interview Tag

The Bone Identity

What are the risks pertaining to conducting Spine Surgery? How can we minimize the risks?
Today patients are coming in after already taking an MRI test; more so, pondering and worrying about the results of the MRI. It’s integral to understand that patients first need to come in and state their problems – is there pain? Where do they feel the pain is originating from? How long have they been suffering from this issue? Once we know the complaint, we can correlate with the investigation. The key to success in surgery is the clinical symptoms, investigation and the following treatment designed for the stated problem. Hence, the surgery today is of Safe Spine surgery.

What are the prevailing Spinal problems present in the 21st century?
One of the common problems is back pain. See, back pain itself is not a disease but can be the result of a more serious complication such as a disc prolapse, degenerative disk, arthritis, inflammatory problems, spine structure problems such as stiffness, bending, weakening and so on. Additionally, with age there can osteoporosis issues where the bones are not of their normal quality, soft or squishy; thus, they can easily break.

Can you give us a brief account of cervical spine pathologies? What are the three types of scoliosis?
Cervical problems most common would be spondylitis. Without compressing the nerve, it can just be as neck pain. It can get compressed because of the disc or general wear and tear. Even at a young age, a patient can suffer from a disk collapse or infections such as TB, which can be seen to be prevailing in Asian countries. The TB of lungs is the most spoken about, however, TB of the bones is the next commonest prevailing disease and equally, if not more, deadly. The three types of scoliosis are the conjunctival, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis and traumatic.

Give us an account of your experience in Key-hole spine surgery?
Key-hole spine surgery is a big boon. It’s not because of the small incision required by this procedure, rather the boon is from the tissue which is preserved which is vital for spine functions. Tissue preserved is a function preserved. Hence, the key-hole spine surgery brings down the overall discomfort and need for medications at post-op and risk during the pre-op planning and execution.

What are some key pain management techniques for the spine? How far does the techniques/physiotherapy come in pain alleviation?
Usually, it’s a multi-pronged approach. Giving one shot of painkiller alone or substituting with just medication alone may not be as effective. Combined simultaneously, with physiotherapy and modification activities will better help them in their own pain management and also their need for further pain medication for pain alleviation.

The key to success in surgery is the clinical symptoms, investigation and the following treatment designed for the stated problem.

How has the field evolved in the past 20 years? (Innovations, patents, etc.)
It has developed tremendously. One of them would be the preliminary investigation as we are now better at understanding what the problem is and thus have a stronger understanding of the subsequent treatment plan. The clarity in diagnosis has grown massively, we know what the problem is and its origin accurately; no need to keep searching. Before we would operate in search of the problem. Nowadays, we don’t rely on one single modality, rather adopt multiple modalities. For instance, general practice is to go forward with the treatment using MRI. However, it needs to be substituted with X-rays and CT scans. The reason being, MRI is a static picture but we also require dynamic results. The patients have been seen to state no pain at rest but pain in movement; this knowledge is provided by dynamic tests. X-rays and CT scans can be investigated for these and thus cannot be discarded because you have an MRI.

Can spinal injury lead to full/partial paralysis? What are the recovery techniques, if any?
There are situations where the spinal cord can be completely transected – the neural structures from one end to the other, loses its continuity. Thus, no nerve continuity and loss of function. Once they lose their function, it’s the early intervention; we cannot predict then what the future will hold for the patient. Therefore, we need to maintain the environment for the nerves to recover. Starting from maintaining the blood pressure, adequate pulse rate, oxygenation and remove any compression of the chords, if present. Once they have the injury, they should not discontinue their treatment on the idea of no recovery is happening. The main aim for these patients is rehabilitation, where we prevent issues of joint stiffness, contractures and so on. Nowadays, there are inventions emerging which allow us to externally control the joints through EMG movement. Hence, if you become stiff, the technology won’t work as well, making it more important to maintain joint health and thus the potential of being able to walk again through assistive external devices.

Please share your interests in the specialities of Stitchless Spine Surgery and Safe Spine Surgery?
Stitchless spine surgery, you have all the anatomy preserved, while the pathology (disease) is still targeted. This allows for the normal functioning again while the preservation of tissues, this is the beauty of this endoscopic stitchless spine surgery. I have about 20 years of experience with this and currently, this method is becoming more established.
Safe spine surgeries provide many things, the main aim being to not lose any nerve functions. For instance for Scoliosis surgery, we monitor the spine functions during the entire procedure to ensure its operational consistency.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to your patients?
Keep fit. The simplest thing to be aware of is that the best economic exercise for the spine is walking. Irrespective of pain, some form of functioning is imperative for bone health. You sit way too much, everything will start to go out of order. Sitting is the new smoking so keep moving.

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.

Reshaping Real-Estate

Bay Developments introdcues innovation and new developments in industry

I was always fascinated with advertising and its impact on the consumers, which lead me to choose Marketing as my Major in University. So naturally when I entered the job market, Marketing became my field of expertise and it has served me quite well so far by giving me a very fulfilling career.

I learnt a lot during my initial Internship and subsequent stay at Singer Bangladesh where I had studied and prepared a report on the business prospect of Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) better known as Energy Saving Bulbs in Bangladesh. Later on the product became very successful in the local market and made me realize the power of R&D and marketing. The passion was fueled further during my career at Bay, as I worked my way up from a trainee officer to my current position. There have been no shortcuts to my journey and I had the opportunity to learn during every crucial step of the way. It is all about filling the gaps in the market and communicating the values to the consumers through the right channels.

There are many factors that influence the ebb and flow of the real estate market. Since the product takes many months to come to the market and years to deliver, it is affected by the macro-economic fundamentals and policies taken by the lawmakers.

In Bangladesh, things are no different but the problem here is that there are no baseline numbers or readily available market data to determine or equate a slump or surge in the real-estate sector. Even the strongest markets have pullbacks, dips and pauses as the consumer emotions go back and forth. In my opinion, the slower pullback days gives opportunities to the developer to reset and regroup their people & processes and the market can rest and stabilize as well.

