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LDC graduation: Promoting knowledge and technology transfer

Sharmin Ahmed | May 01, 2018 00:00:00

There is a multitude of ideas (read startup and enterprises) that holistically addresses social, business and the environment based solutions for Bangladesh. The beauty of these lies in the fact that they come from our larger youth population, making the bulk of our human resource and our future nation-builders. And while they venture out on these disruptive innovations that can benefit this growing economy, what they need is harnessing of their skills and capacities.

Bangladesh is on the road of transition to lower middle-income country and it faces multiple challenges--a bad record at attracting foreign direct investments (FDI), high concentration on exports, weak competitiveness due to corruption, poor physical and social infrastructure, along with no longer having LDC benefits such as trade tariffs and quotas.

So what can be done to create eco-systems that allow for the readiness of this most important resource of ours? The challenge is not having the know-how, experience and capacity that can be resolved by enabling policies and governance that propagates knowledge and technology transfer and fostering of local businesses.

Technology and knowledge transfer is about the inclusive exchange of tangible and intellectual property, expertise, learning and skills between academia, non-academic community, practitioners and experts in both tacit and explicit methods. There is, however, a lack of regional connectivity and that is a barrier for growth while we have common socio-economic & cultural conditions, constraints and resources. For government and investors it could be an important return on investment approach that acts as the driving force for enhancing economic growth and societal wellbeing. But these are not just about communication. They are platforms to organise, co-create, capture or distribute technology and knowledge ensuring availability for future users and even funds.

This idea of shared transformation resources is nothing new in the region as it goes back to post independent India and has been leveraged on till date. It ranges from Nehru's Non-alignment movement (NAM) to Modi's Make-in-India campaign which encouraged FDIs but regularised with terms and conditions for retention of talent and technology domestically. Also, the partnership between US giant Boeing and India's state-run Hindustan Aeronautics and Mahindra Defence Systems to build a production facility for fighter jets locally to boost the domestic defence industry is a recent extension. In addition, in an increasingly global locality of practitioners, innovation and ICT, the transfer of policies from one country or region to another has become feasible at scale in a short span of time. There has been a lot of attention in the field of public administration for policy transfer and institutional transplantation. This is where we can make our experience more meaningful especially where our foreign trade and relations lie. There is scope to leverage on the type of transfer regionally (especially across south-Asia) given we share similar potential in our manufacturing and agriculture sectors, thriving business environment and young human resource. But it does not have to be done by the public sector, nevertheless driven by; in the development sector best practices have been shared and replicated as sustainable strategies.

The current eco-system building space, created through a growing number of incubator and accelerator programmes, is a platform uniquely positioned to deliver on the knowledge and technology transfer frontier. These programmes provide support, mentorship and links along with funds to build promising Small and Medium Enterprises (there are eight million of them in Bangladesh covering a significant proportion of GDP and employment of work force). Nevertheless, as we move towards Lower Middle Income, the scope should be broadened to include investments at large scale and so it is particularly relevant for policy regulations to be in place so that there is standardisation of these ventures to reduce risks and ensure sustainability.

It is in our best interest especially in this phase of transition, to create scope in order to leverage on fostering of local capacities, especially from neighbouring countries that can inform strategies for cross-border partnerships. Moreover, the business sectors that are maturing need financial support and a trajectory towards scale. There is much to gain from the improved image, higher rating for FDIs and larger investments that such collaborative efforts can bring to the economy.

It is thus seminal at this stage of graduation from LDC that the knowledge we have is documented, anchored and capitalised on, as there is a lot that similar economies can learn from us and vice-versa. But without a policy that sets the clear trajectory on how to do so, along with the right partnerships, it may all be lost in transition. The time is now to co-create, co-invest and collaborate!

Sharmin Ahmed is a development practitioner with a focus on private sector and markets systems development.

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