Bangladeshi American Diaspora Philanthropy, Part 1

Friday was the start of a two-day conference in Boston on “Ideas and Innovations for the Development of Bangladesh: The Next Decade”.

The conference brought together several hundred participants from the US, Bangladesh and other countries. Organizers of the conference see the event as a major platform for a serious and meaningful discussion of issues, challenges and opportunities Bangladesh faces at this critical juncture in its history, as it charts new directions towards its future, and nurtures ambitious hopes about its possibilities.

The agenda features many panels on governance, energy and environment, human infrastructure, investments and resource mobilizations and media and culture.  Unfortunately, it did not have a session on diaspora philanthropy and the generosity that Bangladeshi-Americans are known for.  Therefore, I decided to do a two-part post to share several examples of how Bangladeshi – Americans are giving back.

The 2000 Census lists 57,412 people identifying themselves as having Bangladeshi origin (although I have found other reports mentioning 500,000).  Almost 50% of Bangladeshis over the age of 25 have at least a Bachelor’s degree.  Many are foreign-born and many Bangladeshis live in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit.  In general, my observations about this community is that Bangladeshis are professionals with earning power, they travel back to Bangladesh (some even have moved back), and they have organized themselves in their own social groups.  These are the core characteristics of a powerful diaspora group and philanthropists and leaders are easy to find once you start researching these groups.  One such leader is Iqbal Z. Quadir, the conference keynote, who is a legend in his own community as well as in the social innovation field.

Professor Iqbal Z. Quadir is the Founder & Director of Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (the Center was founded by MIT in 2007 through a $50 million gift from Legatum, a global investment firm). Prof. Quadir founded GrameenPhone Ltd, which has now become Bangladesh’s largest telephone company.  His background in rural Bangladesh combined with his venture capital experience in NY led Prof. Quadir to recognize that the “ensuing digital revolution could facilitate the introduction of telephony to 100 million people
living in Bangladesh.”

Prof. Quadir and his family established the Anwarul Quadir Foundation, named in honor of his father, in 2004, to promote the economic development and social justice in Bangladesh by encouraging innovations that empower its citizens.  The Anwarul Quadir Prize is an annual global competition that attracts submissions from over a dozen countries and ranges in focus from healthcare to micro-finance.  In 25 pages or less, the author must propose an innovative and practical idea that would improve the lives of low and middle-income people in Bangladesh.  The winner receives a $25,000 prize.

Last year, the winner submitted an essay titled “Innovative Approach to Providing Safe Water in Bangladesh”.
The author had identified a fern that can be easily grown in Bangladesh and proposed a method for removing arsenic from water using the fern.  The fern can be easily cultivated in Bangladesh.  This idea could help as many as 88 million people in Bangladesh affected by arsenic poisoning.

This type of contest is a creative way to encourage individuals to be innovative in finding solutions for those in developing countries.  The rules are so flexible that anyone from around the world can submit their ideas.  It empowers the creator while helping others.  Got an idea to solve a problem?  Write it down.  Submit it.  Win a prize and perhaps get to see the idea implemented so it helps millions!

Bangladeshi American diaspora philanthropy, part 2

See also:

The Good Entrepreneur in Partnership with CNBC: Interview with Iqbal Quadir

An idea whose time had com: The Economist’s special report on entrepreneurship highlights Iqbal Quadir

Innovating Bangladesh: ushering in the next sea of change in Bangladesh

On Saturday afternoon, a media plenary session analyzed the use of media as development in Bangladesh. For those that could not join the conference, Unheard Voices, Drishtipat’s blog, hosted a live blogging event.

Photo courtesy of Mystic Lens

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