We were the second fastest growing economy in South Asia in 2016, moving up a few notches. The capital grew by leaps and bounds and the whole city seemed like one big construction site.
We are set to graduate from LDC (least developed countries) to LMI (lower middle income). Recently, the Boston Consulting Group did a study where it showed that in 2015 there were only 10 key cities with more than 300,000 middle and affluent class (MAC) consumers each. Projections suggest that, in ten years, there will be 33 towns and cities with some having more than 2 million MAC consumers. The right product and placement can convert these populations into customers, and there seems to be immense potential outside Dhaka as well.

High registration cost is one of the barriers to sales in the real estate sector of Bangladesh.

As far as slashing of the registration fee by the government, the formal gazette hasn’t been published yet. However, when it does go through, it will be a welcoming change for both the government as well as the real estate sector.

The government has been missing out on a lot of revenue because of the customer delays and reluctance in registering their homes in a reasonable timeframe. These stockpiles of unregistered homes will come forward now because of this discount opportunity. Developers will benefit through a reasonable influx of price sensitive customers.

Our layout comes from functionality, the major characteristic of a Bay product. While buyers mention our distinct, clean aesthetics, I suggest that durability is the other main trait. In addition to the built quality, our buildings come with a maintenance contract from our highly trained Facilities Management team that keeps the building in top shape over many years after handover. This gives the investors a higher return over time through rental, capital gain as well as a much lower depreciation of asset than the industry average.

As we cater to a high-end niche we have to always stay ahead of the pack in terms of product innovations and green principles. Double glazed windows, synchronized generators, individual metering etc. were all incorporated to complement our practices in creating greener structures, while using energy & water more judiciously, and creative design of space.
We introduced fire stairs, community area, open green spaces and standby generators, among others, years before they were mandatory. Our early rooftop gardens, pools and clubhouses became role models for others. In fact, of the five dozen features and services we generally see today in high-end homes, were all introduced or inspired by Bay.

Goodwill or reputation, takes years to build and yes it is still one of the best tool for marketing of real estate in Bangladesh. I believe, it will not change anytime soon especially because there is a stigma attached to the real estate sector as a result of malpractices carried out by certain companies.

We need to continuously deliver a high value product, but also ensure that the value of the investment will endure over time. That notion that there are no short-cuts, be it in raw materials and the equipment that go into a building or compliance is very important. A holistic approach to the business is the key, supported by building a team of professionals with a commitment to the long term.

PWC’s recent study shows that by 2030, Bangladesh will be the 28th largest economy. We estimate that at least $700b will be invested in the next 50 years just in housing alone. Dhaka is growing at 100,000 households a year, of which 25,000 homes are delivered by the formal sector. Of these, only 15,000 are delivered by Real Estate developers hence, the opportunities that lie ahead look very promising.

Professionally, I have experienced an incredible transformation in the field of marketing where I saw companies slowly shift to the digital age, where it is much easier to measure the effectiveness of campaigns. Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) all over the world are now spending a larger proportion of their budgets on technology than on internal staff. Marketing technology or MARTECH will continue to take up higher percentages of marketing budgets as more and more channels opens up in our country. Email marketing, online content management and digital analytics technology are the main things marketers are focused on at the moment. Some reports suggest that artificial intelligence could eventually be used to design marketing campaigns in future, rather than people. So there is plenty to learn and experiment with in the coming years and I’m surely excited about the future.

Invogue designs IT solutions

Tell us about your move to America, your schooling in Pennsylvania State University and your subsequent return to Bangladesh. Paint us a picture of your journey?
At a very young age, I was encouraged to experiment in the world of technology. It started from setting up PC’s to installing software in my father’s computer. It slowly became a second language. As I grew older, the love for technology became deeper. Whenever there was a new laptop coming out, I had to know about it. My friends at an early age started asking for my suggestions in regards to which hardware to go for.

After a very engaging 8 years of schooling at the International School of Dhaka, I decided to go to America to study. After going through all the steps I made the decision to go to The Pennsylvania State University, one of my top choices from the very beginning. The decision was surprisingly easy as I got into the program I aimed for and was also selected to be a part of the University Golf Team. It would be worthy to mention by the time I was in High School I became a very avid golfer, and attained a Zero Handicap status.

August 2010 started with an introductory course of Information Sciences and Technology focusing on Human Computer Interaction (HCI). After a long two hours class, I knew right away that this is what I was going to pursue for the next four years. Learning about UX was truly life changing. Understanding what Jony Ive (Ex Chief Design Officer of Apple) went through when designing the remarkable Apple products to Deep Dive method developed by IDEO, were the core foundation of my UX career. After a successful two years of University, it finally came to that point of applying for an internship.

As a kid, I was always attracted to New York and wanted to work in the Dream City. In Summer of 2012, that dream came true as I was accepted as a User Experience Intern for PulsePoint (a Leading Digital Media Company) in Manhattan, New York. After graduating in 2014 with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Information Sciences and Technology focusing on Human Computer InteractionI, I decided to go back to New York City, but this time to pursue a full time job. After working for about two years and gaining experience in my field, I decided that it was time for me to come back to Dhaka.

On the second day of my return I joined my father’s company, Invogue Software Limited. It’s been almost five years to date, that I slowly moved up the ladder from working part time, to managing our company.

How long have you been in the tech industry? What is your role in Invogue?
I have been in the Tech Industry for more than eight years now. I am currently the Director of Business Development.

Invogue started its maiden journey in 2000. Since then how has the company evolved and how much has changing global IT landscape influenced the evolution of the company?
Invogue was always a step forward in the Tech industry. We started as an IT company and a Media House, which focused on Software/Web Development and Developed Cartoon Animations for the local market. During the early years we also worked on font and logo creation which we still export to the U.S. Invogue was the first ever company in Bangladesh to develop a Bangla Job Site. We were, and still are a pioneer in many firsts in technology application; due to lack of our Marketing abilities we always fell short.

