km per year. Our total agricultural land (72,000 sq km) will be less than half in three decades. Where will we grow the necessary food crop? Maybe we should start protecting agricultural land from non-agricultural use by legislation. Otherwise our food security will be severely compromised. Food will someday be the scarcest commodity for sale globally; we may have the purchasing power but no food to buy! Food security would only be ensured if we can grow what we need.
Our preparedness to face the effects of climate change should focus on development of food crops with less demand on water. Inevitably per capita fresh water availability will decrease globally with an increase in population. Controlling the adverse effects of high population density in a country with limited natural resources is not easy. We have to plan carefully. Economic development is essential but we must take measures to reduce pollution.


Dr Mohammad Mohabbat Khan. Photo:  Sk Enamul Haq
Dr Mohammad Mohabbat Khan. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq

Civil Service
The Wheels of the Government

How can the civil service be modernised so it can face the challenges the country throws at them?

Before addressing this question the role of the civil servant in a democracy must be clearly understood. What do civil servants do? Simply put, they are the ones who implement policies, programmes and projects undertaken by the government and maintain law and order. The main focus of the colonial era administration was the maintenance of law and order and generation of revenue. The focus of the post-colonial civil service has been the administration of development. To what degree this goal would be achieved depends a lot on the efficiency of the civil service.
“Civil service operates under the broad framework of governance of which the civil service is but a component,” says Dr Mohammad Mohabbat Khan, Professor at the Department of Public Administration at the University of Dhaka “Unless we appreciate the broad framework, we cannot fully understand what problems civil servants face and how they can be remedied.” A former member of the Public Service Commission, Dr Khan has written several books on topics related to governance and the civil service.
When political leaders and parties in general try to translate their mandate into policies, they may find that some of their mandates are opaque and vague—not clearly spelled out. It is the civil servant who assists in formulating these policies.
“Civil administration, often critically described as 'Bureaucracy', is inevitable in any society or state, an inseparable part of an organized society,” Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, former secretary and minister writes in Governance: South Asian Perspectives. “Policy decisions and guidelines can be taken by politicians. Heads of government with their fellow ministers can take such decisions. The mechanism for implementing these happens to be a disciplined, well-trained and well organised machinery which is described as administration. Therefore, civil service or bureaucracy is an essential element for a society or state.”
It is often the politician's lack of experience in governance and the civil servant's attitude that he is the reservoir of knowledge when it comes to developing the country that lead to mistrust between the two. The interaction between the political system and civil service is an important factor in conditioning the values of the civil service—more specifically the relationship between the minister in charge and the secretary. The motivation of the civil servant can be seriously affected if his or her executive role is interfered with by political representatives. “The loyalty of the civil servants should be to the people they serve, not to any political party,” Abdus Sobhan Sikder, said to the Star in 2013. “Both the politicians and the civil servants have a responsibility to see to it that the administration can function free of any outside influence.” Mr Sikder was Senior Secretary at the Ministry of Public Administration at that time.
So how to develop and motivate a civil service that exercises respect for law and order, intellectual pragmatism, neutrality, objectivity and rationality in the organisation and management of tasks they are entitled to do?
“Recruitment must be merit based, civil servants must be paid adequately and there should be a promotion policy based on merit and performance alone,” says Dr Khan. “Training programmes have to be designed according to the training needs of the participants. Training for training's sake has to be avoided. Conflicts between the 28 cadres must be resolved. The domination of the administrative cadre must be reduced. For example, the secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture may come from the agriculture cadre rather than the administrative cadre. Both political and military interference demoralise the civil servants and the civil service.”
The lack of administrative capacity is the single scarcest resource in a developing country like Bangladesh. Professor Khan posits that the civil service is in crisis. A sense of pride that used to be the main driver of motivation for civil servants needs to be reinstituted.

Dr Niaz Ahmed Khan. Photo: Prabir Das
Dr Niaz Ahmed Khan. Photo: Prabir Das

Act Locally
Think Globally

Educated at the University of Wales, University of Oxford, and Asian Institute of Technology, Dr Niaz Ahmed Khan is Chairman and Professor at the Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka, and Executive Director of the Centre for Resources and Development Research, Bangladesh. He talks to the Star about how local government can become effective. 

