Author: Marjiya Baktyer Ahmed

Manoeuvring the ICT maze

In a conversation with Marjiya Baktyer Ahmed, Shafquat Haider explains the path to reaping the benefits of the ICT sector is through bridging industry-academia gap and to equip our emerging workforce with employable skills.

The inauguration of the National Data Centre is a watershed moment for Bangladesh’s ICT sector. Not only will it help save money by no longer needing to pay exorbitant fees for international data centres, but it will also generate income for the country. How are we looking to train the personnel we will need to establish the National Data Centre as the hub of Digital Bangladesh?
We need to leverage the years of knowledge and experience our NRBs have garnered in the international markets and incentivize them to return to Bangladesh and service and train the locals here. We should concentrate on ways and means of attracting our expatriate Bangladeshis.

We should also note that Data Centres don’t have a huge requirement for manpower. It is mostly technology-driven. However, people needed have to be highly skilled.

There is still an industry-academia gap pertaining to the skills needed to bolster the contributions to the ICT sector. What sort of support can incentivize academic institutions to restructure their curriculum to better prepare fresh graduates with the necessary skills?
There are two ways to look at it – one is the private sector and the other is the public sector. The problem is that when public institutions come up with an approved curriculum, it is supposed to be there for a good period of time. Changes are extremely difficult and time-consuming. Information and Communication Technology is a very dynamic subject, requiring quick adaptability with the changing scenario around us. If you just teach the bookish method to the students, it has no relevance to the outside world. This is a major challenge!

Universities need to partner with local industries and work closely with them to ensure that the learning that takes place at the university, is in line with what is required by the industry. For example, many universities are teaching programming languages – Are they still relevant and required by the industry? There is also scope for our universities to liaise with international universities and look at their teaching curriculum and methods. Our universities objectives should be to produce graduates that can serve the international ICT sector.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the skills that you have are “employable” skills! The good news is that the Government of Bangladesh has created the National Skills Development Authority (NSDA) through an Act of Parliament. It clearly mandates that all government educational curriculum will be developed in conjunction and in consultation with the private sector. The purpose is that once standardization is done, it will be locally acceptable nationwide and internationally recognizable. So far,13 Industry Skills Councils including ICT have been formed and are in operation.

When it comes to incentives, the government has to get involved and support it. The government must help you to invest in this change. International donors are also playing a key role in promoting the importance of skills development. Most people on their own are not in a position to implement this.

Just to mention the importance of skills – Australia has more than 8,000 skills including ICT standards approved. It is mandatory to have a qualification or competency certificate to get employment.
Now it is time for all of us together, including the government, to dignify skills and to give skills the proper recognition.

Follow a subset of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – the Euro initiative for data protection and privacy. Bangladesh simply needs to look at the international arena to see what developed countries are doing and adapt these to local markets. We do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Given that ICT is a fairly new sector, software piracy has proved itself to be a widespread problem in the country. What kind of policy support can the government provide to curb malpractices of such sort?
Simple strict enforcement of the law is a must. Many employees as they leave an organization, leave with the source code – there are no laws or resources to protect these companies’ assets. Examples need to be made in such a manner, that these malpractices stop. License Audit should be done on large companies and government organizations, to ensure they have licensed software. Otherwise, huge fines should be imposed. A few cases, where strong action is taken will not only act as a deterrent – but, will ensure that software licenses and intellectual property are protected.

What are the regulatory measures needed for corporations operating in the ICT sector?
There are international, national as well as internal guidelines that an organization or company follows in the implementation of ICT in their ecosystem. The regulatory measures will depend on the type of industry, where ICT is being implemented – for e.g financial institutions, telecommunications companies, manufacturing companies, e-commerce companies etc.

Universities need to partner with local industries and work closely with them to ensure that the learning that takes place at the university, is in line with what is required by the industry.

Data has become a commodity that is being heavily traded. The security issues which arise range from identity theft, hacking, etc. What initiatives can the sector take to ensure consumers that their security is being safeguarded?
You can only reach a certain amount of safety and security, but you can never say you’re 110% secure. Security breaches will happen every time you secure it – this is a fact of life! I think the paranoia about security should not let you lose your sleep. However, you must take and implement all measures possible to ensure data privacy and security. Recently, it was in the news that a Data Policy is going to be done for Bangladesh. There are many countries and regions that have done it or are in the process of implementing it.

I would personally suggest that we follow a subset of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – the Euro initiative for data protection and privacy. Bangladesh simply needs to look at the international arena to see what developed countries are doing and adapt these to local markets. We do not need to reinvent the wheel.

You must take and implement all measures possible to ensure data privacy and security. Recently, it was in the news that a Data Policy is going to be done for Bangladesh.

Even though we reap the benefits of a digitally connected world, the public is largely unaware of the myriad of features lurking within the largely intangible framework. There is a need for a massive awareness campaign. How is the sector looking into informing the public about the realities, blessings, and trepidations that come with an annually growing ICT sector?
Trepidations are hard to explain to people. Blessings are, people are happy to be connected. However, the same thing which is a blessing can also be trepidation. For e.g, when the internet is shut down deliberately to block information about the happenings in the outside world, or when fake information is spread through the internet.

In the end, I would like to add that the Government of Bangladesh and companies in general, really need to hire marketing gurus to address and promote our ICT activities. Unfortunately, we are not very successful in marketing and promoting ourselves, and we are reluctant to look at the international marketing gurus to assist us in this matter. We must learn from the best!

Matters of Macroeconomy

In conversation with Marjiya Baktyer Ahmed, Dr. Zahid Hussain, former lead economist at the World Bank advises on how to overcome the pitfalls of our projected numbers for FY20.

What is the state of the economy in terms of growth?
We are the fastest growing economy in the world depicted by the official estimate. The problem with the official estimate is its inconsistency with the other growth-related indicators. In order to explain where this growth is coming from, we have to break it up and look at the drivers of growth – the official numbers on the expenditure side. But you see it is private consumption and investment. Usually, the contribution of foreign trade is negative as we have a deficit since imports are greater than exports. But last year imports were depressed and exports recovered so there was a turnaround, but that is not enough to explain 8+ growth.

Investment to GDP ratio has been flat as evident from the credit growth and capital machinery import numbers, which are supposed to be correlated with growth. However, you don’t get to see such strong momentum in the economy. BBS is the ‘only’ source of national accounts data. So, we cannot outright reject it, but we cannot unquestionably accept it either. There may have been healthy growth. 6+ is a very healthy growth when we compare with other South Asian countries. Exports and remittances were good, and our agriculture production was struck with the good fortune of two bumper crops. Public investments in some projects are visible, like the Metrorail, Padma Bridge, which may have supported the growth.

Can you talk us through the state of inflation in the country?
On the inflation front, it was within the targeted 5.5%. The 2018-2019 inflation outcome was exactly 5.5%. Food inflation was down which was the main reason why inflation was within the target, but non-food inflations were creeping up. The rice price collapse story was the result of a bumper crop causing rice prices to fall significantly. International commodity prices are very stable, so inflation in Bangladesh is largely determined by supply-side factors, the cost of imports, domestic production. Fiscal year-wise, FY19, inflation did okay, but later we have seen some reversal both in food-inflation and non-food inflation. It now stands at 6.05%. One reason is the infamous onion price hike, although onion in the proportion of total expenditure is not that big – it is 1.6% of typical household expenditure.

But the price increase was so high, like 400-500% so even though the weight is low, but the growth is so high, that it has a visible impact. There were other knock-on effects like other spice prices being increased, alongside rice prices have crept up a little bit. Then in the non-food, the house rents and several other consumer prices (clothing, footwear) went up. We have the same target of 5.5% in FY20, but now inflation is above that. Depending on the boro production, I think it will still be possible to bring it back down to 5.5%. We still have six months left, and the international commodity price outlook is fairly stable. The most important price for us is oil prices. All our major imports like diesel, furnace oil, petroleum, fertilizers and many of the food products we import, they are all linked with oil prices. The projection I have seen, oil prices remaining between 65-70 dollars a barrel, which is fairly standard, but of course, if we have problems like the onion price hike, that kind of a bubble, then it is a different story. So far so good.

The one concern on the inflation front from the demand side is that public borrowing is growing very rapidly and if that leads to monetary growth beyond the monetary policy target, then there could be some demand-pull factors coming in. There is also a demand-pull from the remittances which are doing really well, which is the only indicator that is strongly positive, while the remaining are strongly negative.

Bottom line: external stability is comfortable, but export decline is a worry. Reserves are okay but Bangladesh Bank’s intervention in the foreign exchange market is a worry. We need to let go of the exchange rate. Fiscal debt is okay, but revenue is slipping and expenditure is getting out of control. If the financial sector becomes unstable, people lose confidence in banks, so they start withdrawing their deposits, but we are not there yet.

What’s your take on the unemployment rate? How do we improve the numbers?
On the unemployment front, we don’t have recent numbers. The last survey was done was in 2017. The other numbers that you see that comes from General Economics Division are projections based on growth numbers. We have not gone to enterprises and done a labor force survey, because unemployment is not something that we regularly measure. For unemployment, we need regular surveys, a kind of system we have not developed yet. We have anecdotal evidence. Now, most of our employment is in the informal sector – 85% plus of our labor force. The employment level in the informal sector does not really change that much, what changes is the hours worked. Open unemployment rate in Bangladesh is always very low. If you compare it with the developed countries, it would be below the natural rate, which doesn’t really mean much. People can’t afford to not do anything in a country like Bangladesh. They may work in a tea stall, or as a rickshaw puller, it doesn’t mean they are working full time. Even if they are working full time, it doesn’t mean they are productive in that work.

