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The growth agenda and private sector

December 11, 2018 12:00:00

Bangladesh, as a success story has garnered various labels--development paradox and the new Asian Tiger. The last decade or so saw Bangladesh perform exceedingly well on macro-economic parameters. We are in the process of graduating from a least developed country to a developing country status with a per capita income of $1610 and a consistent GDP growth rate of more than 6.0 per cent. Eighty per cent of our export earnings are still contributed by the RMG sector, which also has been the largest industrial contributor of female employment/empowerment in Bangladesh.

At the same time we have also witnessed digital disruptions especially in the telecom and financial services industry. We have over 143 million mobile phone users and 80 million internet clients while Bangladeshi adults have carried out 34% transactions via digital mediums vs a South Asian average of 27%. The journey of financial inclusion is being led by mobile financial service providers. Our infrastructure has also witnessed tremendous transformation with 40 power plants having an installed capacity of 1600 MW, a 3rd seaport at Payra and the first floating LNG Terminal at Maheshkhali and first Nuclear Power Plant at Rooppur.

With all these achievements Bangladesh is now projected to be one of the fastest growing economies of the world by 2050. To unlock this potential the identified priorities are increased private investment, healthy capital markets, sustainable revenue generation and a shift in our workforce skills. All of these are intrinsically tied to the attainment of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). While there is a comprehensive itemization under each of the 17 SDGs the overriding theme is to create a more inclusive, sustainable economic and business environment. The paradigm shift that has occurred with the pursuit of SDGs is the desire to involve the private sector as partners in development. Until now development and inclusion was the exclusive remit of the state with the aid of development agencies. The graduation of Bangladesh from LDC status and the commitment to SDGs require a three dimensional involvement of the private sector: Firstly, adjusting operating models to include sustainability metrics to support the attainment of SDGs; Secondly, partnering with the government and/or aid agencies in designing the inclusion architecture by spearheading commercial linkages with development efforts and infusing innovation; Thirdly, as financing partners driven via a corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandate.

This shift in the manner of driving the growth/development agenda has created a lot of excitement within the public and private sector. The private sector has begun aligning their CSR initiatives with SDGs as that provides them more liberty in designing and supporting the government priorities. The government has recently held the Social Security Fair where the various development initiatives were presented and enterprise models discussed. The main theme in all of the discussions was the lack or absence of sustainability of a "charity"/"aid" model in enterprise/initiative design. For example the state-development-corporate tri-partite partnership is being explored in development models like SWAPNO (Strengthening of Women's Access to Productive New Opportunities). Marico Bangladesh Limited (Marico), a consumer products company, manufacturing household brands like Parachute, has partnered with UNDP and the government in the SWAPNO development model. In addition to providing financing under as part of its CSR initiative, Marico is also helping design commercial linkages and integration of beneficiaries in the back-end or front-end service providers for mainstream businesses. Focusing on women-led ultra-poor households the SWAPNO program is attempting to graduate 65,000 households across Bangladesh from ultra-poor status.

Under the a2i and StartUp Bangladesh initiatives the government is working to mainstream innovation incubation which provides a safe-space for individual entrepreneurs to experiment and refine their ideas into impactful business models. The success of such efforts will be crucial in giving Bangladesh the entrepreneurial edge with a sharp emphasis on the transformative power of technology.The tech industry offers also the greatest opportunity for inclusion of marginalized persons. On the 3rd December was International Day of Persons With Disabilities. The Hon'ble Prime Minister has announced that a policy is being formulated for inclusion of persons with disabilities in public sector employment. However the private sector can play a crucial role in mainstreaming inclusion/employment of physically challenged persons in the workforce. Keya Cosmetics a Bangladeshi owned cosmetic manufacturer employs persons with various disabilities in its manufacturing unit. The Marico Adamya program identifies youth with physical disabilities and provides them skill-based training for employment in the FMCG and other industries. The Marico Adamya program is differentiated in that it focuses on capability development of physically challenged persons which would be usable across the FMCG industry, e.g. trade merchandising. The CSR also has a volunteering segment where members of the organization give the trainees soft-skills coaching/mentoring in addition to skills training. While traditional manufacturing industries are not adapted to be disability-friendly, the burgeoning tech industry and financial services can easily contribute to scaling the inclusion impact through absorbing mobility disabled persons in call centres, as graphic, creative or content design and related technological industries. The adaption of ways of working to a more inclusive model is itself a huge leap towards ensuring decent work for a multitude of people.

Amidst all the social progress what is also required is a facilitative regulatory framework. Greater employment and entrepreneurs will also mean greater revenue generation and more investment. Regulators need to be discerning in their approach to newer types of work and the related changes in workforce and industry processes. Our laws need to adapt and enable this growth agenda. We need to simplify our processes, develop capability and embed service orientation even in regulatory bodies to provide the stability and certainty required for doing business in Bangladesh. True partnership and development can only be realized when there is transparent and fair governance at all levels capable of supporting and regulating a new and emerging Bangladesh.

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