After my return in 2015, we as a Company decided to focus on our services and be more streamlined. During 2016, we finished restructuring our company and was solely focused on Designing and Developing Software/Web/Mobile Applications. As Invogue became stronger dealing with international clients, starting in 2019, we have decided to expand our services to countries in Cambodia, Germany and the USA.

What are some of the glaring differences between the IT sector in America and the IT sector here?
First is Business Requirement Document Formation. The knowledge it takes to form a well constructed Business Requirement Document (BRD) is something that the IT sector in Bangladesh has lacked for a long time. IT companies need to understand that listing out the requirements of a specific client is the number one step to successfully implementing a project. In the U.S., companies make sure to clarify every little detail when it comes to forming a BRD.

Secondly, Project Management A proper project management is the key ingredient to a successful IT project. Majority of the IT companies tend to follow a method and not really focus on the product. Their goal is to implement the project as quickly as possible and jump start the next one. This type of approach lead to unhappy clients in the long run.

And thirdly is Client Literacy. Client Literacy plays a major role in the Software Industry in Bangladesh. Most of the clients tend to have a difficult time in understanding the basic need of a software. We spend most of our time trying to not just pitch our products to a client, instead we highlight a problem within a company, to show how implementing a software can help solve the issue.

What are some of the challenges confronting the IT sector here? What needs to be improved in the IT sector in Bangladesh? Could you also highlight some of the positives?
There is wide aversion to do anything within the purview of law. Even after signing a well drafted contract, there is always a tendency by the clients to avoid legal compliance. Not getting payments on time from clients are a prime reason the IT companies in Bangladesh fail to flourish. In many cases total non payments have resulted in catastrophe for local companies. There is a definite requirement for a code of conduct, contract, payment, deployment and follow up for a rapid growth of the sector.

Also the knowledge on Cyber Security needs to be increased. I use the following metaphor when describing about Bangladesh’s current status on Cyber Security. “Most of the companies in Bangladesh are currently focusing on designing the nicest doors possible, one aspect they are forgetting is the need of implementing a strong lock for security.”Since implementing a software is already a big leap forward for most of the companies, they tend to forget a very important element – security. The lack of knowledge within the IT companies is a major setback in the industry, and knowledge implementation needs to begin immediately. I truly believe that every company should implement at least a basic layer of security when implementing a software.

Not all is gloom and doom. As a developing country, there are plenty of positives in the IT industry in Bangladesh. The young generations are quickly adapting to the latest technological trend which is very important to keep up with the world demand. The Government is investing heavily on tech hubs around the country which will help inject knowledge to the youth. Foreign Investors are slowly starting to invest which encourages young entrepreneurs with their startups.

What is UX? Can you detail the importance of UX? What is the most effective way to use UX to give companies a competitive edge in the market?
UX is what we call User Experience, which is how the user feels when using a specific software or hardware. When designing a software one of the most important aspects is to understand our users and what they are capable of. A user experience designer dissects the problem the client or the specific user is facing and then comes up with a design solution, which then is tested by the users and upon a positive result it is forwarded to the development team. Without the use of a proper UX, the relationship between the products and the user gets disrupted, which can cause a delay in the process, unsuccessful implementation, etc. We at InvogueSoft always keep our clients first. We make sure to understand the problem the client is facing and then move forward to finding a solution.

Where do you see Bangladesh’s IT sector in the next 10 years?
I see a very bright future in the IT sector of Bangladesh. The garment industry took advantage of the minimum wage and invested heavily in their infrastructure which then flourished in the following years, I see something very similar. In the next decade, we will see a lot of Tech Factories open up with lines of computers with software engineers working day in and night out to cater to both local and international clients. Outsourcing projects will exponentially increase, as our developers gather experience. For the local sector, new startups will come in the health, finance, agro, HR and manufacturing sector. Apps/e-Commerce similar to Pathao (Ridesharing), Daraz (General e-Commerce), (Fashion e-Commerce) will gain traction as online payment will be generally approved by more people. Foreign funding will also play a major role in uplifting these startups.


Omar Hannan, General Manager, Marketing of Ispahani Tea Ltd shares the secrets to his success

The journey began on 1st June 2000. I started my career with Ispahani and it still belongs to Ispahani. It’s been a great journey for me, because at the time of joining Ispahani I had just completed my MBA, and my two months orientation with Ispahani. When they offered me a full time position I was appointed as Brand Manager. During that period, Ispahani had launched Marshall Chips, marking their entry into the food business. I was in charge of the brand and sitting at our head office in Chittagong for 3 months to gather knowledge of the Bangladeshi market. I transferred from Chittagong to Khulna and stayed there for nine years from 2000 to 2009, and I was in charge of the whole North and South Bengal. It was a fantastic time, especially getting to know the market in depth, and also learning the FMCG sector. After 2009, I came back to the management part leaving the field for the head office. Following this, I became the Sales Manager, the National Sales Manager, Deputy General Manager, General Manager, Marketing and now I am the Department Head of Ispahani Tea Limited.

Every marketer has some challenges, especially in Bangladesh, because here the FMCG sector is different from those of other countries. There you can find shops in every corner. So this is a very challenging area, in terms of distribution and awareness. The area is very big to cover. So this is very difficult in Bangladesh market, to understand what the brand is, what kind of benefits, if any, you could get from the brand. This is a challenge for not only Ispahani, but the FMCG sector as a whole.
As for reward, every marketer or salesperson thinks reward means growth, or how positively your sales are going up. But for me, the reward is actually consumer satisfaction, the service which we are giving, whether it is satisfying the end users or not. This is the main motto of Ispahani – not to run for sales growth, but to make quality products that satisfies us, which in turn will satisfy the consumers.

Ispahani has a big history. After one year, in 2020, we are going to celebrate 200 years of business in Bangladesh of Ispahani. We established our business in 1820. So this is not a year or a decade journey, it is a 200 years’ journey. No business organization can sustain for 200 years, if the consumers and customers had not been loyal, or given love or faith to them. We always measure our happiness with that of our customers. So we believe, Best Brand, gave us recognition from our end consumers. They made us the top brand of Bangladesh. Whatever we did for marketing, others do much more, but the recognition we got, is from our end consumers.