The concept of unemployment in the textbook applies more to the formal sector, where we have the manufacturing sector in a large or medium scale. Then we have some of the service sector, e.g. banking, telecommunication. Even wholesale and retail trade, apart from the departmental stores and supermarkets, is largely an informal sector, where some of them aren’t even registered. In the formal sector, the employment picture does not look that good. The biggest employer is garments, in recent news from BGMEA, 200-250 factories have been closed down laying off 20,000-30,000 workers. The 2017 labor force survey shows an absolute decline. Exports have been doing poorly this fiscal year; there are some serious concerns about joblessness in the formal sector employment, particularly for females since garments labor force is largely comprised of women workers. A part of the reason for this labor shedding is automation, moving onto more 4IR technologies. The amount of work previously done by four people is being handled by one since new machineries are coming in. However, automation is not the only reason; there is also a competitiveness problem.

The unemployment rate among the educated youth is the highest among Bangladesh. There is also a big category outside the labor force. They are the NEET, people who are neither employed, nor educated, nor in training, but these are young people who are working age people. 9 out of 10 are women between the ages of 25-40 who are educated and capable, but not in the labor market. The number is around a staggering 4 million. When you are not finding jobs in the labor market, then you get frustrated and stop looking for jobs. Once that happens, you are not considered unemployed. The definition of unemployment is not having a job but seeking one. This is known as the discouraged worker hypothesis. Most of the women in the NEET category are perhaps young married women who are maybe mothers. Since we don’t have proper daycare facilities, child rearing becomes a full time responsibility.

We don’t have employment growth in the formal sector. The main problem is private investment, it is almost stagnant as a percentage of the GDP. If existing employers are not expanding their operations or new firms are not coming into business then where will the jobs come from? It’s not like investment is not happening at all, but investment proportion of GDP is not moving. We have like 22-23% private investment rate, and for a country like Bangladesh if you want a sustained 7% growth rate, then it has to be around 28-30% of GDP. It’s a rule of thumb calculation. If you look at the countries that have done really well on generating jobs in numbers and quality, you realize that our problem is not just that we don’t have enough employment opportunities, but the jobs available are not worth much. The income is not that great. You want both employment growth and wage growth. Wage growth in Bangladesh has barely kept up with inflation and the growth in nominal wages has been below the inflation rate in some sectors such as fisheries and construction. In the manufacturing sector, wage growth has stayed ahead of the inflation rates, so there have been 1%-2% real growth in wages. For a country like Bangladesh, you expect a lot more, but if you don’t have investments and the formal sector is not expanding then you cannot have good job creation.

Most of the women in the NEET category are perhaps young married women who are maybe mothers. Since we don’t have proper daycare facilities, child rearing becomes a full time responsibility.

How do we evaluate the macroeconomic balance of external policy?
When we talk about external policies, bottom line we are doing fine. The total amount of reserves that we have is still comfortable; they can finance 5 and a half months of imports. But comfort and complacency are two different things. There is no reason for complacency from this comfort. In two years we got rid of $9 billion, so if there is any big shock to the economy like the one we are having now with exports being down 7.6% in the first five months, trade deficit has expanded, the current account deficit has declined as remittances have boomed by 22%. That has been the savior. On the financial account, the foreign aid disbursement has slowed, but it is still good. We have declining exports and depressed imports which means the economy is not doing well which is why people are not buying and investing so current machinery imports are down. From a balance point of view it is a positive, because it is reducing pressure for payments, but if we want economic growth to pick up and investment to be higher, then imports will rise creating pressure on BOP. The main issue on the external balance front is what do we want to stabilize? We have so far chosen the stability of the exchange rate, so when we think there is an excess demand for dollars in the foreign exchange market and if the Bangladesh Bank doesn’t do anything then the taka will depreciate so we start selling dollars to keep taka stable. However, when you start doing that you start destabilizing the reserves, because how long can you sell off dollars with persistent excess demand? We have to decide whether we want exchange rate stability or reserve stability. If you want exchange rate stability then you have to make sure you have adequate reserves all the time so you can intervene in the foreign exchange market.

Bangladesh Bank is still very adamant about keeping the foreign exchange rate stable and not devaluing the taka too much. Our official policy is that it is a floating exchange rate system and we will allow market demand-supply to do the work. Bangladesh Bank should only intervene when exchange rates become extremely volatile like 85 today, 90 tomorrow and 80 the day after. There are certain positive factors which give us a sense of comfort and these are remittances, the reserve we already have and the amount of committed aid money in the pipeline. If we utilize them properly, then we will not face an external balance problem.

Can you shed some light on fiscal and monetary policies?
The other side of macroeconomics is fiscal and monetary policies. On the fiscal front, we have a very low debt to GDP ratio. All the analyses that the IMF does, all the projections that we do suggest that the risk of public debt distress for Bangladesh is low. Debt distress means you are not able to service your debt. That becomes a major worry if governments start defaulting then the whole financial market will collapse. We don’t have that problem yet. But recently, the revenue mobilization has been poor, fiscal deficit has gone up and government borrowing from domestic sources has also been increasing. This is a concern from a financial point of view because the government is taking money away from the savers and there isn’t much left for the private sector to borrow. This puts pressure on the interest rates which could become a problem. Revenue performance has been very poor and recurrent expenditures have boomed recently because of the wage hike, rising interest payment burden and the subsidy budget which has expanded where we have added new subsidies. Since the procurement of LNG, the power sector has been selling it below the cost price. Rental power plants, even if they don’t produce anything, they are paying a capacity charge which is 60% of their production capacity. Even if there is no output, they pay.

This is the reason the Power Development Board alone, the budget subsidy provision is about Tk 95 billion BPDB. Then you have an export subsidy, then we introduced the remittance subsidy, subsidy on diesel, fertilizer and add to that the social protection payments, transfer payments – the recurring budget have risen. That is why the deficit is rising now. Our deficit target has always been 5% of GDP. Typically what happens is you have shortfalls in both revenue relative to the budget and also shortfall in expenditure relative to the budget. But the shortfall in expenditures used to exceed the revenue shortfall. This is getting reversed now. The revenue shortfall will go up, and the expenditure shortfall will shrink, so that buffer is disappearing. There is no crisis, but there are some red flags we need to pay attention to both on the revenue side and the expenditure side. We should prioritize and try to identify areas of wasteful expenditures.

The monetary program that is announced every year is fairly prudent. Monetary growth is almost in the single-digit last fiscal year. There we don’t see any source of instability from monetary policy. The issues are in financial regulation, that’s where our main source of macro instability is.

Bottom line: external stability is comfortable, but the export decline is a worry. Reserves are okay but Bangladesh Bank’s intervention in the foreign exchange market is a worry. We need to let go of the exchange rate. Fiscal debt is okay, but revenue is slipping and expenditure is getting out of control. If the financial sector becomes unstable, people lose confidence in banks, so they start withdrawing their deposits, but we are not there yet. Financial stability means the ability to finance production and trade. Our external trade needs bank financing; the foreign supplier will look at your LC. They don’t accept any Bangladeshi LC anymore without a guarantee from HSBC, Standard Chartered or some foreign correspondent bank. To get a confirmation of your LC, you need to pay a fee and cost of trade financing rises. They look at NPL ratio, interest income, return on equity and when they see they are beyond industry standards, then they raise their fees. There is a deficit in confidence elephant in the room are the NPLs, and if we don’t address this now then the weakness in the banking sector will continue. Private credit growth is at a historic low at around 10% with most of it going to trade financing. That’s where the macro stability concerns are in banking.

What is your assessment of the outlook?
Global outlook has improved significantly in the last month. Two things have happened. One is the uncertainty relating to Brexit. We still don’t know whether it’ll be a No-Deal Brexit, or whether they will work out an alternative arrangement. Secondly, the trade war between the United States and China has not gone away, but there has been a ceasefire. The escalation of tariff war was the biggest worry and that has stopped. Even though you won’t see it in the numbers, the global outlook has improved, because global economic prospects and world economic outlook were published before these things happened. My expectation is that when you see the next round of international forecast, it will be upgraded not downgraded like it was the last time. That’s good news for us because we have a big presence in the E.U., U.S, Canada and several other advanced markets.

The outlook for us will depend a lot on what is happening in the domestic economy, particularly on the policy front. Based on the indicators related to growth like tax revenue, export, credit, import of machinery, I would be inclined to revise it downwards, because these are all in a very depressed state. There are some concerns on the macro stability outlook, it is slipping a little bit, but if they tighten and take a few actions like allowing the exchange rate to be more flexible, revenue mobilization if they try to improve particularly if they can reduce the evasion in VAT for example. If they are able to supply the Electronic Fiscal Device, then they can monitor the collection better so the revenue effort can start showing some results in the second half of the year. If they prioritize on the expenditure side, this booming public borrowing would be contained. This is the main source of worry on the macro outlook.

We need to address long term structural reforms, and the investment environment , the regulatory complexities and the unpredictability. These are the long term policy challenges.

What are the key external and domestic risks we need to be wary of? And how do we overcome them?
Downside risks are primarily domestic. High NPLs and stock market volatility pose financial stability and credit intermediation risks. Liquidity pressures may be exacerbated by additional government borrowing from domestic banks. A further deterioration in the financial health of state-owned banks could undermine the fiscal balance. Reform reversals such as easing of loan classification standards, ceilings on lending rates, reduced the autonomy of BB and the state-owned non-financial corporates, increases in untargeted subsidies and ad hoc changes in taxes and fees through nontransparent processes pose additional risks. Loss of competitiveness from the real exchange rate appreciation could further hinder Bangladesh’s limited integration in global supply chains. Higher inflation remains a risk in the context of growing domestic demand and rising public expenditures. Managing risks will require prudent macroeconomic management. The monetary policy announced in July 2019 seeks to contain inflation while achieving growth objectives. BB maintained the repo and reverse repo rates at 6.0 and 4.75 percent respectively. Broad money growth is targeted at 12.5 percent, with domestic credit growth of 15.9 percent. The medium-term fiscal stance is sustainable if taxation, expenditure and deficit financing policies are prudent. The FY20 budget maintains an overall deficit target of 5 percent of GDP. Domestic financing is projected to reach 2.7 percent of GDP with the balance from foreign sources. Given a low public debt-to-GDP ratio and access to concessional external finance, this does not increase the risk of debt distress.