It is said that strengthening local government and decentralisation are important for good governance and democracy. Can you help us understand why?
First, local government bodies, it is now firmly established, can serve as the medium of citizen participation for increasing the efficacy of developmental activities. Secondly, local government can coach and tutor local communities in the practice of democracy and citizens' rights-based administration and public service delivery. Thirdly, citizens can hold their government accountable and responsible for developmental actions and interventions through their representation in the respective local government. Effective local government can serve as an antidote against two critical disempowering processes: (i) the growing tendency of grossly inequitable distribution of wealth and resources in our society; and (ii) the rigidity, unresponsiveness and poor performance of the centralised planning and management paradigm to bring about desired social changes.
How can local government be more effective so that they can take decisions on matters that affect their lives without always depending on the central government for finances, human resources etc.?
 We now have considerable practical and research-based evidence to identify and understand the major obstacles to empowerment of local government institutions especially in terms of enabling local citizens to take decisions that affect their lives. These include the unrepresentative character of the decentralised local institutions, strict bureaucratic and political control (and manipulation) by central government, inadequate mobilisation of local resources, lack of commitment of the political leadership, dominance of rural elites in local decision making, inefficient administrative coordination among nation building public agencies, administrative corruption and connivance, and the chronic dependence of local institutions on central government. Local government and decentralization policies in Bangladesh have served, more than anything else, to create a sub-national political support base for the successive ruling regimes. The local government initiatives have often suffered from a lack of genuine political commitment to devolve power to the local citizens. Notwithstanding the widespread experimentation with varied local government and decentralisation schemes and models, the crucial issues and problems, which regulate the success of local institutions, have not been adequately addressed.

What can be done to overcome these problems?
Such vital issues as local resource mobilisation, greater autonomy of the local state, proper representation of local populace in decentralised institutions, and combating the tendency of central manipulation and interference are yet to be responded to. These (long unresolved) problems and issues have rendered the decentralisation efforts mostly ineffective in bringing about any meaningful, broad-based qualitative changes in the lives of the rural mass.
There is no magic bullet to solve these problems overnight. A strong degree of political commitment, among other things, can certainly facilitate the process of making local government policies effective in the field. Alongside, research and investigation into the performance and future potential of local government policies and practices must continue to guide and illuminate the policy makers.

Rafiqun Nabi. Photo: Star File
Rafiqun Nabi. Photo: Star File

By All Means, Paint

Rafiqun Nabi, the quintessential master artist says art can play an important role in the development of the country

Art can improve a community's competitive edge by creating a foundation for defining a sense of place, attracting new and visiting populations, and integrating the visions of community and business leaders. Many European countries have developed thriving tourism industries based on art. Each year the pyramids of Egypt attract millions of tourists. Our folk art is rich and unique. It has a great potential if we learn how to promote it in the international market. Our modern art has gained a respectable place in the world. Art is the only sector that has never let our country down. Initiatives to introduce young artists of Bangladesh to big auction houses of the world should be taken. Bodies like the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and the Shilpakala

Academy may arrange fairs in the country and abroad where upcoming artists can show off their talent. Artists are sensitive people. If the society is not peaceful their work gets affected. You cannot sing if you are unhappy. Art is an acquired taste. Art is a language. It has its own ABCs which must be taught at the school level so students can develop an intellect for it. Our taste for art has grown with time. Now some people actually spend a good amount of money to buy art. There was a time when an artist could or would work in isolation. Times have changed. Someone cannot become a great artist only by drawing. He or she has social responsibilities. On the other hand, his or her contribution must be acknowledged by the mass instead of his or her fellow artists alone. Only then can artists contribute to the development of the country.

Philip Kotler. Photo: courtesy
Philip Kotler. Photo: courtesy

Develop, Determine, Distribute, Promote

Philip Kotler is S C Johnson and Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, USA. Hailed as one of the world's foremost experts on the strategic practice of marketing, Kotler is the author of the most authoritative textbooks on marketing. He has visited Bangladesh several times in the recent past and laid out a number of recommendations to achieve faster growth. In an email message, Kotler says the following.

As a country of 150 million people, Bangladesh certainly deserves more of the world's attention.
The task for Bangladesh is better marketing of its assets and culture. Its assets have to be identified and promoted using modern marketing and branding tools. Bangladesh got bad press with the Rana Plaza disaster and has to prevent calamities from happening again.
Ultimately Bangladesh must determine what industries to build into its future. It must determine which multinationals to attract to help implement these industries. Multinationals will take Bangladesh seriously because of its huge population. You need top professionals running a well-financed business attraction system.
Businesses must find it easy to enter and operate in Bangladesh, and corruption must be eliminated or substantially reduced.
There is so much more that can be said but I have to stop here.