In terms of marketing strategy, we have a very clear concept. We don’t want to make any kind of controversial steps, which would hamper the products of their brands. We are very simple; we want to build awareness for our brand. The very clear strategy is that we are very innovative in the tea market. You can see that from the beginning of the tea industry in Bangladesh, 30 years back, nobody believed they could find tea in a 10-gram packet. Then Ispahani starts thinking from 1983, that tea should come in a branded packet, in a proper way. At that time, tea was found in the market in paper packets. So from 1983 t0 2019, whatever innovation that was introduced in the tea industry, was all from Ispahani. Ispahani introduced tea in a jar, in single and double-chambered tea bags. We introduced it, and others learned. We successfully communicated our concepts with our consumers. This is our strategy, very simple but clearly understandable

The next thing is digital marketing, but my belief is that after 10-15 years, digital marketing will be the only thing in Bangladesh. People want convenience now, and mobile phones provide it for them. The good thing about digital marketing is that you can target a specific group and reach them with your specific communication. We believe that all other companies, including Ispahani is increasing their spending on digital. In terms of cost, it is more effective than other traditional communication systems. Digital marketing comes with both the good and the bad – such as, sometimes people are intentionally giving negative comments, which creates negative impact about the brand and hampers it. You don’t know which comment, good or bad, will end up becoming viral. Apart from this, we believe that digital marketing is the only way to reach the customer in the right time. In Bangladesh, Facebook is much more popular than other platforms. Even an illiterate person now has a Facebook account, whether he knows how to make use of it or not. All marketers should be very careful before posting anything. This is a big challenge for us and everybody.

At present time, it’s a combination of all these things. In a media survey, last published, still 84% reach is through TV, but digital increased from 7% to 28%, but still the highest reach is TV. So it’s a combination of both, but you have to plan in a smart way about where you will go to. If it is a mass communication, then we definitely have to go through TV. Basic content remains the same, but some messages are different. The only challenge is the negative marketing, or the negative impact on consumer. It is very harmful. It can actually collapse a brand. Marketer has to be very careful before they upload anything, after considering any and all possibility of negative impact on the brand or company. If you talk about our main brand, Mirzapur, which got the Best Brand, and which I believe is a mass people brand, therefore, we try to keep our content the same, so people can relate to it better. For different brands, with different products, for different customers, digital is the best route to reach targeted consumers. We always keep the challenges of digital marketing in our minds.

This applies for everybody – first, spend the time to learn, don’t be too ambitious. Learn the Bangladesh market. What I learned in my education life is different from the knowledge of real life. Whenever someone is aspiring to start a career as a marketer they should first take the time to learn the market, how it grows, how people are thinking. Second, take the input from the consumers, then go and create something for them. One thing I advise everybody, is to not change their career too much, by that I mean the company. If you’re working for a good company, if you feel that you have a future there, then spend time learning there. At present time, the workforce of Bangladesh is very ambitious. They want to achieve everything in a very short time. This is a bad thing. Without knowing all the facts, if you want to do something, it could have a negative impact on your career. If you think you have the ability to do something, first learn then do. Invest in patience.

Weaving wonders in the textile industry

Samit Hassan, Director of Silver Line Group talks to Ice Business Times about his family company and shares his aspirations.

Please tell us about your company, how it started and how was the journey of Silver Line Group?
Silver Line Group started before I was born. I became the director of the company when I turned 18. We started our spinning in 2002. Our spinning was for knitting, but then in 2014, our plan was to do a composite, so we ended up doing a woven composite instead of a knitting composite. My dad Mr. MAH Salim found out that knitting was done by a lot of people in Bangladesh, but woven was done by only a few people. That’s when he thought instead of going into the path of knitting, let’s go for the woven path. Normally, in woven industries, the yarn dyeing, solid dyeing, weaving and finishing are all in different sectors because they involve different processes. When we decided to start our own textile factory, we brought separate components under the same compound. Our textile, garment, and spinning are under one boundary.

We bought this land a long time ago. Before deciding on a spinning factory, we went through a couple different ideas. My dad is not fond of changing business rapidly, he likes to see the market and the trend to see where it’s moving. And gradually with quality work, we became one of the most successful in this industry.

When I was a teen, I used to go to the factory with my brother, who used to visit the industry 6 days a week. It took us 2 years to build the factory, and started running it around 2014. When I used to go with my brother, my dad would urge me to accompany him. This was aimed at encouraging me to know what’s happening, so that I would appreciate the business. It’s a family business, so he always wanted his sons to be involved with it.

The recent trade war between the U.S. and China has been a boon for our garments industry. If China and USA settles everything between them, will this advantage go away for us?
If China and the U.S. settle everything, the advantage will be to us. In Bangladesh, when something hits, it becomes a trend and everyone goes after it. Like right now, woven is something, I can tell from the top of my head, there are thousands of factories that are coming to this field. The market is shifting. China is already coming into Bangladesh and trying to buy off factories, and also trying to capture the factories that are already there right now. It’s beneficial right now for Bangladesh, because we are moving to the next level, since there is a trade war going on between the U.S. and China. There will be no more people shifting to China because of the rate at which the technology is shifting. South Korea used to be a textile industry; they went from fabric and moved on. Then China captured the textile field, and is now shifting it to Bangladesh. Bangladesh has the opportunity to capture the market, but there are ups and down. China will come into Bangladesh but I’m not too keen on that, I’d prefer Bangladesh doing it.