What are the key short and medium-term policy challenges?
The short term policy challenge is first will they be able to let go of the exchange rate? Second, serious actions need to be taken in the banking sector regarding the NPLs. Efforts to direct the banking sector to provide loans at 9% rates don’t work. You cannot force people to do business that they find unprofitable. Then we said forget about 6%, you can charge whatever deposit rate you want, but if you want to lend to the productive sectors, you cannot exceed 9%. This was the latest policy until they decided to go back to directed interest rates of 6% on deposits and 9% on credit, except on credit cards. Implementing such a policy demands a lot on the administrative machinery. Then there is the problem of poor governance. If you have weak institutions, and public officials who are easily corruptible then these kind of directives are very difficult to implement. Some serious actions need to be taken on the legal front to enforce the law against the defaulters. There are other problems, for example, why do we have such a high NPL problem? One is our policy encourage default and defaulters are rewarded, but also there is a problem on the supply side as in we have too many banks.

Now because there is a limited market with lots of institutions competing, they take excessive risks. They are forced to do aggressive banking. The biggest challenge is structural reform. Are we going to allow consolidation in the banking sector? If banks were to merge, is there an adequate legal framework that will enable it? Are the Financial Institution Division and BB, capable of overseeing mergers and consolidation. We need to address long term structural reforms, and the investment environment, the regulatory complexities and the unpredictability. These are the long term policy challenges.
If you are looking at the economic growth as the headline number, we need to have sustained high growth to achieve our objective of SDGs, and upper-middle-income country status and all these aspirations that we have.

To achieve those we need investments and innovations, that’s the mechanics of it. For people to enter and exit business, the environment has to be friendly, which would mean structural reform. One, you have to ensure macro stability. Second, regulations to start a business, to operate a business or to close a business need to be simplified. Third, your infrastructure, particularly trade logistics like roads and ports need to function a lot better. Fourth is your human capital without whom you cannot face the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We need to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering Mathematics).

In a conversation with Marjiya Baktyer Ahmed, Dr. Zaidi Sattar expounds on the importance of trade openness, and the crucial need to properly equip our demographic dividend to reap the benefits of the ongoing industrial revolution.

Bangladesh economy has experienced growth acceleration for the past three decades. Was the change in its trade orientation during the 1990s that sparked the uptick in GDP growth and poverty reduction?
To answer and clarify the context we need to go back a little bit, before the 1990s. We had spent two decades in which we just followed economic policies, and particularly policies of trade and industrialization that were essentially legacies of the past. We didn’t really get into any new approach to industrial development or to a new approach to trade orientation. In the 1990s we made the course correction that was essential to bring dynamism into the economy. The change in policy direction was inspired by the new paradigm of growth coming out of East Asian countries. They were called the East Asian Tigers – Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore. – These countries showed the world that there was a new paradigm of growth — export-led growth which is dependent on trade openness and integration with the world economy. The new paradigm showed that open trade, exporting and exploiting the world market through exports allows faster growth and also reduces poverty much faster than the old paradigm of import-substituting industrialization where you tried to produce things at home, by raising barriers to import competition. At the end of the day, you do have some industries, but they are not competitive in the world market.

India, for instance, realized that, but it took India 50 years to reach that conclusion. Thankfully Bangladesh took about 20 years to realize the folly of an inward-looking closed economy strategy. In the 1990’s Bangladesh changed its trade orientation. Not just in trade orientation, but also in the domestic economy, Bangladesh went in for deregulation, privatization, trade openness, trade liberalization, import liberalization, exchange rate flexibility, and so on. All of these were part of the changing direction of economic strategy. That created a spurt in economic growth. In the previous 20 years, there were three 5-year plans which all targeted 5% GDP growth but never got anywhere close. For the first time, Bangladesh achieved 5% growth on average in the 90’s decade. The growth rate kept going up 1 % every decade. In fact, in the last 10 years, it has been going up 1 % every five years.

One can ask what is it that was different during this period. The one big difference is we followed the trade orientation of the East Asian economies relying on the export push and export promotion through which we achieved success, not necessarily in so many sectors, but in one sector which is the Readymade Garment sector. We did really well in that one sector. It’s a textbook case of where Bangladesh competitive advantage lies because in RMG the final process of assembly, of fabricating the apparel, is a labour-intensive process and Bangladesh took advantage of its cheap unskilled and low skilled labour force and we know the result.

I would argue strongly that it was this radical change in the direction of Bangladesh’s economic policy and of course moving towards a trade-oriented, outward-oriented policy that gave this accelerated growth. That was one critical factor. Of course, it had to come with all the other things like macroeconomic stability, along with other strategies for human development and poverty reduction. Alongside the high growth during these three decades, there was a very high rate of poverty reduction; as a result, we are at a stage now that our poverty level is down to about 21% of the population, with extreme poverty down to about 12-13%. This growth is not just growth in wealth of the economy, but it also has had a substantial impact on reducing poverty.

Alongside the high growth during these three decades, there was a very high rate of poverty reduction; as a result we are at a stage now that our poverty level is down to about 21% of the population, with extreme poverty down to about 12-13%. This growth is not just growth in wealth of the economy, but it also has had a substantial impact on reducing poverty.

We rely on our RMG, and it has contributed significantly to our GDP growth. But haven’t we reached a peak of RMG, and isn’t it time to diversify our products. Which is the next sector poised to become as vastly significant as our RMG sectors?
Just about everybody in town has been asking this question. In the first half of the 1990s when RMG exports became the predominant export of Bangladesh, it superseded the earlier export dominance of jute and jute goods. We used to have jute as our leading export. Everybody knows we need to diversify our export basket, but why are we unable to do it? Why is it that RMG exports continue to grow and grow faster than the non-RMG exports? Is it that we don’t have any other product to export? That is illogical. If we could succeed in RMG export, it is because we exploited our comparative advantage in low skilled, unskilled labor which is cheap in Bangladesh, though productivity is not that great. Is there no other labour intensive product in which we also have a comparative advantage? There are numerous items, and the fact of the matter is Bangladesh has been exporting large numbers of products alongside RMG garments. If you look at the export basket of the fiscal year 2018, we exported 1392 non-garment products. That’s a lot, but only 292 of them were higher than 1 million dollars. That is about 97% of the 6 billion dollars of non-garment exports that we did in 2018. The remaining 1100 export products, — I am talking HS code at 6-digit level. At HS-6 digit level is how you identify each traded product. The 1100 products I mentioned were really small, less than 1 million dollars. What is worse is that we have been exporting 1200, 1300 products since 2000 or even before. The number of export products is huge, and some of the products may be similar but they are not the same. RMG is not one product, it covers 215 products that we have exported.

People will say our infrastructure is bad, our transport is bad and ports are not functioning, there is a power shortage, customs is incompetent. All of that might be true, but RMG is being exported from within this environment, so why can’t other products do it? Everybody will tell you that they are perhaps not competitive. We have researched the competitiveness aspect and found that we are competitive in about 40% of those export products that are non-garment. We are competitive with 30 other countries, who also export to the same destinations. Competitiveness is measured by some standard measure of competitiveness that economists use. If we are competitive, then how come we are not increasing the exports of these non-garment products. Year after year you find RMG export growing faster than non-garment products. If RMG exports are growing faster than non-garments, what will happen to the export basket? It will get more and more concentrated on RMG. Right now we have 84% of our exports made up of RMG. It is not going to fall unless the non-garment exports really grow much faster. In the last 10 years, we have seen the concentration going up from 75% to 84%.
In my view and after much research in this area, I have come to the conclusion that it’s not the competitiveness issue, it’s not the infrastructure alone. Those are problems for both exports and import substitute industries we have here. The problem that prevents exporters from really trying to become proactive and expanding their exports in the non-garment sector is the policy environment. The policy environment that creates a negative incentive for exporting, a policy that overwhelmingly favours import-substituting production for sale in the domestic market. This happens because of high tariffs. You have high tariffs to protect the domestic industries and restrict import and import competition. The non-garment sector is not a 100% export-oriented sector whereas RMG is 100% export-oriented – they can’t sell in the domestic market even if they wanted to. They are meant for exports, but others like footwear, leather goods, plastic industry, agro-processing industry, ceramic industry – they export and also sell in the domestic market. When they sell in the domestic market, their profit margins are at least 2-3 times the profit margins from exports because in exports margins are very thin. If you get 5% or 7% it’s great, but in the domestic market you have to do 20% or 25%, otherwise, you won’t be able to pay the loans that you take out at 12-15% interest. The fact of the matter is, it is much more profitable to sell in the domestic market because you need much less effort to get high returns.

Bottom line: (a) Gaining a foothold in the export market is not easy (b) margins are very thin. And then in the domestic market, you have protective tariffs of 85% or 100% which artificially raises the price of the product in the domestic market. Bangladesh middle class is growing. It’s growing, and it’s buying, apart from food and shelter you are buying so many other consumer goods. All of these consumer goods are priced at 50-100% above international prices, that’s what our consumers are paying. It’s a question of incentives – why would they produce for exports if the domestic market is so profitable?
But what we are missing out is that our economy is growing because of our exports. Bangladesh economy cannot grow more than 8% without additional export success. No country in history has grown at 8%, 9% or 10%, without really integrating with the world market, because the world market is huge. Once you get a foothold there the world market opens up for you. The domestic market has a scale problem. We have a 300 billion dollar economy, but the world market is 80 trillion dollars. India is ten times Bangladesh’s economy, China is 30 times our economy and the world market is several hundred times bigger. So once you are able to get a foothold in that larger market, you can create jobs here. You don’t export just for foreign exchange, you export to create jobs. RMG has shown us that you create a huge number of jobs through exports and then it’s not just the direct jobs, there are indirect jobs like those who live on the profit and income and salaries that come from the RMG sector. The impact is greater than the 35 billion dollars’ worth of RMG exports that we do. It is a lesson on what export does. We talked about this growth acceleration which came from our trade orientation and export success. If that is not maintained, and we cannot continue to be an export success then this growth could slow down. That is historical evidence.

