Monday, January 21, 2019

Harvard conference focuses on Bangladesh development

  • US Correspondent,
    Published: 2018-05-13 01:34:59 BdST


Harvard University has hosted a daylong high-profile seminar to examine how Bangladesh can keep up its development momentum and accelerate economic growth.

The event—Bangladesh Rising Conference 2018—was held on Saturday on the renowned university’s campus in Boston.

The largest US conference on Bangladesh’s development was co-hosted by Boston-based International Sustainable Development Institute (ISDI) and the Centre for International Development at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Mittal South Asia Institute.

International development partners, elected officials and civil servants of the government, researchers and academics, private sector representatives and civil society stakeholders attended the event to discuss how Bangladesh can maintain its development momentum and accelerate the growth it has achieved in the past decade.

The conference brought together participants from across the globe to exchange ideas, discuss and debate various strategies for development, meet international stakeholders, and take back new tactical knowledge.

The discussion focused on the changes Bangladesh could bring about to speed up its development, how it can achieve the sustainable development goals and how development organisations can help it do so.

Harvard University Kennedy School Belfer Centre Senior Fellow and MIT former Dean Dr Iqbal Quadir and ISDI Executive Director Iqbal Yousuf welcomed the guests at the start of the event at Harvard’s Loeb House Auditorium at 9am.

Tufts University Fletcher School Senior Fellow at the Centre for Emerging Market Enterprises Nicholas Sullivan delivered the opening speech.

A video on Bangladesh’s development progress was shown, which described the country as a ‘wonder of development’.

CID Senior Research Fellow Frank Neffke gave the keynote speech at the inaugural session.

He highlighted Bangladesh’s exports, production capacity and the development of the garment sector and compared the country’s growth rate to Vietnam and China.

A panel discussion followed the inaugural session. Policymakers and leaders from various sectors participated in the six panel discussions.

The topics were Bangladesh’s macroeconomic potential and recommended reforms, direct foreign investment, the possibilities of economic zones, acceleration of electricity generation, women’s leadership in business and the wider reach through information and communication technology.

Mashiur Rahman, economic affairs adviser to the prime minister, spoke on Bangladesh's management of deficit financing and eloquently defended it.

“Bangladesh is moving forward towards success. The government is taking all steps necessary to ensure the continuity of development and is preparing and implementing specific policies.”

The government is committed and making efforts to establish accountability at all levels. Administrative officials are now doing everything by the book, which may seem unnecessary bureaucratic complications.

During the discussion, Editor-in-Chief Toufique Imrose Khalidi said: “We have for long heard about Bangladesh (or a large part of it) sinking due to global warming. Today’s title gives me some real good feeling. We will be talking about ‘Bangladesh rising’.”

“And it’s all the more gratifying that it is a fact. Not an empty rhetoric.”

“Bangladesh has a very young population, 40 percent under the age of 26, and these young souls have dreams, aspirations and a desire for a better life,” he said.

“In recent years, relative political stability has helped. Facilitating public policies have helped too. A more efficient bureaucracy would have helped more. A little less corruption would have helped much more,” Khalidi said.

“Systems and processes could have been smarter and the young women and men — yes women come first and then men in our discourse — would have been smarter and more creative in creating more jobs, generating more wealth. A lot of the processes and systems have been digitised and digitalised. But, in some cases, not properly trained, slow-moving and at times insensitive bureaucracy dampens the spirit. And I am speaking from my own experience.”

“Growth in domestic demand is another contributing factor. More people have more disposable income, and are willing to spend and consume. The size of the consuming middle class isn’t that bad, and is growing,” Khalidi said.

There was a time when Bangladesh was losing out on at least 2 percent increase in the growth rate due to government inefficiency, he said.

“But some time ago politicians in Bangladesh realised it is not the job of the government to run businesses. Ownership of many state-run companies has changed hands. The handing over process hasn’t been very clean though. And some are still being run by civil servants.”

“At least we have now learnt that businesses are better run by businesspeople, not by bureaucrats.”

Jamaluddin Ahmed, general secretary of Bangladesh Economic Association, and Tanjib-ul-Alam, head of Tanjib Alam & Associates, were the other speakers at the panel.

Meera Narayanaswamy, who heads and manages IFC's investments in capital markets, moderated the discussion.

The discussion touched on Bangladesh passing the 7 percent growth rate barrier, the key to economic growth, the potential of the economy and the kinds of policies that would accelerate future growth.

Abul Kalam Azad, SDG chief coordinator at the Prime Minister's Office, delivered a keynote speech on foreign direct investment or FDI and highlighted Bangladesh’s recent achievement of the requirements needed to graduate from the least developed country status.

Regarding the economic advantages of investing in Bangladesh, Azad noted the cost of water and power in Bangladesh was the lowest in Asia, the presence of a massive labour force, the fertility of the land and the 40,000-hectare land bank.

“Bangladesh will develop according to our dreams with the implementation of Visions 2021 and 2041,” he said. “What better place is there to invest?”

Kazi M Aminul Islam, executive chairman of Bangladesh Investment Development Authority, Khalid Quadir, cofounder and chief executive officer of Brummer & Partners Bangladesh and Sharif Zahir, managing Director of Ananta Group, were part of the panel.

Discussants explored areas where FDI has been successful, where it had failed to find success and the ways in which Bangladesh could expand the benefits from it. They also talked about what reforms were necessary in foreign private investment or in the stock exchanges.

The next session touched on economic zones and their promise.

Yoo Jin Kim, senior manager of SK Gas of South Korea, said his company was interested in investing in Bangladesh. More companies would follow their example, he said.

ASM Mainuddin Monem, managing director of Abdul Monem Economic Zone, said it was best not to take half measures.

“Go to Dhaka to meet with the prime minister. She is ready and willing to help. We are receiving that kind of support.”

The other speakers were Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority Chairman Paban Chowdhury and Meghna Group Chairman Mostafa Kamal. The panel was moderated by ISDI Executive Director Iqbal Yousuf.

State Minister for Power, Energy, and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid delivered his speech on speeding up power production. Hamid reminded the audience that it was more important to maintain the continuity of development rather than just increasing the speed.

“We do not believe in project-based development. We believe in people-based development,” he said.

The state minister stressed the importance of developing Bangladesh’s energy sector, stating that the more developed a country is the higher is its energy consumption.

“Ninety percent of people now have access to electricity. And in recent years we have produced record amounts of electricity.”

Microsoft Managing Director Sonia Bashir Kabir, Square Pharmaceuticals Head of Business Development and Strategy Anika Chowdhury and Green Delta Insurance Managing Director Farzana Chowdhury spoke at the session on women’s leadership in business.

Anika Chowdhury spoke on the issues relating to business leadership opportunities for women, their relevant role models and their long-term success.

The final session was on wider reach through information and communication technology. The panelists were Policy Adviser to the A2I (Access to Information) Programme Anir Chowdhury, Alliance for Affordable Internet Executive Director Sonia N Jorge, Brown University Associate Professor Ruhul Abid and Appnometry Managing Director Mashruf Habib.

Anir Chowdhury discussed the successful launch of the Bangabandhu-1 satellite and said it would not be long before Bangladesh’s ICT sector would become a ‘wonder of the world’.

During the dinner reception, the discussants focused on how to promote the engagement of Bangladeshi expatriates living in the US towards the continued development of Bangladesh.

Harvard University’s Loeb House was packed for the event. Conference Chairman Iqbal Quadir said that next time the event would hire a larger venue.

The conference was supported by Summit Power, GE, Max Group, Bashundhara Group, Abdul Monem Economic Zone, Meghna Group, Energypac and Habib Group of Bangladesh.