Linking Bangladesh to the Silicon Valley

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In the next three or four years, we will be training 3400 IT professionals but more people will be needed. Along with that, over 23000 IT professionals will be trained under the BITM Project, a joint project by the Finance Ministry and the ADB. 

Shameem Ahsan has played an instrumental role in bringing the Bangladeshi IT & ITES sector to the global stage. With an avid interest in budding sector from his youth, he has been a major change maker in creating positive growth in the sector.
Hailed as a guru of e-tailing, Ahsan an entrepreneur, is widely recognized for his work to improve the reputation of the Bangladeshi ICT industry in the global space. Over the years, he has played a key role in implementing numerous major policy changes in IT and ITES.
He is a General Partner of the Silicon Valley based venture capital firm Fenox, a company having a 1.5 billion dollar investment portfolio. At present, he is the President of BASIS, Director of Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FBBCI) and a Director of Agrani Bank.
Ahsan is the co-founder of Akhoni.com, E-Generation Ltd. Benchmark E-Generation Limited and Element 5 Limited amongst many others. He has received the “Best Young Entrepreneur of Bangladesh” award from the Prime Minister of Bangladesh at Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) Business Award. He has also been voted “Top Outstanding Young Person in Bangladesh” by JCI and awarded for his contribution to the e-Commerce sector by Computer Jagat and is also a member of the Prime Minister’s Digital Bangladesh Task Force.

What is the vision centered on the ICT sector?
My vision is to bring billion dollar investment through venture capital fund allotment. We have already invested in companies like Priyo.com and Shohoz.com and have created links between Bangladesh and Silicon Valley. The government is very determined in developing the IT and ITES sectors. In other countries, change is a topdown process but in Bangladesh, it is quite the opposite. The government has, with the help of donors, digitized over 4500 UDC (Union Digital Centers) throughout the country and this has brought great change to the lives of people throughout the country.

There is also Tothyo Batayon and Digital schools which are urban based.
IT usage and implementation are seen most dramatically in rural areas. It is a bottom up movement. Union digital centers have been driving this change throughout the country for the benefit of all.

What do you think about the e-commerce bubble and how they are struggling with profit margins?
We have witnessed phenomenal growth in e-commerce. Again there are some challenges – courier services have not developed fully yet. Banks are not very aggressive in marketing and in mobile banking, only B-kash is a go to service for us. Despite this, I believe that these problems will be overcome within two or three years.

What are the challenges of the ICT industry?
There are some changes in policy required. The telecom sector is controlled by foreign companies. In Fast Moving Consumers Goods (FMCGs), foreign companiesare controlling 50-60% of the market share. If we don’t give the proper support for e commerce, then we may see something similar happen here as well. In our trade, users are very limited and due to the risk of default, some banks have already stopped issuing credit cards. There are also challenges in the e-transfer of the economy.
Another major challenge for the country is country branding and global perception – there are many great things happening in the country but if you look at the foreign media like CNN, BBC then all you see is news which gives a bad impression of our country. No one is talking about the country’s successes.
There are also issues in quality regarding internet usage in rural areas. Some places do not have adequate access and it is not affordable for a great many people. We have advised the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (BTRA) to ensure the minimum and maximum prices for internet as well as ensuring the quality of internet services throughout the country.
Finally our education system needs to be improved. It is based on memorization of facts instead of understanding – even compared to India, our education is lagging behind. There is a shortage of mid- level managers in RMG sector and so we have to turn to hiring managers from Sri Lanka and India. In IT and ITES sector, we are training skilled managers through a World Bank funded program but that will not be enough. In the next three or four years, we will be training 3400 IT professionals but more people will be needed. Along with that, over 23000 IT professionals will be trained under the BITM Project, a joint project by the Finance Ministry and the ADB.

What is the most rewarding thing about being an entrepreneur in Bangladesh?
I think the most rewarding thing about being an entrepreneur is the fact that you can change something – that you can see a problem and find a way to solve that problem which will benefit hundreds and thousands of people throughout the country. Many people feel helpless when they look at a problem endemic in society but it’s the small minority of us who see each problem as an opportunity that make things happen. Also the challenge is another rewarding part about being an entrepreneur – I’ve always liked challenges and it is my competitive spirit which propels me to be the best that I can and work to the best of my abilities every day. In that way, I know that I can help people through my work.
An entrepreneur can also directly create employment for a lot of other people and through this, can also contribute positively for the economic development of the country. This is also a very rewarding part of being an entrepreneur.

In which area do we need to develop ourselves and what is your future plan?
As a country, one of the major problems which we need to work on is our policy regarding Intellectual property rights and valuation. This has been a major hindrance to a lot of our companies who are unable to acquire capital from financial institutions as software value assessment isn’t widely known in our country. BASIS has already drafted proposals regarding intellectual property and has submitted it to the government.
We also have to continue to develop our youth – this is paramount. BASIS is working, through the BASIS Student’s Forum, to ensure that more students from universities and colleges throughout the country can develop communication with industry leaders and get experience.
We must also work to ensure the greater inclusion of women into the IT industry of Bangladesh. The BASIS Women’s Forum has recently been established and is working hard to bring more women into the field.
We are also working towards building a greater bridge between industry and academia – the tech world is a fast moving pace and we need to communicate within ourselves to make sure that our students are getting the relevant training they need to be successful in the job market.

Infrastructure is a major challenge in Bangladesh? What is your suggestion to overcome this challenge?
BASIS is actively working with the ICT division of the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology, as well as the BTRC to ensure better communications within the country. For a digital Bangladesh to prosper, widely available internet is necessary. Along with that, we also need to make sure that the poorest and most marginalized sections of the economy can also benefit.
BASIS, along with the ICT division and Grameen Phone, is organizing Bangladesh Internet Week with that goal in mind. This will be a weeklong country wide festival starting in the first week of September.

 

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