It is time for the World Trade Organization to go through constructive reforms. To improve its performance to make an inclusive multilateral system that benefits all of us, not necessarily equally. If there are some losers, then they will have to be compensated. There has to be a system of compensation to bring people who are not benefitting from the system and how to bring them to the fold.

Has the paradigm of export-led growth reached a dead end in light of the backlash against globalization seen across the developed world giving rise to economic nationalism, protectionism, and unilateralism?
Anybody who is looking at the current state of the global economy would say globalization has run its course, and you have these developed economies of Europe and North America that are suddenly realizing that open trade meant they are not necessarily going to benefit or everybody in their country is not benefitting. There are pockets in every developed country with people who lost out because the competition from low-cost countries like China, India and even Bangladesh is too severe, and we lost jobs. That’s a political backlash, and there has been a political backlash that gave rise to what we call economic nationalism. They want to limit their market and it is the same thing as protectionism, you want to protect your market; another word for it is unilateralism instead of multilateralism. Globalization is about multilateralism, and we see this tendency to backtrack from globalization by those same countries who are the protagonists, who are the first promoters of globalization. Thankfully, Bangladesh is one country that is a significant beneficiary of globalization and multilateralism so we should, if anything, for the future stand by this particular paradigm of trade openness, of globalization and harness the opportunities that are created by this particular paradigm of export-led growth. I would qualify the statement by saying it’s not just export-led growth but trade-led growth. Because export also involves import. Readymade garment sector did not grow up on just exporting and making things from domestic resources, it was a classic case of integrating with the global value chain. We started by importing fabrics, yarn and accessories and making them into apparels. Today we have much better backward linkage. We started by importing and that is essential for export success (China, for instance, is the number one exporter of the world but it is also the number two importer of the world). The world economic order is such that there is a lot of cross-border integration in production; it doesn’t mean you produce everything from in-house; you import things, you assemble and you export and if you have a seamless trade regime that is the best for producers and it is also good for consumers because that way you produce things cheaply, and you make products available to consumers at cheaper prices. So, the point here is that I for one, would like to believe that this is a sort of temporary phenomena, the backlash against globalization. The other thing is multilateralism, which is symbolized by the World Trade Organization, which sets the rules of trade, has come under criticism due partly to its ineffectiveness in many areas. But it does not mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater. What that system needs is reform. It is time for the World Trade Organization to go through constructive reforms. To improve its performance to make an inclusive multilateral system that benefits all of us, not necessarily equally. If there are some losers, then they will have to be compensated. There has to be a system of compensation to bring people who are not benefitting from the system and how to bring them to the fold. So I would not write an obituary on the multilateral system as yet, but as far as Bangladesh is concerned, we should support and uphold the system so it lasts longer, with reforms that are necessary.

If you look at the export basket of fiscal year 2018, we exported 1392 non-garment products. That’s a lot, but only 292 of them were higher than 1 million dollars. That is about 97% of the 6 billion dollars of non garment exports that we did in 2018.

Bangladesh’s working-age population (15-64) has risen from 47% in 1974 to 66% in 2018 symbolizing the demographic dividend. What should Bangladesh do to convert this demographic dividend into a high growth opportunity?
Bangladesh is a young country, in terms of its population. Half the population is under 30 years of age. The working population, which is from the age group of 15-64 has been growing over the past several years. More importantly, the youth population which is from the ages 15-29 has been growing also. So the working-age population, as well as the youth population, has been a bonanza for Bangladesh and any country that has a growing working population is likely to be able to grow faster. Because in order to grow faster, you need a labour force that is growing, unlike Japan or some other developed country which has a larger ageing population and the labour force is contracting. With labour force contracting, I agree that there is some productivity increase that they always get because of technological advancement, but that productivity is very limited. Unless labour force grows fast enough you can’t get the benefit of growth acceleration. Japan has suffered from zero growth for two decades at a stretch. Bangladesh is a young country in that respect. Bangladesh’s working-age population as well as the youth population is rising. That is what we call and what has been described as the demographic dividend. But it is not enough, you have to make sure that they get to work and also that they are productive.

So there are these challenges to create jobs, to make them more skilled, more productive, and in step with the technological revolution which we now call the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In order to do all of that, we have to make sure that jobs are being created. And here is the link between the trade orientation we talked about, the strategy for getting growth acceleration. If you have this kind of open trade orientation, greater integration with the world economy, then you’ve integrated with the larger market in the world and if your industrialization is linked with that wider market, then you are going to be able to create the jobs that you need. The domestic market is limited in scale, no matter how fast the economy grows. If you are relying entirely on the domestic market, the historical record is, you cannot grow fast enough. In order to create the jobs, for exploiting the demographic dividend, you need to grow much faster, you need to integrate with the vast global marketplace so that it creates more jobs. In order to convert the demographic dividend into a growth opportunity, you have to make sure you have got jobs for the young labour force; if you don’t have jobs for them then the demographic dividend becomes a demographic burden. Creating job opportunities depends on the growth strategy you adopt. And I would strongly argue that our growth strategy should be outward-oriented rather than inward-oriented. Because if you fail to do that then you cannot exploit the demographic dividend. The demographic dividend doesn’t last very long. The increasing share of the working-age population, the increasing share of the youth population, that increase would start falling after a certain number of years. If we delay in exploiting this growing share of working-age population now, by giving them jobs and skills, then we will end up with a larger population which is not skilled and don’t have a job.

In order to create the jobs, for exploiting the demographic dividend, you need to grow much faster, you need to integrate with the vast global marketplace so that it creates more jobs. In order to convert the demographic dividend into growth opportunity, you have to make sure you have got jobs for the young labor force; if you don’t have jobs for them then the demographic dividend becomes a demographic burden.

What skills do you think are the most relevant right now?
Two things; we have to continue to industrialize; to industrialize faster, you got to look outwards, you have got to link up with the world economy. Then we have this whole connectivity issue coming from ICT, the technological transformation that is taking place. For this, the youth population is much better equipped than the older generation. So we have to make sure that we have the right scope and opening for greater exploitation and utilization of ICT opportunities that are being created. The younger generation has had greater access to education than the older counterparts, but there is a question of the quality of that education. The quality is not that great, everybody would agree, we still have created a pool of savvy internet-based, computer-based professionals that can still give us an extra push to improve our livelihoods and the state of our economy. So we have to be mindful to not lose the opportunity. Right now is the time when we have to create those opportunities and make the best use of our younger generation in handling the ICT revolution that is ongoing.

Bangladesh has shown that it can do things, and Bangladesh population has shown that we can no longer be left out and considered to be a basket case anymore, This is not the time to be complacent, we have challenges, particularly the challenges coming out of Bangladesh’s impending graduation out of LDC status. We become a developing country in 2024 by UN classification. We are already a lower-middle-income country by the World Bank classification, so we are moving towards Upper Middle Income Country (UMIC) status but that will take some more time. Once we graduate out of LDC status, we have more challenges coming our way, we will have to observe various standards and rules of international trade and at the moment we are not very up to date on the rules. Since we said we are a significant beneficiary of the multilateral system, we have got to play by the rules a bit better than we did in the past.

The industry leader in ceramics tiles, XIC works dedicatedly to improve the nation’s productivity

X Index Companies is a conglomerate with a notable presence in Bangladesh. With a heritage spanning over four decades, XIC was established as a dynamic and progressive entity in the rapidly growing economy of Bangladesh in 1977. Combining deep ethical values with proven business performance, the company has a legacy of social commitment that has earned the trust and respect of its customers. Five core values – integrity, ethics, excellence, unity and responsibility – woven into the fabric of X Index and its brands are fundamental to its success. It stands for consistent business excellence and profitable growth, with a commitment to the communities it serves and adheres to high standards of corporate governance. The man behind the success of XIC is none other than the Managing Director himself. Dynamism and vision are two qualities of Mahin Mazher who loves to lead from the front. Through the passage of time, in just two decades he shaped X Index Companies as a large conglomerate with diverse interests. As an accomplished business strategist, he puts the intellectual thought process above everything else. Mahin Mazher is driven by very strong ethical and moral values, inherited from generations of highly educated family legacy, which reflects in his everyday decision-making. After graduating from the U.S., he had worked for Bell South Corporation and Merrill Lynch. He is the kind of businessman who doesn’t step away from a challenge, rather he relishes it, due to his continuous endeavour for making strides in business operation that adds value to the national economy.

The Building Blocks
Under the valuable guidance of the Chairman, Arch. Mazherul Quader, the flagship entity which launched X Index Companies – the reigning Index Architects Ltd – commenced operations from 1977. The architecture scene in the country has been thriving for three decades, spearheaded largely by the experimentation of Bangladeshi architects with form, material, aesthetics and most importantly how architecture relates to history, society and the land. The flagship entity of the group is involved in architectural design, physical planning, consultancy and engineering. The firm plays a pivotal role in commercial and residential property projects undertaken by the group. Its unique value propositions are dynamic management, professionalism, innovation and creativity. Index Architects Ltd provides consultation and other services to clients overseas, mostly within the African continent. It has successfully completed more than 400 projects in Bangladesh and abroad.

