Innovision Consulting Private Limited is an international advisory and management consulting firm supporting the world’s challenges related to inclusion and inclusive business growth. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Sadruddin Imran, and Managing Director and Lead Consultant, Rubaiyath Sarwar, detail the development endeavours of Innovision, and highlight the importance of data-driven decision-making for devising strategic interventions.
Since the start of its journey in 2008, Innovision Consulting Private Ltd has been working relentlessly to innovate data-driven solutions that improve the lives of poor people across the world. Why are data and analytics so crucial in poverty alleviation?
Sadruddin Imran: Whenever you need to undertake any intervention activity you first need to understand the breadth of the problem. Without data, you cannot determine how much support you can provide, or devise a helpful strategy. From the very beginning of Innovision, we emphasised data and research to undertake activities that can help improve the situation of specific target groups. For example, the Bangladeshi seed market was very scattered – no quality assurance or knowledge of where things were being sourced from. So, we worked with the private sector to disseminate information about what constitutes good seeds and collaborated with government agencies which led to the development of the National Seed Policy. To devise any intervention activity, you need to collect information regarding the quantity of input required for the desired output. In all cases, in order for your activities to yield good results, you need to make decisions based on solid research and data.
Rubaiyath Sarwar: When we work on poverty and relate it to its challenges, it’s very important to ensure that our investments are going to the right people. So, targeting is very important and we can’t target right if we don’t have data and insight. You also need to get to the core of an issue in order to properly address it. When working on analysing the blockades to the career advancement of female RMG workers, we were perplexed by the high number of women operators, but not enough women supervisors. Innovision brought to light that the issue was not related to skills, but rather, a mix of social and demographic issues, as well as the aspiration of the women themselves to become supervisors. This led to a complete change in the approach to advancing females within the workplace. Your actions also need to deliver results. If you cannot observe whether what you are doing is delivering results, you will not be able to correct your course. When you put all these together, you get to theories. This is where Innovision comes in – to put the data together to theorise future interventions for development.
Has the pandemic impacted the way poverty is assessed and instruments are designed to aid poverty alleviation?
Sadruddin Imran: The extent of COVID-19 was so big, it impacted all sorts of people, but disproportionately, the poor. From our research, we have quite a large database containing information from all divisions, districts and upazilas. We have had the opportunity to work with the ICT Division to minimise the impact of COVID using various ICT tools. That work was adapted in the eighth 5-year plan of Bangladesh and hopefully, that will have a long-term impact. Policy support needs to continue for a few more years to fully ensure the recovery of people and businesses. But overall, I think Bangladesh has done relatively well in assessing the situation and designing policy interventions and activities and developing partnerships among the private sector, the civil society and the government to ensure the smooth operation of the country.
Rubaiyath Sarwar: But, I also think it has become very fashionable to say that the pandemic has destroyed and disrupted everything, and the risk of that is it creates a perverse interest for people to say that they are being COVID-affected. I would ask people to be wary about analysing the impact properly. For example, several RMG factories shut down due to COVID-19 and several employees lost their jobs. But does that mean all its workers have remained unemployed? That’s a risky assumption to make because some factories have also grown. There has been growth in other sectors as well and it is very likely that workers who lost their jobs got employed in these sectors. Within a single sector, you will see a lot of disruption; but in cross-sectors, taking everything into account you will see the replacement and displacement effects. That’s when the real scenario of the sectoral impact of poverty and the overall country-level impact of poverty would be observed.
With regards to the instruments, COVID has accelerated the digitalisation of safety nets and their disbursements through online platforms and mobile phones. It has centralised the way development interventions are coordinated. One important observation from studies undertaken by Innovision is that marginalised people like the disabled, the transgender population, and sex workers, have been impacted the most. They are not part of an institutional system and the support is yet to reach out to them. That’s the space where more attention still needs to be provided.
WITHOUT DATA, YOU CANNOT DETERMINE HOW MUCH SUPPORT YOU CAN PROVIDE, OR DEVISE A HELPFUL STRATEGY. FROM THE VERY BEGINNING OF INNOVISION, WE EMPHASISED DATA AND RESEARCH TO UNDERTAKE ACTIVITIES THAT CAN HELP IMPROVE THE SITUATION OF SPECIFIC TARGET GROUPS.
Rising inflationary pressures have exacerbated the hardships of our impoverished population. What are some of the measures the government should take to assist the impoverished population further?
Sadruddin Imran: As an organisation, we advocate systemic developments, but considering the impact of COVID followed by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, some handouts have become necessary to tackle inflation, particularly in food supply and in the provision of health and nutrition. But there should also be a medium to long-term vision so the system can become stronger and the necessity to give handouts does not continue for a very long time. It should be a combination of handouts in the short term, and policy instruments and partnerships for the medium to long term.
Rubaiyath Sarwar: We understand that the pressure is real, but it’s tricky because we don’t have the data about who is being affected and how. Among low-income households, food security is being threatened, and household diet and diversity are being severely affected. If the situation persists, the first and foremost risk is intergenerational poverty. The policy instruments to tackle this issue need to ensure people have the bare minimum of food. That would definitely require rationing and access to food supply at affordable prices.
The middle-income segment is the real consumer and the backbone of the economy. If inflationary pressures cause them to curb consumption, the effects could destabilise the top and the bottom of the pyramid. To ensure that people are able to spend more, it would require removing some of the burdens off of them, let’s say, by reducing taxes, or VATs on consumption, or improving interest rates on savings.
Holding external pressures, such as the situation in Russia and Ukraine, and the USA’s aid to development partners, I think the true priorities of the government would be to reduce the risk of intergenerational poverty.
IN PREPARATION FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE MARGINAL POPULATION, NOW IS THE TIME TO PUT MORE FOCUS ON HUMAN CAPITAL AND SKILLS DEVELOPMENT TO REAP THE BENEFITS OF THE DEMOGRAPHIC DIVIDEND THAT WE HAVE.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of leading a company like Innovision Consulting Private Ltd?
Sadruddin Imran: One thing we take great pride in is we have always promoted young people. In preparation for the development of the marginal population, now is the time to put more focus on human capital and skills development to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend that we have. We recruit, train, coach and mentor them. We have created skilled human resources who can think in a systematic way and can undertake activities that can benefit people in need.
Back in 2008, it was an easy route for us to go abroad and settle there. But Rubaiyath and I envisioned an organisation headquartered in Bangladesh to work for the development of people across the globe. This is something we are going toward. We now have offices in Bangladesh, Nigeria and the UK, working across more than 20 countries around the world.
Rubaiyath Sarwar: When we started, there were other consulting firms, but to the best of my knowledge, we were the first to approach consulting as technical work provided only by consultants who are in-house. We were probably one of the first few that showed that consultants can come together and have a brand name, and the brand can work sustainably. We take real pride in the fact that after us, many followed suit. We have coached and mentored some of these organisations, and are still in collaboration to serve as a network builder.
To push innovation forward for the next phase of Bangladesh, we believe we need strong collaboration between the private sector, NGOs, consulting firms and academia. In the coming months, you will see a lot of announcements and interventions as a strategic collaboration between Innovision and some of the largest tertiary education institutions in Bangladesh. We are also working on creating a network of nutrition clubs in schools called Shurjo Club. We have about 60,000 members and they are learning to improve their communities’ nutrition, and also teaching their parents and relatives about the importance of nutrition. We have brought in the private sector, startups, and the government to support this school network, and it’s beautiful growth that we are seeing over there.
Photographs by Najmul Haque Sagor