Iraj Islam
Iraj Islam

Made in Bangladesh

Iraj Islam is a Bangladeshi serial entrepreneur, software engineer and product designer. Raised in Sweden, Iraj ventured back to Bangladesh where he co-founded NewsCred in 2007. Between 2007 and 2014 NewsCred raised more than USD 40 million from top-tier Silicon Valley venture capitalists and is today the world's leading content marketing platform. He was named one of Sweden's top 3 entrepreneurs by Swedish magazine InternetWorld in 2006. He was also named in the Silicon Alley 100 2012 by US publication Business Insider. The Star asks him how to encourage entrepreneurship in Bangladesh.

To encourage entrepreneurship we need to evangelise the importance of entrepreneurs in our society. Entrepreneurs are the creative fabric of Bangladesh. They create the artifacts and products that shape the world around us. In that process they also create millions of jobs and ultimately social welfare that our country can build upon. We need to build a culture of encouraging our youth to become entrepreneurs just like we encourage them to become doctors, lawyers and engineers.
Second, to encourage creative entrepreneurship that we see in places like Silicon Valley we need a change in mindset from cheap labour and cost-effectiveness to innovation and invention. The time has come for our nation to challenge and change the meaning of “Made in Bangladesh”.
Today, most of our industries such as agriculture, garment, manpower and IT are based around the unique selling proposition of cost-effective labour. In stark contrast, our history as Bangladeshis is not one of cheap labour. Instead, our History and cultural heritage, technology, literature, arts or music is one that is rich and filled with imagination, creativity and innovation. This is who we are. The question that we need to ask ourselves is: Why is the world's leading clothing brand not Bangladeshi when we own and control all the people, processes and techniques that produce the highest-quality clothes in the world?
It can and should be. For example, NewsCred was born in Bangladesh and we are now the leading content marketing platform in the world. We have proven the thesis that Bangladesh can offer more to the world than just cheap labour. We have shown that we can build original Bangladeshi brands that re-imagine and re-invent entire global industries, make the world a better place and thereby change the meaning of “Made in Bangladesh”.
Third, we need to give young entrepreneurs the coaching, support and toolset to succeed by establishing a vibrant startup community in Bangladesh. The local startup ecosystem is growing at an exponential pace with communities such a Startup Dhaka, StartupBashBD, StartupGrind, Startup Weekend leading the way to a better tomorrow.
The future of entrepreneurship in Bangladesh couldn't be more exciting.

Rubaba Dowla. Photo: Prabir Das
Rubaba Dowla. Photo: Prabir Das


Rubaba Dowla is Chief Service Officer, head of m-Commerce and PR of Airtel Bangladesh, the 4th largest telecom operator in the world. She was instrumental in building Telenor subsidiary Grameephone as the number one brand and market leader in Bangladesh. She has won numerous national and international accolades among them Ananya top 10 women in Bangladesh in 2007 and Top 5 most powerful women in mobile in Asia, Charged magazine, Hong Kong. Rubaba Dowla shares with the Star how to create a positive image of Bangladesh.

The most important asset Bangladesh has is its resilient and happy people. The world knows little about us. Despite a negative image, created due to some recent events—political turmoil, high inflation, RMG sector mishaps, we have much to be proud of. Bangladesh has been recognized as the export power house, the 2nd largest RMG exporter and 7th largest outsourcing industry in the world. We have the 8th largest industrious and valued labour force. Our GDP is stable and forecasted to grow at 10 percent level by 2021, we aim to become a middle income level country by 2021 and be the 30th largest economy of the world by 2030. We are embracing technology at a much faster rate than many countries in the world. We draw strength from our values, cultural identity, ethnic and religious diversity.
We need to tell the world these stories.
In today's globalised market, every country, region and city competes for a share of the world's consumers, tourists, exports, and investors. Today's community of nations is open, transparent and substantially democratic—in many ways, like a marketplace. Thus we need to create, change and promote a distinct self-image and reputation that serves our nation's interests. Identifying factors that differentiate us from the competition is the key. We need to position ourselves uniquely both in terms of destination branding and country branding. This will attract investors, increase export of local brands and improve the quality of life of our people.
We must utilise the collective strength of the Bangladeshi diaspora (NRB) across the world who are well positioned to be our ambassadors. Branding is about creating trust and delivering what has been promised. Trust builds confidence among a nation's own citizens and trading partners. We often confuse nation branding with mere advertising campaigns focused towards attracting tourists. Nation branding is more than that. It is our national identity interpreted, internalised and projected onto the international arena. It envelops not only the companies within the country, but also its people, culture, values and identity.
Private and public sectors have to work in sync. Good governance and pragmatic leadership will steer this branding process. We must deliver as per promise. Just as companies have learned to “live the brand,” we as a nation have to consider our reputation carefully. We must be proud to be a Bangladeshi. We must not simply tell a happy story; we must tell a unique, compelling and accurate one, tailored to suit our development goals.

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