Leader in Ceramics Tiles
The ceramics industry is a growing manufacturing sector in Bangladesh. The industry started during the late 1950s when the first ceramics industrial plants were established. With the exemplary leadership of Mahin Mazher, Index seized the opportunity and expanded its wings to the ceramic tiles and Ceramics Group was incorporated in 2008 with a vision to produce world-class Italian Ceramics Tiles. It has since become one of the largest porcelain and ceramic tiles manufacturing facility in a single location, not only in Bangladesh but also in south-east Asia. The state of the art manufacturing plant is located in Sreepur, Gazipur. To fulfil the growing demand for its popular line of products, the plant is equipped with five operational production lines. Modern machinery and world-class technical expertise is utilized in delivering quality wall and floor tiles to the ever-growing list of clientele all over the country. Under the umbrella of ‘X Ceramics Group’ (XCG), four premium tile brands – X Monica, Monalisa, Alexander, Venus – in terms of both design and quality are manufactured in state of the art plants. The company also has a well-equipped R&D team who are relentlessly working towards coming up with innovative products. Company’s latest innovation, a patented technology called ‘Stone Shield’ is hoped to set a new standard in the industry.

Assisting the Agro-Industry
Agriculture dominates both the landscape and the economy of Bangladesh. The country has extensively invested in in agro-processing and livestock development, and through the visionary direction of Mahin Mazher, X Index Companies has joined the journey in taking the sector to the next level. Index Agro Industries Limited (IAIL) began operations in the year 2000. Index Poultry (Pvt.) Ltd. was incorporated in 2006, through which IAIL produces poultry, fish-feed, and Day-Old Chicks (broiler & layer). Index Fisheries Ltd. is a pioneering company working with aquaculture and fisheries. Most recently, IAIL has decided to move ahead with Initial Public Offerings. Such integration provided a powerful thrust to the breeder and hatchery operations. The company markets and packages its feed products under the brand name X Feed and X Goldring.

Powering Bangladesh
Bangladesh is rapidly moving into the middle income category among the prosperous Asian countries. Energy is arguably the most important parameter of an industrial economy that play no less important role in the everyday life of common people. To this effect, Mahin Mazher set his ambitions for X Index Energy Ltd in setting up 3 HFO power plants. These two initial steps are sure to become stepping stones for future growth in days to come when the companies will proudly produce power that will light up the lives of millions who deserve to be a part of happy and prosperous Bangladesh of tomorrow.

A Helping Hand in Hospitality
Bangladesh has tapped into the potential exhibited by the tourism hospitality industry. Understanding the growth prospects of the industry, the dynamic Managing Director incorporated Index Holdings Limited in March 2009. It is involved in tendering, trading, hospitality and the power sector. The company’s main objective is investments in different concerns of the group, including Hotel X. Owning and operating a number of hotels and resorts in ideal and exquisite locations across Bangladesh from Cox’s Bazar to Rajshahi, Sylhet and all the way to Kuakata sea-beach.

Strengthening the Community
Addressing the needs of disadvantaged people and helping them to create a better future, Mahin Mazher spearheaded the establishment of the Kamrunnesa Khatun Foundation (KKF) in 2011. An independent nonprofit charity, KKF is committed to bringing about better lives for the disadvantaged people in Bangladesh and works with a vision to bring qualitative changes in the lives of the underprivileged, especially through supporting the access to quality education, nutritious food, safe water, shelter and sanitation. KKF works to bridge the gaps and empowers the educated unemployed youth, women and marginalized farmers to participate in income-generating activities and establish them as independent, socially active, self-employed and successful entrepreneurs. Some of the foundation’s notable contributions include Shufola Urbanic which is an endeavour to promote safe food in urban living. KKF helps the marginalized farmers to grow the produce in their own/leased land through largely organic processes. It also plays a part in ensuring market linkages and promoting fair trade helping the farmers to make a living income.

Khamarir Hashi is a project which thrives to enhance the lives of farmers. This program focuses on able but unsuccessful farmers so that they can turn their lives around and emerge as successful entrepreneurs. It is working in 18 districts of Bangladesh. KKF provides both financial and technical help to the beneficiaries.

As a non-profit development organization, KKF works with underprivileged children from all over Bangladesh. KKF has a shelter house called Joy Shokol Shishur for the street and abandoned children that are located in Uttara, Dhaka, accommodating around 100 children ranging from 3 years to 15 years of age. This house offers its children both formal and non-formal education, proper nutrition, safe water and sanitation, medical and entertainment facilities.

Through Targeting the Ultra Poor, KKF identifies the needs of the households that are too poor to access traditional development interventions. This is a tailor-made program based on the needs and capacity of individual households. This program partially follows the “BRAC Graduation” model and is for reducing poverty in all its forms which will fulfil SDG1.

Other Endeavors
Apart from expertly guiding the notable operations of X Index Companies, Mahin Mazher also oversees X Angel Limited (XAL), a venture capital entity incorporated in 2017. The three main activities of XAL include: Private Equity Fund, a Venture Capital Fund, Impact Fund established in 2016, X Shops Limited has been entirely dedicated to the import, distribution, and sales of Tyre, Wheel, and Battery in Bangladesh. Currently, the company is in the process of securing exclusive agency lines of reputed international manufacturers for said items.
Mahin Mazher is currently supporting the incubation of about half- a- dozen technology-based start-up ventures, through recently developed software company named “VentureX.”

Most of us often grab the first pair of clothes in our closets, without thinking too much on how it impacts our overall impression. However, for business professionals, dressing impeccably can be the difference between projecting charisma and failing to make an impact. Looking good on the outside as well as possessing an excellent business, social and communication skills will not only attract people but opportunities to them like moths to a flame. Perfect your professional swagger with Dapper’s Bespoke offerings – ideal for an important business function or even a sit-down meal complete with proper cutlery and tableware within the world’s most prestigious hotels. Undoubtedly bespoke is a luxurious option, but it will enhance your presence in important events and garner gentlemanly respect throughout your day.  

Follow these five tips to master the bespoke look: 

KNOW YOUR BODY TYPE
For the slender figures, avoid a suit that is too fitted; a bit more flow in the material adds more prominence to the physique. Shorter counterparts should opt for slim trousers with a slight break to give the impression of height. If you find yourself on the muscular end of the physical spectrum, make sure to avoid anything with padded shoulders.

CHOICE OF FABRIC
Bangladesh is a subtropical country, for the better part of the year, we battle against the blazing heat of the sun. When choosing a material that compliments the humidity of our country, opt for breathable fabrics like cotton, linen or silk-blends and lightweight to midweight worsted wool to keep you cool under the sun. 

WHEN IN DOUBT, GO SIMPLE
If this is your first time going bespoke, avoid experimenting and stick to classic and versatile colors like navy blue, charcoal or mid-grey. This will allow you to look crisp and sharp while enhancing your experience with bespoke suits that you can use to style your professional future.

KEEP IT TRIM
Aim for a slim, flattering fit wherever possible, but ensure that the suit isn’t restrictive in any way. You should focus on clean lines that flatter your body shape and allow you a free range of motion. After all, if you’re not comfortable then you won’t appear confident, which is arguably the key to pulling off any clothing.

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
When going custom, you’ll get to choose from a range of details, which can really elevate your suit to the next level. From the choice of cloth through such details as the number and position of pockets and shape of the lapels, you have the freedom to design the suit or garment to meet your exact needs.

Established in 2012, edotco Group is the first regional integrated telecommunications infrastructure services company in Asia, providing end-to-end solutions in the tower services sector from tower leasing, co-locations, build-to-suit, energy, transmission and operations and maintenance (O&M). edotco Group operates and manages a regional portfolio of over 29,900 towers across core markets of Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan with 19,700 towers directly operated by edotco and a further 10,200 towers Managed through a range of service providers.

edotco believes that it has a purpose beyond being a telecommunications provider. They seek to also improve the lives of communities living close to their towers. They work hand-in-hand with a wide range of stakeholders as partners in a number of initiatives. The considerable impact from their T2C initiatives is a testament to their commitment to delivering excellence even in areas outside their business priorities. Whether it is to power homes, medical facilities, schools or places of worship, edecto strives to improve the quality of lives for those living nearby their towers.
While access to electricity for the larger population in Bangladesh and Myanmar have been rising with electrification rates at 88% and 70% respectively in 2017, there are still pockets of communities that are not connected to the national grid. These segments struggle to meet basic needs and comfort as reliable and affordable access to electricity continues to be a challenge. Against this backdrop, edotco’s T2C programme was launched in 2016 as one of its key initiatives to address the unmet needs of people living nearby its towers. Today, there are a total of 32 sites across Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Malaysia that are bringing a positive impact in communities.

Since its inception, this initiative has enhanced the lives at home for school children and their families by generating electricity to power 1,020 houses in over 26 locations in Bangladesh. To improve the living conditions of these communities, edotco has also extended its initiative by installing solar-powered water pumps to ensure over 30 families in villages located in Jadur Haat and Nilphamari have access to clean and safe drinking water. The initiative also powers up one hospital, 30 mosques and 28 schools in Bangladesh.

Addressing a different need in Myanmar, the T2C initiative tends to the limited healthcare access in remote communities by powering up refrigeration systems to maintain the cold chain to store Hepatitis B, BCG, measles, and oral polio vaccination for over 2,000 families in rural hard to reach areas. Similarly, in Malaysia, the T2C project provides a reliable source of energy to power the refrigeration system and bi-monthly operation of an Orang Asli community clinic in the remote areas of Cameron Highlands.

Edecto places great emphasis on making a positive impact in the communities in which they operate in addition to its community enrichment projects, edotco also focuses on sustainability – a core principle that guides its overall business operations by ensuring its modern-day telecommunications infrastructure solutions are increasingly environmentally friendly. At edotco, they believe that you are only as good as what you give back to society. They endeavor to lead by example and ensure their operations are handled responsibly and sustainably.

Marjiya Baktyer Ahmed talks to Mohammed Ibrahim on upholding industry best practices and how Super Star Group is setting the benchmark for standard. 

