Monday, January 07, 2008

A Purple Future

This Article of mine appeared in the January 2008 issue of the Purple magazine.

As I board the Commuter Shuttle Train at the Gulshan station, I look at my communication device. It should take me about 20 minutes to reach downtown Dhaka’s Bhaluka station. Just in time for me to receive the guests from Ireland who are arriving at Gazipur International Airport to attend the Economist Magazine’s conference titled “Learning from Bangladesh’s Economic Transformation.” They have a lot of learning to do over the next two days.

The year is 2040. Bangladesh is in the heart of the South Asia’s booming economic zone. Dhaka mega-city itself is a huge metropolis that houses a population of 50 million. The last 30 years have been a wonderful journey for a nation one time called “a bottomless basket” by Henry Kissinger. The transforming few years of early 2000s laid a foundation to an exponential growth curve. Today Bangladesh’s economy is a gateway for all economic activity for the Indo-Chinese world.

We had played our cards just right. After realising in 2007 that confrontational politics was tearing our nation into pieces we set ourselves a goal for going through a transformation that would surpass that of post WWII Japan or that of the erstwhile Asian Tigers. Our leaders at that time very rightly decided that a quantum change required new thinking and a new mindset. Wisely they brought in a cadre of capable and professional young Bangladeshi’s to infuse life into the roadmap of growth.

Known as Gen71, this group of enthusiastic young minds set about the transformation process with a passion not seen in Bangladesh since the War of Independence. They focused their energy into three areas – Reform, Education and Industrialisation.

It was self evident that the first hurdle that needed to be crossed was the bureaucratic misalignment that defeated almost all of the positive changes that were being taken. Rapid movement towards e-governance and dissemination of information brought transparency and honesty to the functioning of the government, judiciary and other branches of authority. At the same time it ensured that businesses followed the regulatory framework that were laid out to protect consumers and workers.

The other pillar of the Bangladesh miracle was the huge investments that were made in Education. It was a no-brainer that the 150 million population of that era needed to be made employable. Massive IT, mathematics and multi-language education centres were set up. Education curriculum and methodology was completely overhauled. Emphasis was given to ensure that the young population had enough skill sets to play an aggressive role in the rapid industrialisation that was on the drawing boards.

On the economic side Bangladesh was astute to stop listening to the socialist economists that were still married to their Stalinist pasts. Yes Bangladesh was once an agrarian society, but being the world’s most densely populated country the only way to ensure economic growth was through unprecedented industrialisation. Basic industries like steel and electronics were encouraged. Ancillary businesses grew up to support these. The RMG sector, which was even then, the powerhouse of the economy continued to grow strongly. Businesses in that sector consolidated and became some of the leading players in the world market. However the raw talent of our youth meant that ICT now rivalled RMG as the export earner for the nation. Utilization of huge coal reserves and discovery of both on and off shore Oil and Gas deposit turned Bangladesh into a net exporter of these commodities and of Power. A robust stock market and a liberal financial and foreign exchange policy ensured that Bangladeshi companies could take advantage of this energy. Run-away remittance earnings and FDI fuelled on the economy. Many of our entrepreneurs and corporations bought up companies big and small around the world. Bangladesh had arrived.

As did Bangladesh Biman’s non-stop supersonic flight from Dublin. I rapidly closed the active channels of the all-enveloping Net coverage that was beaming the world into my comdevice. I wondered if the Irish guests would be able to tell if the bottle of Guinness they had on board actually came from the industrial area of Rajshahi.