In the RMG sector, our greatest strength has been low wages of workers. Do you think that this advantage is sustainable in the long run?
No, I can’t say it is, because our workers are getting skilled on the same level as workers in Vietnam, Laos, India and Ethiopia. Their skill is increasing, obviously they’ll want more. For example, for you and me, as every year goes by, I want an increment. I don’t want the same thing, I want more. Bengalis are hungry for more. The garments industry has to consider raising wages, because garment has more heads, more workers. The textile industry relies on automation; we have become more dependent on the results from machines. For example, in garments, per line would have 20 something machine, and there is a lot of people per line of production. For us, in textile we deal with and are dependent on machines. Human beings can make mistakes, but that’s highly unlikely with machines. You input the right specs, it’ll follow. It’s the same pattern over and over, with repetition. In garment sector, it’s all about sewing, thus human beings eventually get tired. So, sustainability of the wages, is beneficial for us, but it won’t last.

What should the stakeholders do to protect our position in the global market?
As I see, you want the person who’s working for you to be loyal. When you begin working for someone, they train you. If I start training my people and if I am able to earn their sympathy and loyalty, and inspire them to realize that they are not just working for me, but they also have a home here and are being taken care of – I think these things matter a lot for the success of the company. It’s not always about the big things, or about showing people what they want to see. It’s about actually going there, talking to them and understanding them. Talking helps, and even small talks with them, it makes them smile. I’ve seen it. It’s the relationship that you build between you and the workers that matters on the final product. When workers are treated well, they will try to give their best in performance. Treating employees right will make them stay with you. The rapport with employees will help you to produce best quality product which will help you to be confident and make your position in the global market strong.

Since the Rana Plaza tragedy, our RMG sector has come a long way with complying with international safety standards, where does Silver Line group stand when it comes to compliance?
Silver Line Group is 100% compliant. We have the certification to prove that. So, we are 100% complaint by the Accord and Alliance for our garments. After the Rana Plaza tragedy, there was a distinct shift in industry practices. When workers know that the factory is certified by Accord and Alliance, they feel a sense of security, because the compliances are met. If there was a fire or a drill, I would know how to get down, how to get out. Something good came out of the tragedy, but I am still sympathetic towards what happened. The tragedy forced our industries to take stock of glaring mistakes and work towards bettering the conditions. The drafting of Accord and Alliance also secured the reputation of our country.

How has local spinning mill contributed in the RMG sector in terms of supply chain and cost?
Spinning mill has contributed greatly to the reduction of cost and supply chain of the industry. However, people still import. India makes cheaper yarn, at times better quality, because they grow their own cotton. Also right now in the industry of spinning, the yarn’s prices aren’t going up, but cotton prices are going up. There are only a handful of people who manufacture cotton, they set the prices giving them the upper hand. In July-December period of the current fiscal year, export earnings from the readymade garment sector went up by 15.65% to US$17.08 billion, which was US$14.77 billion in the same period last year, according to Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data released.

I’m increasing few thousand spindles; we’re getting in 70000’s in a couple of months. And then I’ll make sure that my entire spinning is supporting my textile. It will reduce the time and I can maintain the quality of the thread. Like right now, I’m importing from India and getting it from my own factory too. I’m taking some from the local as well, but in the local market the yarn price is more expensive than what we get from India. Buying yarn in the country has a huge advantage, because if the quality isn’t right I can send it back. Whereas when importing from India, even if the specs are incorrect, I don’t have the permission to send it back.

Silver Line works with some of the biggest clients in Bangladesh textile sector. Is it challenging to maintain such a demanding client base?
Silver Line Group is willing to take on the demand and challenges of our clients. Give us any type of yarn, if my machine can run it, I promise you I will run it. Even if it’s at the development stage, I will run it. I will not say no to my buyers if I know that I have the opportunity to do it. Bangladesh used to be that country for textile in woven sector. We were the ones who brought 100% viscose, 100% modal, Cotton spandex, 100% yarn dyed tensile, Silk, Hemp, Coolmax with cotton spandex and mixed it up. Some of our competitors are unhappy with us, because we are not opening buyers’ eyes, we are opening market opportunity for Bangladesh in these kinds of variety. So it’s not only about 100% cotton but also other activities that improve our services to customers. We are mixing it up and we like it. For example, if a buyer thinks Bangladesh is only 100% cotton, only certain people will come. Where’s the point in that? I am making different types of fabric too. But it’s hard to maintain, because maintaining the balance of each and every fabric is different. Bangladesh is used to 100% cotton which is why we decided to create textiles in an experimental basis and then go for the full production. There was this unique yarn that my CMO showed me, he developed it. For me, developing things like this is fun, I actually like it. It became a passion throughout the years.

Now that you guys are doing woven, is there other lines of textile you guys are bringing in right now?
No, actually woven right now, is pretty huge in Bangladesh. Because as you can see woven is shutting down in China and coming into Bangladesh. We already captured it in 2014. There are a lot more that were before us and they did a good job but they did not have the diversity that we have shown. When we came into the market, we showed them. With 4 different colors of yarn, and made it into 7 types of shades. We played around. I thank my team. I learned from them, they teach me, because I have 0 textile background. Even when I used to go to the factory, I didn’t have an office, and now when I’m 25, I still don’t have my own office in my factory. I sit in the weaving floor, with my R&D, planning, managers, I sit with them in the conference room and I can see what everyone is doing. At the back, I have the machines crackling, I can hear the sound of every machine, every stage that they go through, like every swab that’s coming out. Learning has no measures. We are learning all the time.

As part of the Silver Line Group’s CSR, you provide childcare and medicare, tell us a bit more about these initiatives?
Medicare, we have one in our garments unit and we have one in our textile unit. Spinning unit is in between both of them, so we give them Medicare from those two centers. The doctors stay on the premises, we have provided residence for them. We encourage workers to visit our doctors. In Bangladesh factories, there is a divide between workers and the head officials. We’re trying to mend the gap between factory workers and head office as a company. Whenever there’s a communication gap, there will be big problems. A lot of things could go wrong, production may not be finished on time, or things may get delayed, buyers might be complaining because head office team is not working with factory team. This is why we encourage our people to go to our factory. Take the time and go to the factory. We even sent some of our planning people from our factory to go see the buyers, explain why things are not coming on time, why they are having problems. We don’t separate factory and head office workers, everyone’s an employee and at the end of the day we have to work for the company. We have to work for the company, so that people can have their jobs. We have 6000 employees, overall; for my dad it’s a lot. Because he has to take care of 6000 people. So we have to ensure everything runs smoothly. We also have childcare. Garments people have children, so while they are working, they can’t take care of them, so we watch over the kids for them. The present export growth is better compared to the previous year. But there is more space to grow in terms of export earnings.

