Bangladesh: A land of unbelievable achievements

Maswood Alam Khan from New York
Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith said: “Bangladesh has been known as a land of unbelievable achievements which have been proven impossible to achieve even in many developed countries”.

He was speaking as chief guest in the US Bangladesh Technology Summit 2010 held at Marriot Marquis Hotel at Times Square in the city of New York, USA, October 13. The summit was attended among other distinguished guests by Dr. Mashiur Rahman, Adviser to Prime Minister on Economic Affairs and Dr Atiur Rahman, Governor of Bangladesh Bank as special guests.

US Bangladesh Technology Summit 2010 held in New York on 13 October 2010 was organised by Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) and jointly sponsored by Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) and US-Bangladesh Partner. The daylong summit was attended by associate members of Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, Pan American Chamber of Commerce in USA, Network of Young Bangladeshi American Professionals, scores of business leaders from New York, more than 30 representatives of 20 Bangladeshi IT-companies who are members of BASIS, high-ranking American and Bangladeshi officials and more than 100 non-resident Bangladeshi visitors, mostly IT professionals.

It was a summit full of excitements with enthusiastic non-resident Bangladeshis eager to know how Bangladesh can fare in its challenging journey on information super highway in tuning the country to what Bangladeshis want to change their fate through use of information technology.

At the end of the first session of the summit Finance minister, Bangladesh Bank governor and other special guests, especially Sajeeb A. Wazed Joy (son of Bangladesh prime minister who is one of the architects in setting the vision to turn Bangladesh into a nation fully equipped with tools of egovernance by the year 2021) fielded a volley of questions from the invited guests as to strategic plans the government has drawn with regard to flourishing IT industry in Bangladesh, the roadmap drawn, concrete steps taken and how nonresident Bangladeshis can contribute in materialising the vision and how to dissipate the confusion among some people who believe that the slogan of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ is a mere slogan in order to gain political mileage.

Finance minister in his speech as the chief guest said Bangladesh, being the size of Wisconsin, with a huge population of 160 million huddled up in an area of 145,000 square kilometres and in spite of all the disadvantages a least developed country has to face has come a long way in political democratisation and in many social and economic attainments. In terms of reducing infant mortality, immunisation programme to prevent epidemics, enrolment in primary education, poverty alleviation through micro credit, disaster management Bangladesh has become an example for many countries to emulate. Many advanced countries take lessons from us how to manage natural disasters. Micro credit revolution in Bangladesh has become a model for both developed and developing countries.

Finance minister informed the summit that on the 11th of November 4500 information centers will be opened covering almost all the unions in Bangladesh where rural people will garner information through digital devices. He hoped that with a great number of our young IT-educated talents engaged in IT professions Bangladesh will soon be an international playground for information technology.

Governor of Bangladesh Bank Dr. Atiur Rahman in his speech as a special guest said Bangladesh by achieving remarkable development turnaround has belied the widely held perception that this country was once termed as an international ‘basket case’ at its birth in 1971; over the 39 years since liberation, Bangladesh has raised its per capita income four-fold, cutting poverty level by more than half, and is well on course in attaining most of the millennium development goals (MDGs). He said during the recent global recession many banks in the West committed suicide but in our country no bank suffered from a slight influenza.

It is a matter of pride, Dr Atiur said, that Standard and Poor’s (S&Ps) and Moody’s regarded Bangladesh as a reliable destination for international creditors and investors. In the global financial arena, Bangladesh has been given the BB- and Ba3 sovereign credit ratings by S&P and Moody’s respectively, placing Bangladesh only behind India in South Asia.

In his keynote speech Sajeeb Wazed Joy said Bangladesh is ahead of many South Asian countries in a number of economic indicators and in the recent years of global recession when many countries had to withstand negative growth Bangladesh had positive growth. With foreign aid of only 2.0 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) and an average of 4.5 percent growth over the past decade, Sajeeb Wazed said, Bangladesh has shown to the world that it can better manage its economy than many western countries; several foreign companies including Dell have already started outsourcing their businesses in Bangladesh and companies like Samsung are contemplating to relocate their businesses from India to Bangladesh.

He said the government has already awarded contracts for 2500 MW of power and has plans to award contracts for another 2500 MW within next six months. He expressed his confidence that there would be no power shortage by 2013. Pointing to investment friendly regulations in Bangladesh he urged upon the foreign investors to invest in Bangladesh wherefrom they can repatriate 100 percent profits and capital gains.

Sajeeb Wazed, an architect of “Digital Bangladesh” initiative, said Bangladesh is the best place in the world for anybody to start an IT company and go IPO as Bangladesh stock market has been one of Bangladesh’s fastest growing in the world for the last few years. He said Goldman Sachs has identified Bangladesh as next most promising emerging market and Morgan Stanley has recommended investors to pull out of Vietnam and invest in Bangladesh.

Welcoming the guests of US Bangladesh Technology Summit 2010 Shameem Ahsan, CEO of eGeneration Ltd and a member of Bangladesh Prime Minister’s Digital Task Force and chairman of the organizing committee of the summit said several IT destinations such as India and Eastern European countries are facing severe IT resource crises and doing outsourcing business in those countries have of late become very expensive. He said many IT giants like Microsoft, Dell, Sysco, Nokia and Samsung have started going to Bangladesh for their outsourcing—opening up windows of opportunities for exciting possibilities of Bangladesh to become the next IT destination. Shameem Ahsan said “Bangladesh Next” is a new brand and the vision of “Digital Bangladesh” is looming up brightly on the horizon.

In his PowerPoint presentation Anir Chowdhury, IT Policy Adviser in Prime Minister’s office graphically showed how the steps being taken by the government would help people of Bangladesh get the taste of digitization. The main purpose, Chowdhury said, is to keep people electronically connected; access to information, exchange of ideas, swift communication are the goals of the IT revolution that has already taken place in Bangladesh with rapid expansion of cellular network and widespread use of mobile phones. A peasant will realise the message of digitisation when by his cell phone equipped with a camera he would take the photograph of a pest on a leaf of a plant in his field and send the image to an agricultural scientist seeking remedial measures.

Anir Chowdhury appealed to the Bangladeshi Diasporas to invest their intellectual and financial resources to help develop industries in Bangladesh. He assured the nonresident Bangladeshis of the government’s sincerity in facilitating foreign investments in Bangladesh. He advised the nonresident Bangladeshis not to undermine the ability of young Bangladeshi engineers and professionals. He mentioned as examples of sincere efforts of the government the programs taken in regards to setting up information centers, clubs of farmers, computerized land management, Upazilla doctors providing tele-consultation, tracking social safety nets, teachers’ training and e-learning, early disaster warning through mobile network, citizens tracking police cases by SMS, so on and so forth.

Referring to a documentary written by Zafar Iqbal Anir Chowdhury quoted a catchy remark made in the documentary where one said: “If my mother is ugly I would not call a beautiful woman my mother, would I?” Anir Chowdhury said: “What is now needed most is engage our head, heart and hand to build information roads, highways and superhighways over which our people will undertake their challenging voyage to turn Bangladesh into a truly Digital Bangladesh as envisioned by our prime minister.”

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