What was the vision with which you embarked on establishing SSG? How has that vision shaped the company and its operations over the years?
SSG (Super Star Group) started its journey in 1994. Although its inception came up to fulfill the then family needs but my vision was to establish that homegrown business to be one of the esteemed corporate organization which will be able to contribute both in the national and global arena.
As a continuity we are now an ISO Certified Company and have successfully established nine projects with well-equipped R&D facilities including the iconic revolutionary trendsetter modern hi-tech SSG Electrical Accessories factory with 70,000Sqft working area, the largest of its kind in Bangladesh, which was established considering the gap to transform the then 100% import based local market, unavailability of infrastructure, skilled people in this sector and lack of quality source and product in Bangladesh. This was later recognized and awarded the 1st Prize by the honorable President, Govt. of Bangladesh. Our SSG Industrial Park, an ongoing dream project, consisting of five factories including our fan factory which received the LEED PLATINUM certification, first of its kind in Bangladesh, by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Moreover, we have built the country’s largest trade (retail) sales and distribution network in the lighting & electrical accessories industry with more than 100,000 outlets. And to add to that we have created job opportunities for over 4500 employees so now from a small family we are a family of more than 4500 families.

Since the start, SSG has burgeoned into one of the biggest brands of the country. What do you believe are the aspects of SSG that helped it to grow so prominently?
Since its inception, SSG believes in upholding the highest standards for the wide range of products and services it provides through its B2C, B2B & B2G sales channel, and there is no distinction between “big and small” clients or customers when it comes to the quality of service offered. Our commitment to professionalism and best practice is embraced by every member employee regardless of their position. I believe these are the prime aspects of SSG that helped it to grow so prominently.

What is your leadership style? How has that helped to overcome the challenges you faced over the years?
My leadership style is aggression with effective teamwork along with the implementation of my visionary ideas and plans. And that has helped me overcome the challenges I faced over the years.

Who are the people that shaped the person you are now?
In this regard, I feel it’s been my family and the team I work with.

As a leader, what are the characteristics that you look for in a potential employee?
I want to see the BRIGHT attitude and values in a potential employee. And by that, I mean bold, responsive, innovative, think globally, be humane, tech-savvy, bright and a hard worker

A company like SSG needs a large skilled employee base, are you satisfied with the skill level of our current workforce? How can we increase the skill level of our current and future workforce?
At present, SSG has more than 4500 employees. I am satisfied with the skill level of my present team as they are part of my family and we follow a very professional style when it comes to onboarding members in our team. But I feel there is always room for improvement and to ensure that we maintain the best practice, we invest moderately in employee training and have plans to enhance it more in the future.

How crucial is it for Super Star Group to continually innovate to keep up with the technological changes? Can you please share some information about the R&D of SSG?
SSG’s core business products are based on technology. And in this present generation, technological changes are a very common phenomenon. So, to keep up with that we always believe and welcome innovation through continuous up-gradation of our existing products and in-fact that is also been incorporated in our organizational values.
We put a lot of emphasis on our R&D. We have the largest R&D facility in Bangladesh for the Lighting and the Electrical Accessories industry. We maintain the highest necessary international standards in our lab. Some of the labs are also undergoing an accreditation process.

What is your vision of SSG for the future?
As a Bangladeshi company, I want SSG to be an example of a sustainable organization, an asset for the future generation of our country, an organization that not only is successful locally but also has business operations across borders. This is my vision in the near future.

Scaling the Summit

Summit Communications Ltd continues to reimagine the telecommunications industry of Bangladesh while empowering the country along the way. 

You have studied in Singapore, the U.S. and in the U.K. If you wanted you could have pursued a career anywhere in the world. How did the journey into Summit begin?
Summit Group has been around for over 33 years, and I am 31 years old. Being a family run business, my life was always centered on the company. We cousins grew up watching our fathers submitting tenders, opening LCs, and this became our playtime activities.

Our family grew up very close to each other and Summit has been the thread that tethers us together. We have grown up into our own individual and independent selves, but at our core we carry Summit and this knowledge allows us to resolve and adapt to issues as they arise. It allows us to always set aside a singular need and work collectively to find a solution. We have always grown up so closely, not as cousins, but as siblings. It was really lovely that we still get to hold that connection and continuously adapt to each other. My uncle, the Chairman of Summit always tells us, “You can create things together, like five fingers make a fist”. That is something which is close to our hearts, we always realize the importance of being together, and thus multiplying the togetherness to hard work. In our core, there is always Summit.

I studied genetic engineering, and I wanted to become a geneticist and instead, I moved back to Dhaka after completing my undergraduate studies, the enormous growth potential and opportunities in Bangladesh was a definite driving force. I joined Summit as an officer which gave me a broad overview of how the different aspects of the company run.

When Summit Communications began its journey in 2010, I devoted all my time to learn that business. In studying genetics, I learned that your DNA which you cannot see with the naked eye constitutes you and similarly with the internet, you cannot see the fiber optic transmission but it connects the world. This intrigued me!

Your interests lie in nano and hi-tech industries, and you have been actively working towards the vision of implementing Bangladesh’s first hi-tech park. What sort of features, amenities, and facilities can we look forward to?
Dhaka is very crowded now, there are a lot of startups coming up, however with high rental rates and absence of incentives they are unable to truly flourish. The hi-tech park model has worked really well in neighboring emerging countries where townships coupled with incentives were developed; it allowed them to break the barriers of urbanism and thus create a very strong skilled human resource pool as well. The hi-tech park is in Gazipur 40 km away from Dhaka. Eventually, this will introduce the concept of suburban work-life relationships. The government’s immense support towards the high tech industry, and promoting ICT has allowed us to envision the hi-tech park. There is a railway station already in place and commuter trains will soon be introduced along with the fact that the incentives are great and the surety of best quality electricity and fiber optic connectively, we remain excited.

Currently, almost 40% of the space has already been allocated. There is a biotech company being set up, the first of its kind in Bangladesh, which will truly change the landscape of ICT and high tech infrastructure. Along with that mobile assembly is going on, there is also manufacturing of e-cheque books, ATM machines, fiber optics to name a few. We also look forward to opening a training center to harness the flourishing young population in our country and provide them with new opportunities. There’s a tier four data center as well and we are considering building a disaster recovery center for Summit Communications there. That’s the high tech park.

Tentatively when are you expecting to complete the hotels and other auxiliary service buildings of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport? Also, can you elaborate on the new venture Summit Tower?
Recently I have gotten involved with our hotel project, which is a multi-tenanted, and multiuse complex. It has retail space, banquet hall, office space and a five star and four-star hotels. The retail space is already complete and we have started allocating space, but the hotels definitely by the end of 2020. It will be an Intercontinental and a Crowne Plaza connected with a retail space of one million square feet, movie theatre and lots of children entertainment. We are excited to develop this landscape to accommodate and offer such facilities to the changing lifestyles of Bangladeshis as their purchasing powers increase and lifestyle choices evolve. It’s also the first airport hotel which will also enhance ease of conducting business in Bangladesh.

Summit Towers is more of an obvious kind of entry for Summit communications. We have the NTTN license, the IIG & ICX license, and the ITC. It was a natural progression for us to kind of complete the value chain. With the data boom that is expected in the country, we really need these towers to be able to accommodate that data growth, partly because most of the towers are connected now by a microwave, and a microwave cannot handle the upcoming capacity. You have to connect them through fiber. Fiber has limitless capacity; it just depends on the end to end devices. They eventually have to connect with fiber. It will change the landscape of the way the tower businesses operate. Currently each telco kind of holds its own towers, so they are not utilized most efficiently. When a third party takes them on, you can increase the tenancy ratio and one tower can be utilized by many. It makes it more efficient because you are sharing the cost of power and rental as well.

To tell you a little bit more about Summit Communications, we maintain and operate about 44,000 km of fiber optic. It is the largest in the country and currently, we are also providing 33% of the country’s internet bandwidth. Also with ITC, which is International Terrestrial Cable, basically most of the internet comes through the submarine cable – they have to go through routine maintenance, the ITC also provides redundancy to the submarine cable along with secure international private circuits. So that is where we come in, last time when there was submarine cable maintenance, there was zero disruption.

Something that we have recently done, that is very interesting as well as connecting the Bangabandhu Satellite to Earth station with our fiber. What happens with that is, there are about 35 TV stations that we have connected with fiber to the earth station. This way all the TV stations now use the Bangabandhu satellite. Previously they were using the satellites of other countries. Now you are dependent on your own country.

What kind of strategy is SCL devising to expand their outreach to rural communities? What sort of policy support could the industry benefit from to encourage them further?
Nowadays the internet is not a luxury anymore, rather it has become a necessity. I tell everyone that I sit here and I do my grocery shopping, I get my flowers delivered, really internet is not a luxury. How the country is coming forward with encouraging the rural communities, and kind of lifting them up, I truly and really believe that the internet will play and is playing the biggest role. Because our infrastructure is still not very good, in the sense that road infrastructure, or transport wise. So this is it, this is your key to being the overcome the physical barriers. I feel like my sister who is in Singapore, Ayesha, she is the CEO of Summit Power International; I feel closest to her, even though she is in Singapore, because of the internet.

Internet connectivity – this is our key to growing. We have really taken it on and the government has given us immense support. We have now done two projects with the government; InfoSarkar 2 was to connect 3650 government offices in 110 Upazila and 14 districts. We completed that project a month in advance. Then we did InfoSarkar 3 where we connected about 1227 unions in 485 Upazilas in 64 districts. The government themselves has given about $260million. We have invested about $21 million.

Also, we are the only company that has connected the Chittagong hill tracts. A lot of people, do not want to do it because of the terrain and such. Empowering Bangladesh is our goal, connecting the country to the world is our aim. A location shouldn’t be deprived because of the terrain. So we really took the challenge on.

It was an uphill battle. We are so lucky to have go-getters in our team. Their enthusiasm and unbound energy to tolerate bad weather and even then our team worked through the pouring rain and flood. The core is strong that is why we are able to do what we do.

Tell us about your charity with Moyeen Foundation?
Moyeen Foundation is actually founded by my parents in law – Asif and Sadia Moyeen I have been married for over 8 years and they founded this foundation a couple of years ago. Through that foundation, they have done some extraordinary things and I am so happy to be able to help and extend myself in that foundation. They provided the first online school with Jaago in Sylhet, which was started with 40 kids and now it has 200 kids in just one year. Now we are working on expanding the building and space. It’s in Hobiganj. Then there is Operation Cleft, where we work with a Rotary Club of Melbourne and perform cleft lip surgeries for free. To date, about 1500 surgeries have been performed. The third and most exciting of them, which I personally devote a lot of my time to is the Jaipur Foot Camp. We have done this since 2015 and to date, we have fitted 2000 limbs. We do this in collaboration with the Bangladesh Orthopedic Society and NITOR. The Jaipur foot initiative is the ones who came up with the technology of making these low-cost limbs – it costs about 10000tk per limb. We do it for a month. This time our hope is to fit 750 limbs. It is really exciting that I can collaborate with my in-laws and that we do this work together. They are both extremely kind and generous to lend their hands. They also support Thrive, which is another NGO, they provide healthy lunch to 1800 of kids every day.

How has Summit Communication become the success story it is today?
There are a couple of reasons. Normally, for a digital infrastructure company, you invest upfront, then you secure your clients. We went the other direction, we secured our clients and then we; invested. That is unheard of. How do you sell a product that does not exist? We did it. We took in orders first, then we built/leased it. That was number one. We are very proud to provide all our customers with the highest service levels through our 24/7 365 days NOC.
Number two, we were profitable since year 2 operations. That is unthinkable in telcos. Telcos normally go through a slump first, you call it hockey stick growth. But this was different, we are really proud and channel that excitement to get bigger and better every day.

What is the one advice you have for working women to achieve work-life balance?
I started working when I was unmarried, then I got married, now I am a mother. I felt like each step in my life kind of prepared me for the next. A part of it is definitely seeing my father and my uncle. And an even bigger part of this is seeing my chachi and my mother.

Our fathers worked hard for us and that is ingrained within all of us. When we were kids, I remember my father traveling to various places for business, but it was always about the quality of time spent with us rather than quantity. He says, “ I am constantly available without presence.” Our mothers are our safe space, who have literally dedicated their lives to us. We all grew up in cantonment, one would drop us in the morning, and another would pick us up from school. You see you have to have that tag team – that proxy parent. Chachi is also my mom, who is also our chairman’s wife. I have seen the 4 of them as a team, and one of them is always there for us even now and that’s the exact same strategy we replicate. Now my son has my sisters and their children as proxy mothers and siblings! Also, I am very very lucky to have an incredible partner, we share every responsibility equally! Hence, the balance is always there.

My profession is demanding, so devising a balance is key. Being able to adapt to a situation quickly and setting ground rules will bring you a step closer to achieving balance.
My colleagues deserve to see the best version of me. I have an open-door policy, and my number is given to them. So at any point, if they want to discuss, or they need some encouragement I am always there. Our ratio of male is to women is 9:1, to 9 male there is one female. Almost all the teams have women in it.

Another thing I do is to make sure my employees have coffee with me. We will go on rotation, two people from two different teams will come and we’ll have a chat. It does not have to be work-related. We catch up over coffee. Sometimes we will talk about life, sometimes about good things, sometimes about tough things. It’s for me to know them really well. We also have a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment which we implement stringently.

The position I occupy demands that I be assertive with a gentle guiding hand. My uncle and father do the same to us and I have learned from them. If you are always in your comfort zone you won’t excel. You have to be out of the zone to discover happiness. It is a bit of an ironic statement, I know. I also set aside time at night where I watch tv shows and read. My son goes to bed at 9.30, then my husband and I hang out. We talk, discuss our day, the coming week, upcoming travels, and that is so important, to have that catch-up period.

I also love to read scientific journals, it’s reminiscent of my earlier days. I like to read about rare genetic disorders and the progression towards its cure around the world. The bottom line is you have to want to learn. Knowledge is power. My uncle repeatedly reminds us to study, even if it is something random. My love of reading scientific journals does not have any implication in the corporate world however it teaches me to understand something new, think of it, reengineer it in my head, ask questions. It makes you inquisitive. You have to yearn to learn, find happiness and love what you do and to adapt to change.

My uncle always tells us not to follow fools or arrogant people. There’s nothing to learn from an arrogant person. Learn to love everyone. Be inclusive, including society and everyone. Those are the foundations of Summit. What we do and how we are doing things and how we are planning to grow, is all tied to the empowerment of Bangladesh and the world. I am a part of Summit as much as Summit is a part of me.

After two decades of spearheading innovation and devising successful strategies, Mahin Bin Mazher divulges how he envisions carrying X Index Companies forward. 

You have been spearheading X Index as the managing director for 20 years now. Can you talk us through the evolution of the company from its inception and to the current state in our digitized world?
In 1977 under the leadership of our Chairman, Architect Mazherul Quader, the journey began with the inception of Index Architects Ltd. There are approximately 400+ projects under its name to date. We set up operations of Index Argo Industries Ltd. in 2000, where we produce poultry, fish-feed and day-old chicks. Starting its journey as a trend setter, XCG is one of the largest porcelain and ceramics tiles manufacturing companies in Bangladesh. We incorporated Index Holdings Ltd. in 2009 which deals in trading and the hospitality sector. The company’s main objective is investments in different concerns of the group, including Hotel X. Currently X Index Energy Ltd. is setting up 3 HFO based power plants. Driven by ideology, we focus on technology and technical businesses which are sustainable for long term. We are also an active advocate of green technology, support zero-emission and also promote wastage reduction through recycling.

The five core values – integrity, ethics, excellence, unity and responsibility are cited as the reasons for the success of X Index. Apart from the core values, what other factors have contributed to make X Index the industry leader it is?
Apart from the core values, one important factor must be mentioned is the ‘trustworthiness’. Our companies have a solid reputation among the business community. Also, the invaluable contribution of our employees from all sectors play a crucial role. Without their hard work and dedication, the company wouldn’t have flourished the way it has over the last four decades.

As the managing director, do you have a strategy to make sure all the companies under X Index are running smoothly and efficiently? Can you talk us through your process?
One of the difficulties the organization faces is a decent layer of mid-level administration to make life simpler. Our top administration always fill in as coaches to increase the expertise of skills. The organization likewise acquired specialists from various countries. It requires some investment and exertion to streamline forms, oversee individuals, and ensure the details are accounted for. Learning doesn’t occur in detachment. It is best served when empowering the free progression of thoughts. I generally urge my senior administration to share their thoughts and perspectives to push ahead.

Apart from the core values, one important factor must be mentioned is the ‘trustworthiness’. Our companies have a solid reputation among the business community. Also, the invaluable contribution of our employees from all sectors play a crucial role. Without their hard work and dedication, the company wouldn’t have flourished the way it has over the last four decades.

Can you talk us through the power projects, how will they contribute to the power sector of the country and how is X Index looking to empower the community?
In Bangladesh, the per capita availability of power is comparatively low when contrasted with our neighboring nations and the world standard. Owing to this low availability, we have observed a massive gap in demand. In this manner we decided to contribute years’ worth of our experience into the power sector to alleviate the situation. We are executing these capital-intensive tasks right now in collaboration with the government. Highly skilled professionals are employed, along with electrical and mechanical engineers. This leads to industrialization and will automatically empower the community.

What has been some of your most memorable accomplishment?
We have been recognized with the Business Asia Award under the category of ‘Best Ceramics Industry’ in 2012. Adding another feather to our cap, we were awarded in the ‘Successful Company Leader’ category in the highly acclaimed Bizz Awards. We received this in 2018 for maintaining consistent business excellence. We were featured on ‘Asia Agribiz’. Also our many achievements have been covered in many foreign magazines. Perhaps the accomplishment we take the most pride in is that most of our companies are ISO certified.

Can you tell us the kind of CSR activity X Index is passionate about?
Through a not for profit organization called KKF, we are carrying out different projects. The Kamrunnesa Khatun Foundation (KKF) is an independent nonprofit charity, committed to bettering lives for the disadvantaged people in Bangladesh. Our vision is that of a country of vibrant, inclusive communities where social enterprises thrive to ensure sustainable and equitable development through capacity building and promoting entrepreneurship and transforming the lives of the disadvantaged population. We aim to assist the underprivileged people to engage in self-development and facilitate their socioeconomic mobility, reduce poverty, inequality and vulnerability. Some of the projects we have undertaken are:
Khamarir Hashi: It is a project which thrives to ameliorate the lives of farmers. This program focuses on able but unsuccessful farmers so that they turn their lives around and emerge as successful entrepreneurs. KKF provides both financial and technical help to the beneficiaries.
Shelter House: KKF works with the underprivileged children from all over Bangladesh. KKF has a shelter house for the street children, accommodating around 100 of them. These children were practically abandoned by all the other charity organizations. We stood by them. This house offers its children both formal and non-formal education, proper nutrition, medical and entertainment facilities.
Targeting the ultra-poor: Through this program, KKF identifies the needs of the households that are too poor to access the traditional development interventions. This is a tailor-made program based on the needs and capacity of the individual households.
Human Rights and Legal Aid Services: Access to justice is defined as the ability of people to seek and obtain a remedy through formal or informal institutions of justice, in compliance with universal human rights standards. KKF upholds that in order to facilitate smooth access to justice pathways, it is necessary to ensure the quality of justice particularly through legal aid and awareness.

In Bangladesh, the per capita availability of power is comparatively low when contrasted with our neighboring nations and the world standard. Owing to this low availability, we have observed a massive gap in demand. In this manner we decided to contribute years’ worth of our experience into the power sector to alleviate the situation. We are executing these capital-intensive tasks right now in collaboration with the government.