We also have learning centers as in training centers. We train them and based on their performance, they are employed. CSR for my dad extends beyond the company. We have universities and colleges in our hometown, and it’s free of cost by the company. It’s under my paternal grandparents’ names. It’s run by us and the government. We built it for the community.

You guys are pretty big on green technology? What sort of water conservation system does Silver Line have?
We do zero disperse, like ETP (Effluent Treatment Plant). 100% of our wastewater is treated through Biological Treatment Plant and recycled to reuse and cost minimization. This significantly contributes to our GREEN environment initiatives, waste control. A part of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to protect the environment and society. We also have WTP (Water Treatment Plant) and CRP, caustic recovery plant. This is a step towards zero effluent discharge. Through this we get 90% recovery of caustic soda from weak lye, recovery of water from vapor condensate, reduction of TDS, COD of effluent and so on.

We also don’t have any black exhaust, no black air, so only white air, which is cleaner. We have recognition of ‘CONFIDENCE IN TEXTILES’ from Oeko-Tex-Standard 100 and GOTS. Silver Line also has OE 100 Standard certification. We have organic certification from Global Organic Textile Standard. And we are not doing any diesel generators, we are doing natural gas for zero black air. We have solar panel system in a few areas. Green is coming into play, we are doing sustainable yarns, which is reusable. Silk is also reusable. We also developed hemp, that’s 100% sustainable. We are the first ones to do it, nobody in Bangladesh has done it.

There’s a lot of automation in textile, and soon the garment industry will see rapid automation. It stands to be seen how the picture of the garment industry will be. Rapid automation may not be as promising, since it is a machine that follows specs. Think about bespoke designs which are handmade. When something is handmade, an extra level of care and effort goes into the making.

Do you have anything else say to the readers?
I want to say that I am glad to be a part of the Silver Line Group. It pushed me at the age of 18 to learn. Now I’m 25, and I think I’m pretty well experienced, but I am happy that my dad pushed through this route, to mix with people and to understand them, and how much they will respect us in return. I saw that and I like it.

I want to finish with my favorite quote. The quote states, “Nothing is going to work out unless you step up and make it happen.” – Aulic Ice. This is the quote that always motivates me to work hard like there is no tomorrow. This quote encourages my fellow youths to work hard to achieve their goals. There is nothing which comes in easily; one must work for it. If your wish is to make it in life before the age of thirty years, then you should start working now to make it come true. Hard work will always result in better outcomes. Just continue working to ensure you fulfill your dreams. Everything is possible.

Positioning Priority

Nestle’s Manager of Consumer, e-commerece and Digital talks about tapping the right channel with the right content

When it comes to digital marketing we are still scratching the surface. We have a long way to go. We have explored various digital channels, and are mainly present in Facebook and Youtube, both in terms of content and promotion. Instagram is becoming very popular among Bangladeshi Consumers along with channels like Whatsapp and Viber. We are exploring these channels as well. Very recently, with the launch of NESCAFE’s new thematic song, we have opened Instagram Channel for NESCAFE in Bangladesh. The main reason of exploring with different Digital channels are nothing but the shift in consumer choice and their media behavior. We want to move with a brand through a channel where the target consumers are situated.

E-commerce is the next big field in Bangladesh. We as a country are at a nascent stage, but it is growing very rapidly. We were accustomed to buying electronics and cosmetics from e-commerce, but buying grocery through e-commerce is still fairly a new idea. We definitely want to strengthen our footprint in e-commerce. We have been present in e-commerce since 2015, and we are growing. By partnering with e-commerce vendors we intend on strengthening our position and foothold. Nowadays you will see e-commerce vendors are promoting products using social media platforms and other digital platforms. We have already partnered with Chaldal and Daraz. We do have a Joint Business Plan (JBP) with one or two such vendors where we collaboratively work towards finding the best deal for our consumers. Recently, we have started designing e-commerce specific deals, to provide an exclusive experience through this channel. People are in e-commerce for the convenience, for the difference, so it is important we give them the right experience.

Digital marketing is part of a bigger picture; it is not separate from the whole Marketing Value chain. I think one has to take a 360 approach and ponder on questions like – Where is my consumer? What product am I selling? What benefits am I offering? Most importantly what media behavior is my target consumer exhibiting? We need to first identify these aspects, and then decide which is the most effective way of reaching out to them – be it digital channels, Radio, Television, Billboard or any other Traditional Marketing channels. There are no set rules, but one thing we should keep in mind – that is, the digital space is constantly evolving which in turn changes how consumers behave in digital platforms. If you want to do it right, then you really need to prioritize Content, because while the channel is important, it is crucial to come out with content that speaks to consumers in their own language. It is what your consumer wants to hear and not what you have to say! No matter how cliché it sounds, content is still the King. Therefore, if I have to summarize the secret recipe, it would be creating the right balance of Content and selection of Channels!

There is no fail-safe method to marketing. In Marketing everything is customized and tailor-made according to the consumer base, which can be comprised of all sets of people from having different kinds of Demographic and Psychographic profile. Starting from their food habits to how they spend their leisure time, all has to be considered since consumers has a journey. We as marketers, have to first identify the kind of product we are marketing then design the Customer Journey Framework, and then we decide the right touch point of interaction in the journey. These touch points differ from consumer to consumer. If you want to create a structure, then make one relevant to the consumer journey which helps customers decide that they will take a journey with a brand for a certain period of time. And this changes from brand to brand, from time to time.

In terms of communication, being transparent is always better to adopt. Yes, for the beautification of our communication we take different routes, but if we can ensure that we are being transparent about the products and services we are selling, that should help us in creating a sense of security and place of trust. There are different mechanisms, like being transparent where my product is sourced from, where it is made. Give them the opportunity to visit your office or your factory premises. If you have an open dialogue with your consumer or if you have the option to make the consumer reach you, it will help them to get answers anytime and every time. In Nestlé we have a call center, which is the first ever Toll Free call center in the country with a unique number. The whole idea was to listen to our consumers, their experiences, their queries which is open 24/7. We encourage our consumers to call us by promoting the service every now and then, which is a bit rare, when it comes to Call Center Service. These are small but effective steps that helps a brand establish trust and credibility.

Maggi as a product has been here for the last 22 years now. It is the brand that incepted the idea of instant noodles. Many of us grew up with Maggi. This is why when we were confronted with the crisis, which originated in a different country in 2015, we knew immediately that we have to take a hands-on approach. The crisis started with digital, and to battle that we did not just consider digital as a channel, we took a more combined approach. People who believed and trusted the brand also got shaken and that is why we were getting calls in our call center, queries on our social media. We tried to utilize all media channels as much as possible. However, since the commotion began in digital, we tried to answer each and every query very meticulously through our customer service support on social media. We were taking constant updates, and the entire management was very involved with what people were asking and how we were responding to the queries.

This year we have done a campaign with three celebrities – Dilara Zaman, Shehtaz and Mithila. We took them as our ambassadors. They first got to know our brand and understand how Maggi is produced in Bangladesh factory. It wasn’t done on TV; we did an OVC which we published. They first took a deep dive into how Maggi is produced, and only when they were convinced, they decided to be part of the campaign. We did three different online videos featuring these three celebrities talking about the overall aspect of the brand. Mithila spoke about how quality is maintained during production, Shehtaz talked about from where we are sourcing the raw materials and how spices are being sourced and what kind of quality we are maintaining, and Dilara Zaman focused on overall trust on the brand. We were proud to have them as ambassadors, and we promoted the content in all sorts of digital channel. Digital is a place where people can readily share their opinion. We addressed the issue in the channel where it started with different kinds of content. We designed a specific campaign to address what was going on in people’s mind.

From this campaign we decided why don’t we invite people to visit our factory. On 30th June we closed the registrations and these celebrities will take them to our factories. Visitors will have a whole day to go through our factory. It will happen in August, and it will be for both children and adults. We have had a great response. The idea is to take them to our factory in Gazipur where Maggi is produced and give them a tour of our entire operation. This is one kind of activation companies can do to build trust, so that customers feel invited. We are saying this campaign is “From our kitchen to yours”. Kitchen is a very intimate space in a house, so when you invite guests to your kitchen it gives them warmth and creates a personal bond. We are doing this from a brand perspective. People might say it is a marketing gimmick, but we really want our consumer to come and visit us and believe and see for themselves. A campaign that started in digital is ending offline.

The overall media behavior of people is changing, so this is something a marketer has to lookout for. It is very crucial. The media vehicles are increasing, it is no longer limited to media and press, we have digital now and within digital there are separate channels, and people are shifting and moving all the time. I think this entire shift and the various media vehicles is something that as any marketer we should be looking out for. Marketers need to factor in consumer behavior because of the shift that happens in consumer minds.

The millennial consumer base has a different mindset, a different attitude towards life. This affects the way we are doing marketing. The two factors marketers have to keep in mind are changing consumer behavior and changing media vehicles.

Being present in the right channel with the right content, I think that is something we have to look out for. Most importantly, we have to factor in consumer insights so keep a tab on what consumers are saying, what they are thinking about your brand. Because if you are not listening, someone else is, so consumer insight is important, and so is research and listening to your consumer. Everything starts with consumer insights. If I am making a service or a product, I have to first listen to what they want, not what I want to sell. We sometimes take an inside-out approach, rather than an outside-in approach. We need to really understand what consumers are saying about our brand, what they need, how they are going to consume it. These are the two things that I feel as marketers we need to be on top, and then last but not the least, as we are becoming more and more a technology driven society, we should always be aware of the technological changes taking place in consumers’ life, in their media consumption and overall media vehicles. Being on top off that is very important.

Passion of Perseverance

Igloo’s Head of Marketing credits success to never saying no to an opportunity

The Metamorphosis of a Marketer from Research Officer and Puppeteer
If I look back to my student life in DU and NSU and early professional days, I can see, I was guided by the right leaders all through. My passion to pursue, curiosity to learn and going the extra mile also helped me to attract the attention of the right leaders, and the bottom line was together- we – the prodigy and legacy have been achieving more since then.

When I was a student, apart from academic activities I was also involved in many extracurricular activities which helped me to build my career, sharpen my interpersonal and communication skills, and develop my idea iteration skills as well. I am always very comfortable to go way beyond my comfort zone to challenge my limit even in cross functional assignments.
I was also a puppet artist with Mustafa Monwar from my student days.

There was a show on BTV called Moner Kotha where I portrayed the character Parul.I joined this organization for an initial training workshop. Sir associated me to different meetings; when he would work on a project, particularly a national-level project, such as UNICEF and the likes, where the issues were focused on impact creation. Such issues were communicated via education through the puppet show. When such national-level projects or issues were being discussed, though I was the youngest one in the group, but sir always used to include me.

The Corporate journey began under the supervision of a very visionary person and of the living marketing legend, Ashraf Bin Taj, he was my recruiting boss. It is said, your first boss has the best impact on your career, for my life, it is correct indeed. Coming from a different academic background, my marketing know how was zero, apart from my inherited curiosity, problem solving ability and creativity. He nurtured me, guided me every day with new assignments and coached to improve my ability. We also learned teamwork at Nestle and tried to help each other, in return I actually acquired new skills and competencies.

My career turning point was in 2006, when Nestle Global decided to transform from the global number 1 food and beverage company to Most preferred Nutrition, Health and Wellness Company. In Bangladesh, it was me who was working in marketing with a combination of marketing and nutrition know how. And in South Asia Region (SAR), it was me , who identified the move and wanted to implement in market level. My Boss, that time was Shammi Rubayet Karim, he appreciated my interest and gave me full support to lead the show.
Further, my department was reassigned, and Mr. Ziaul Hafiz became my boss, he helped me to see the big picture, and I started taking strategic decisions with his guidance, it helped me to have better aspiration for business and for personal growth.

After that,I joined BRAC with a vision because they are the number one NGO internationally. I took over Marketing Lead role for 12 social enterprises, except Aarong. I was fortunate to share the same stage with Sir Abed here and learned new leadership skills from Mr Taufiqur Rahman- the former CEO of BDFP. I also experienced a short span of time for a new business inception in Bangladesh. Looking into my track record and seeing my passion for work, the Corporate Coach and Group CEO of Igloo GM Kamrul Hassan chose me to lead Igloo Marketing Function – The most trusted & loved Ice-cream Brand in Bangladesh.

Tapping into global taste buds
We look into the global trend before we decide on a flavor. Ice cream is something that is very impulse-based. We focus on what the trend is, at the same time we also focus on local taste preference. Combining both we create our own, unique flavors. Although we have a very strong R&D team we still go for numerous consumers tests. Every year you will find an ample number of new products in DITF. Icefest is also a place where we get immediate feedback about new products and improvement needs from the real consumers. Besides that we also do several consumer studies , getting the input from consumers, combining quantitative and qualitative data, we analyze our products improvement needs ,and as the products are designed by adopting consumers feedback you will see, this is the most preferred Ice-cream brand by consumers too, actually, it is the most loved Ice-cream brand in Bangladesh.

Consistency is crucial for loyal consumer base
We tend to confuse marketing and propaganda – both are different and serve separate purposes. A real marketer never claims or makes unattainable promises. The job starts when the designing of a product begins. When the product or branding communication is initiated, an effective marketer’s job is to communicate that to consumers. Consumers are really smart, it’s not like they don’t understand that from a 1TK worth product, it is not possible to get a 1.5TK benefit. So, from the beginning, what I can provide, is what I should communicate. Therefore, the chances of these issues arising decreases. You know, if you don’t over promise, there is no chance of heartbreak. So instead of over promising, it’s better to be real, relevant and reliable- and all can be delivered with a quality product & service. It helps to build a loyal base who trust on the brand and brand promises.

Trust is formed alongside a long-term relationship. So we need to serve, engage our consumers and need to walk the extra mile for them. As the most loving Bangladeshi Ice Cream brand, we have a loyal base, who are our safe gourd and brand advocates. If anyone intentionally wants to create any controversy about us, they start talking on our behalf, because the consistent quality delivery earned their trust for years. However, there are some occurrences or external stimulus for which the brand itself is not liable, but became a victim in those cases I think the media should be a bit more conscientious. They should check all their facts, before stating the information they’ve collected to the public.

At the government level, the role of the gatekeeper should be amplified. By that I mean, who is responsible for what, what can be done, and what can’t be done. What the standard is, and based on what are the questions being asked. The reason I am saying this is because, for a very long duration, the brands I have worked for, and those I am still working for, all of them were tested and trusted brand. Even then, I have witnessed 3 big incidents, once in 2008, then in 2014, and again this year, for 3 different brands. Each time, it was due to external reasons, and the brand was not involved. Something transpired in a different country, or the study that was conducted was faulty. Later on, when according to the standard, it was tested outside or abroad, the result revealed that the entire study was erroneous. Therefore, if the government were to handle such issues, just a bit more strictly, then the fraudulent industrialists will develop a sense of fear and start assuming more responsibility. On the other hand, if the brand is good, they can continue to serve with right products to the consumers. even if the consumers are confused, they would approach the brand, because they have faith. Then via one on one communication, the confusion can be resolved, since they do have faith in you. It’s not necessary to tell everyone, but it is essential to stay connected with your loyal base. So an issue may arise, but if I stay within the promise I made, then it’s possible to overcome the issue in a short span. Because consumers have faith and it’s being tested. We don’t compromise on product quality, which is the main reason people trust us. We maintain consistency and this is how we ensure the confidence of our loyal consumer base.

Catering to the convenience of consumers
Despite the proliferation of social media and digital marketing, the distribution network is still the same, naturally. But the fact is, as people are more convenience seeker, we have evolved our delivery services i.e. home delivery. You can call 16556, and you can get your favorite flavor of ice cream at home. That is how our reach to our audience is being changed. Similarly, our communication approach has also changed. The channels we are focusing on are mostly digital because that is more convenient and you can actually communicate with you consumers directly. You can actually target the consumer you are seeking for. Accordingly, the work is involved with the products, as well as engagement. Because a particular study about Facebook says that, ice cream is more about impulse, and the biggest consumer demography is the youth and millennials, and generation i, and millennials are not actually loyal. They prefer and love brands who can offer them an experience, engagement and excitement. We get this opportunity more via digital, so we are more focused on digital channels now. Accordingly, we are trying to communicate with our consumers, besides that. This brand has a legacy, has been in the market for a very long time. People of different ages like ice cream, hence for some we communicate in conventional media like television, and for some, particularly the new ones we have to be involved in BTL, for activation. We also work on the consumer end. However, we select the touchpoints, those which are fun and entertaining, we work on those points. Naturally, Facebook comes first but we also have a focus on YouTube, Instagram, and LinkedIn etc

Journey will define the success
When I think about career and success; I find them as the journey, or you can call it the life road. The journey will take you to a path, it’s a long journey and still I need to go miles away, hence I can’t see the destination yet. However, to make the journey a memorable and significant one, I will try to give my best one, and I am sure I will get some reward in return. Thanks to Ice Business Times for featuring me. A success story of someone from the crowd may help others to encourage. Thanks for the initiative but I will request you to raise your voice more about violence against children and women and violation of consumer rights. Before doing business we have a society to uphold.