Engaging expatriates in our growth journey
The signifi-cance of expatriate engagement in emerging economies has led to substantial attention as evidenced by the growing number of studies, seminars, symposiums and conferences, pilot projects and initiatives funded by various governments and development partners. According to a Forbes article, domestic companies are now thriving and pose a real competition for multinational companies. Naturally, focusing on local markets and local consumers, these domestic companies now seek cooperation from expatriate entrepreneurs to expand their businesses.
Expatriates' expertise, professional reputation, savings and investments can act as catalysts for local businesses. Moreover, they can attract investment from other sources to the home country. To achieve the next level of growth, it is imperative to engage expatriates in the country's development blueprint through using the knowledge remittance provided by them. Slightly different from monetary remittance, knowledge remittance is the flow of knowledge, mentorship, guidance, and expertise to the home countries. It is evident that contributions from the expatriates take multiple forms that include philanthropy, business and academic networks, institutional twinning initiatives, technical advisories, etc.
An UNCTAD study conducted in 2012 estimated that up to 80 percent of FDI into China was from its expatriate networks. In India, the entrepreneurs developed a USD-100-billion IT export industry in collaboration with their expatriates. In Africa, they have witnessed over USD 10 billion in investment and USD 30 billion in philanthropy from its expatriates. And in Lebanon, around six thousand projects have been successfully implemented through the "Live Lebanon" initiative with expatriate-donated money to support local communities.
From the government level, in some countries, expatriate strategies are coordinated through a dedicated government agency, for example Lithuania's Department of National Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad, India's Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, Armenia's Ministry of Diaspora and Jamaica's Diaspora and Consular Affairs Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. In this system, a minister is bestowed with the responsibility to oversee expatriate affairs covering areas such as legal status and voting rights of the expatriates, welfare and rights of the expatriates in their new locations, cultural and social links with the expatriates, remittances and philanthropy, and the development of business relationships with the expats.
About 10 million Bangladeshis live abroad, of whom about 2.4 million have moved abroad permanently (UNDP, 2017). Moreover, the number of Bangladeshis living overseas for employment purpose has doubled in the past few years. Encouragingly, NRBs are making dents in numerous sectors of the countries where they are living, ranging from technology to culinary. Other remarkable examples include: creation of a bank spearheaded by NRBs, NRB IT entrepreneurs' involvement with the local IT industry, etc. In addition, an NRB bio-technologist, Dr Maqsudul Alam, did jute genome sequencing in Bangladesh; an NRB engineer is one of the contributors of the Padma Bridge plans; an NRB mathematician is the head coach for Math Olympiad helping Bangladesh win gold, among many achievements of pioneering NRBs. In addition, currently 35 NRBs are enjoying the CIP status.
In view of the NRBs' engagement with our entrepreneurs, we need to create a pyramid model where knowledge is carried downstream from the top. In this connection, a supply-side study on the Bangladeshi expatriates should be commissioned to understand their aspirations every two or three years. In this regard, it is also important that a special attempt is made to find out the interests and aspirations of the second and third generation expatriates. Furthermore, it is important to nurture the bond in a way that is mutually beneficial. However, it must be kept in mind that reaching out to the expatriates and engaging them in productive and meaningful ways will require political will, policy support, designated focal points from the government for follow-up, and service-oriented support from the government's investment promotion agencies like BIDA, BEZA, Bangladesh High-Tech Park Authority, and PPP, along with other government agencies that are responsible for issuing license, permits, utility services and required support for investment. Once this is achieved, Bangladesh will continue to receive benefits from the expats in the days to come.
It is encouraging to know that our government is planning to dedicate a Special Economic Zone for NRBs. Another good move by the government is the plan to provide a two-percent incentive on money remitted by expatriate Bangladeshis from the FY2019-20 onwards. In addition, the government has unveiled a plan to provide life insurance facilities for expatriates as they, and their families, often find themselves in a complex situation after workplace accidents. Another positive move planned by the government is to observe an NRB Day or Probashi Dibosh on December 30 every year.
However, the government should shift its policy focus towards engaging the expatriate communities in the overall development efforts of the country from the existing focus on migrant labourers. Moreover, Bangladesh is yet to successfully promote the success stories of its expatriates. For instance, very few people know that NRBs are playing an active role in the parliaments of countries like the UK, Sweden and Canada, as elected representatives. This is just one instance. There are other areas which we need to properly revisit. We need to identify our expats and focus on how we can collaborate with them for the greater good of our country.
Sabbir Rahman Khan is Assistant Secretary, R&D, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry.