Cross posted on Give2Asia Forum; by Seema Khan, Finance Associate, Give2Asia
Last month I attended a conference on “Ideas & Innovations for Development of Bangladesh: The Next Decade.” The conference, organized by the Bangladesh Development Initiative (BDI) in partnership with Democracy & Development in Bangladesh Forum (DDBF) and the Ash Institute at Harvard Kennedy School, created a platform for discussion of development in Bangladesh from many different angles. The speakers and participants, attending from all over America and overseas as well, discussed development issues relating to governance, human infrastructure, investment, energy and the environment, and media.
Speakers, heavily invested in the future of Bangladesh, kicked off the event. Among them was Iqbal Quadir, founder and director of the Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship at MIT and founder of GonoPhone, an organization that increased mobile phone usage in Bangladesh 100 fold since its inception in 1994. Quadir’s thought-provoking speech set an optimistic tone for the conference. He suggested that there is a connection between centralization of activity with stagnation in growth and decentralization with progress. His major example of this was the fact that so many developing countries have a high concentration of activity in their capital cities, while neglecting their large rural areas, a fact that is true of Bangladesh. By utilizing the human capital throughout the countries, he suggests that developing countries would be tapping a major resource for growth. Quadir also makes the assertion that connectivity is productivity, noting the increase in productivity through connectivity tools such as cell phones and the internet. This central productivity through connectivity idea was revisited often throughout the 2-day event.
A pressing issue and hot topic during the conference is energy in Bangladesh. Bangladesh currently has the lowest per capita energy consumption. With power outages scheduled every day in the capital and lasting several hours, the shortage in the power supply is clear. Additionally, 67% of the country’s energy is used just in Dhaka city, which leaves many areas with no electricity. One speaker tells a story of how providing electricity to a tailor was able to increase his work day by 4 hours into the evening. A stable supply of power distributed throughout the country would allow Bangladesh to make better use of its rural work force and create more steady work days for people throughout the country.
Another interesting topic was the idea of branding for Bangladesh. To develop a positive brand image for Bangladesh could promote tourism and trade for the country. Currently, 90% of Bangladesh-related news published internationally is generated by sources in India and China. It was suggested at the conference that Bangladesh take control of its image by publishing more of its press abroad. Releasing news would also give Bangladesh the opportunity to create its brand. Several branding ideas were suggested, including the idea to highlight Bangladesh as the birthplace of microcredit, a major force throughout the developing world to combat poverty. Also, Bangladesh’s activity in the garment industry competes with other major garment producers throughout the world. As Bangladesh continues to develop, there are an increasing number of positive attributes to consider as the country’s brand.
The conference had an overwhelmingly positive outlook on development and was a forum of great fresh ideas. Now having completed its second annual meeting, I look forward to the ways this platform for an exchange will benefit Bangladesh’s development.