What has been the inspiration that has shaped you becoming a person you are today?
I value intellectual thought process above everything else. Growing up in a family of highly educated individuals, the passion for carrying on the legacy was instilled in me. I am thankful to have grown up in a culture which values education. This inspired me to pursue higher studies in the U.S. and also motivated me to gain professional expertise. It was being raised in a culture of learning that has nurtured my appetite for knowledge, and this has been the driving factor in the person I am today.

Marjiya Baktyer Ahmed catches up with Safwan Sobhan on how through extensive research and development, Bashundhara Group is at the forefront of making Bangladesh an import independent nation. 

What are the qualities do you believe that a successful leader must have?
To be a successful leader, I think a person must possess a blend of absolute integrity, honesty, decisiveness and must be a team player. Having these qualities also grows the capability to empower others to work efficiently. Leaders have to be able to rest their faith on their team and fully understand how to properly delegate.

As the Managing Director of Bashundhara Paper Mills Ltd. and Vice Chairman of Bashundhara Group, you have to oversee numerous operations. Do you have a strategy/ routine to ensure the efficiency of the processes?
Yes, I do follow a strategy and I believe it is an integral part of being a leader. We have weekly meetings where we prepare ourselves for every upcoming week. I need to ensure my Head of Departments and Head of Plants report back to me on a regular basis. Being the Managing Director I always have to have a bird’s eye view of the entire organization in real-time. Our integrated ERP system generates resourceful reports that enable us to build the necessary tools to forecast the challenges. We have deadlines and timelines for every piece of work, and from project to project basis. We set our KPIs and monitor them meticulously. Before we go live with a machine at production, we run it through an extensive troubleshooting process, following that it goes back to the R&D department. This is a daily routine we maintain to stay on top of any problems that may arise.

Can you please share with us about a challenge that you faced as a leader and how you pushed through?
Recently we have set up a new tissue machine from Austria, which has the capacity to churn out 100 MT tissues per day. We took the challenge to erect the machine in 18 months. It is located in our Unit 1 which is in Narayanganj. The machine is so highly technically configured that it was quite difficult for people here to figure out how to operate regularly. We did not have Bangladeshi expertise on this. The regular paper machines require about 80-100 people to run but this new one can be run by engaging just only 3 people.
So, to tackle this head on, we decided to go for extensive scheduled training. We sent our people to Austria and China to get trained on how to operate such a machine. Then we devised a plan on how to get the machine to Bangladesh, do the construction on time, and get it up and running. Finally, once it began running, it is not only supplying in Bangladesh, but products are also being exported in volumes.
Through this challenge we achieved specific knowledge of how to do team building, proper planning in tough times, then we did it a test scenario case and then we implemented it.

More potential for growth in the industry is in tissue, thermal paper and packaging paper. Thermal paper is what you use on a credit card machine, POS machines etc. It is an import substitute. Generally, Bashundhara Group enters in any industry with aims to take the place of the import substitute.

Who are the people that have shaped the person you are now?
My idol is always my father. I sincerely look at him, and thereby he has shaped me as the person I am today. Other than that, I would say the next person is my headmaster from my boarding school back in the U.K. His guidance has been invaluable to me.
From my boyhood, I was always fascinated by machinery and equipment. I am also fond of cars, so I was always into fixing and engineering things. I was keen on pursuing engineering, but eventually I opted for studying business administration, technology always fascinated me. This is how I ventured into the paper mill industry. They say, when you are born, you are given a piece of paper, and when you die, you are also given another. Many people say it’s a dying industry, but it has been maintaining a worldwide growth rate of over 6%. In the modern age, there is a movement to go paperless, but despite the digitization and this shift to an online dominion, the tangibility of paper is irreplaceable.

‘Bashundhara Paper’ has been the biggest paper exporter from Bangladesh for the past few years. What are the factors that helped “Bashundhara Paper” to reach this position? What are the future goals?
We have been adding capacity every year to match the demand of the market. We have recently listed ourselves on the Dhaka & Chittagong stock market being the biggest paper mill as well as the exporter. In terms of quality, India- our neighboring country – has a bunch of paper mills all over, however very few of these could compete with the quality paper that we manufacture. That is why our export market has grown substantially in India right now. India has a gap of 300,000 tons of paper per annum. We are basically filling that gap in, partially which is why export of our quality paper & tissue products have gone up.
Our future goals are to practice cost minimization and run the business more efficiently. At present, out of 14 machines, we have made 10 of our machines as closed loop machines, which means that the water discharge is almost zero. Before, we had to use 20 tons of water to make 1 ton of paper. We have reduced that down to 7 tons of water. We have made substantial reduction on electricity, steam consumption, as well as chemical consumption. We have switched to chemicals that are bio eco-friendly. So, all these aspects we are doing day in and day out, and cutting our costs, while also becoming more environmentally conscience.

Which segment would you say there is more potential for growth?
More potential for growth in the industry is in tissue, thermal paper and packaging paper. Thermal paper is what you use on a credit card machine, POS machines etc. It is an import substitute. Generally, Bashundhara Group enters in any industry with aims to take the place of the import substitute. The products that were once imported, now we can produce it locally and export it as well.

You have recently received FSC-CoC (Recycled Paper) certificate from the regulatory authority Control Union. How crucial do you think it is for consumers to use responsibly sourced paper products?
It is surely a responsible recognition, but for Bangladesh market we have not seen much of a big impact yet about FSC, mostly due to knowledge gap. But for the export market, it has been giving us a competitive edge for marketing and exporting. When we export to Europe, that is a must. When we export to the U.S. and the U.K, these certificates are also must to give documents.
The full form of FSC is “Forest Stewardship Council”. Basically, when pulp is produced from trees, it could be an Acacia tree or it could be a Rainwood, or Eucalyptus tree. To produce pulp, trees are uprooted and because of this, for every one tree taken out, ten trees have to be replanted. These pulp producers provide relevant certificates and necessary endorsement before giving us pulp products. The chemicals which we are using to recycle the paper, de-ink the papers, those chemicals has to be certified by FSC-COC, which implies they are not harmful to the environment.

How crucial is the role of R&D to remain competitive in the global market?
Our R&D department has been quite productive and inventive from the beginning, I personally look after its regular operation. Every time, based on market data/ feedback, we decide for the development of new SKUs or product range, it all starts from my endorsement and goes into trial to the market with my concurrence also. It is always critical to keep track what new facility can bring about and ultimately this is the only approach we take to be competitive in domestic as well as in the global arena.

How is Bashundhara Group constantly innovating themselves?
Bashundhara Group believes in opportunity-creation for the nation; hence innovation is the key to make it happen. The Group as a whole try to remodel itself every now and then to stay updated with the trend, as well as to remain competitive in the business arena.
Whenever we think of a new investment, we always look for import-substitute. We look into the industry, and in our R&D department we are always working on products that will be an import-substitute, even the ones in the pipeline right now. They all will be substituting import-goods for Bangladesh and will be saving foreign currency.
During early 2020, our new Bitumin plant will be in production. As Bangladesh is embarking upon building huge infrastructure, for roads and bridges, Bitumin is a product which has been imported a lot, from all over the world. We will have the capacity to cater to the national demand, as well as export. Our Bitumin will be guaranteed for 10 years, once it is put on the road.

How does meeting innovation requirements affect the rate of employment?
Bashundhara paper mill is not just an ordinary paper mill, we do not produce only simple writing paper rather we produce paper materials across the board. Paper mills in Bangladesh would only produce writing and printing paper, which you see as normal A4 paper or paper for newsprint. Instead, we have taken ourselves away from the conventional market, geared up ourselves for the next market, which is a specialty grade. Your everyday use for thermal paper which is used on every POS machine, NCR paper, duplex board, packaging paper – these are the growth markets we are looking at. So we are segmenting more in different specialty grades. There’s a growth and sustainability over there, as well as positively impacting employments. 

Our R&D department has been quite productive and inventive from the beginning, I personally look after its regular operation. Every time, based on market data/ feedback, we decide for the development of new SKUs or product range.

Bashundhara Group’s core value is ‘For the People, For the Country’. How has this value shaped the company and its operations over the years?
As a company when we say For the People, For the Country; we mean it. All the concerns are built in for the people, for the country. They are adding value to the country, and it is a value addition for the employees as well. Take our real estate business for example, when we started back in 1987, we sold 3 lac Taka per katha, which in turn of time over 3 crore at present. So, we single- handedly as a company, made 50,000 multi-millionaires in the country. We handed over 50,000 plots. Other than that in all our products, we never compromise on quality and we always do extensive R&D, training for our employees so that they are well fitted and well educate, in every sphere of their lives.

Apart from running such a massive company, Bashundhara Group also engages in CSR activities. Can you elaborate please?
I believe great success comes with great responsibilities. Although Bashundhara Group has always been very much submissive about all of its philanthropic initiatives, it is of no doubt a big range of its CSR initiatives are running across many fields around us. Somewhere free eye clinic is giving supports to the poor and needy, somewhere Bashundhara Ad-din Medical College Hospital in Keraniganj is providing the cheapest medical care in its 500-bed hospital, yet Friday Clinics in Manikganj and Comilla awaits with best doctors of the Country. A Special Children Foundation for the autistic, for underprivileged children, having a capacity of 250 students, is a perfect institution of its kind. We have an orphanage of 1000 children, which is located in Bashundhara also. We always try to remain beside the needy in crisis time e.g. during the winter season, we always extend our supports all the Country with warm clothing, relief supports to the flood or, cyclone-affected coastal people.

What would you like to say to the new entrants in to the business sector?
I started 10 year ago, back in 2009. I would say where I am today, obviously I have been given the position to be where I am, but I have taken things furthermore up. But remember to dedicate yourself to your work as your passion. Whatever work you do, you should enjoy it. Do not think of it as a burden. When I do my work, I really enjoy doing it, I take it as a passion. I am a passionate golfer and passionate businessman also.