Abed has left. But it is not possible to bid farewell to him. He remains with us as our companion forever. Since the Liberation War, he is in the very grain of our society.
There is no layer and sub-layer of our societal make-up which has not been touched by Abed’s work. He is the principal architect of the massive transformation that has taken place in Bangladesh society since the liberation.
Abed made skillful steps to walk through every dilapidated gully, every sink-hole, and overturn strange beliefs and norms set by an age of ignorance, re-worked patiently with talent and creativity to undo the past and lay a solid foundation of the future. He helped Bangladesh change forever.
It is certainly not an exaggeration to say that there is hardly anyone among the 170 million people of Bangladesh who do not benefit in some way from Abed’s programmes or enjoy products and services provided by his organisations. If she is a poor person or a village woman, then she is in contact with Abed’s activities at every step of her life -- in education, health, income generation, self-awareness and many more.
How can we say goodbye to Abed, who had quietly, even without us realising it, became such an inseparable part of our daily life.
Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus
Abed was an extraordinary craftsman of the social and economic emancipation of the poor of Bangladesh. He liberated the common Bangladeshi from economic misery.
He carried out his variety of enormous and widespread activities quietly. He did not wait for anyone’s response to his examples; he marched forward alone, undeterred and focused, taking the responsibility of doing the entire task on his own shoulders, without complaint.
Abed changed the concept of 'NGO' for the whole world. He provided the example of an NGO that does not shy away from national scale responsibility for every single social and economic issue, with a mission of completing the task, not just create islands of success. Abed gave NGO a new identity – one that works nationwide, even globally and multi-dimensionally, without falling victim to its own bureaucracy.
Abed perfected the management of multi-dimensional and nationwide NGOs into a new science. For this alone he shall be remembered for ever.
Economists and researchers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal always pose a question to me. “How is it that in Bangladesh whatever starts in one location is soon scaled up as a nationwide program? Why does it not happen in our country?”
I give them a standard answer - “Because an Abed is yet to be born in your country.”
Abed has left behind a self-confident Bangladesh. The story of his immense courage, vision and creativity will continue to empower all generations to come. Abed will remain the image of Bangladesh that inspires them.
Abed, it will be easy for the coming generations to take on the responsibility of building the Bangladesh of their dreams, on the foundation that you have built.
Abed, the nation will remain indebted to you forever.
Too often, when we speak of migrants, we find ourselves having to speak about moments of extreme hardship, caught up in a narrative of crisis. Those who find themselves in detention in Libya, trafficked in the back of trucks, having sought new lives away from failing states, conflict and disaster.
Today is International Migrants Day, a day to remember these individuals and reiterate the need to respect the rights and dignity of all. It is a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize the estimated 272 million migrants that are integral members of all our societies today.
But it is also a day to recognize the generosity and warmth of the host communities that have embraced newcomers arriving with little or nothing to their names. In Colombia, in Germany and across the globe, we have seen examples of communities that have shared their homes and lives with those less fortunate. Many of the communities into which migrants arrive already are fragile, limited in resources and struggling to flourish.
This year on International Migrants Day, IOM has chosen to focus on social cohesion, in recognition not just of migrants, but of the communities in which they can and do flourish. Our societies are not static; our networks of community are constantly fracturing and rebuilding when faced with change, whether due to economic recession, aging populations or the tensions of different political world views.
Too often, when we speak of migration, we debate whether it is good or bad, costs too much or pays out too little and the precise contributions that migrants make to our lives. But to view migration as an accounting practice is to reduce it to a fraction of its whole. It is an evolving –often challenging—yet integral part of our societies, enriching them in multiple, intangible ways.
Too often, we forget that migrants are quietly already part of our lives, their contributions woven into our daily interactions. Some are scholars studying to acquire new skills. Others are workers seeking to leverage their expertise for better pay or a wider range of opportunities. Some are family members who have joined loved ones, to care for them and start new chapters in their own lives.
Many migrants have crossed a nearby border for opportunities in countries not very different from their own. Indeed, more and more, we see workers routinely crossing borders, living in one country, working in another. Others cross continents or oceans, taking giant steps—and giant risks—to join new societies with different languages, religious practices, foods and cultural norms. They risk a great deal to succeed among us.
Migrants need to change to cope with the challenges of adapting to a new social and cultural environment and respect the values – gender equality, for example – of the communities which they have joined. Mutual respect for diverse beliefs is a cornerstone of a social cohesion that works for the benefit of all.
The communities that thrive are those that embrace change and adjust to it. Migrants are an integral and welcome element of that change. Migrants can also become -- often surprising -- champions of resilience when times are tough, when a community experiences unexpected shocks, including environmental change and disaster, unemployment, and political turmoil.
But communities cannot adapt alone. They need support from governments and organizations such as IOM, to ensure adequate provision of public services, orientation and language support, human capital investment, and broader strengthening of community infrastructure.
Today’s political climate is challenging; oftentimes migrants make for an easy scapegoat for all the ills of society, rather than one element of a cure. Thus, on this day, we need to constantly remind the international community of the reality -- both historic and contemporary – that when well managed migration works, closed societies can become open, and political tensions fade away.
Whether we are living, working, loving or building, we do so together.
António Vitorino is Director General at International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) has been a trending word that frequents news headlines all around the globe, even more so in Bangladesh as it is one of the first South Asian countries to join the initiative. We highly appreciate that Bangladesh along with many other countries have showed great support toward BRI for their good faith in China and the benefits the initiative has already delivered to their people.
However, with it also came up suspicions and speculations over China’s true intention by proposing the biggest public good the world has ever seen so far. And in spite of repeated efforts of China in explaining the nature of the BRI, there is a curious obstinacy from some quarters that rejects the Chinese narrative and insists on making unsubstantiated allegations against the initiative. One of the latest was reportedly made by US Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall G Schriver during his recent visit to Bangladesh, where he claimed that the BRI didn’t support free and open regional development nor ensure the protection of nations’ sovereignty and international law. The claim is rather groundless given where China is standing today in issues concerning global interest and international governance, in stark contrast with how the US has behaved in the past few years. More than anything else, such malicious slander and irresponsible claim are certainly not the least helpful for any kind of peace and development in this region.
Nonetheless, seeing there is still an inadequacy of understanding on what BRI really represents as a whole, especially in certain developed countries who falsely interpret the initiative as a threat to the existing international order, I feel obliged to provide a more comprehensive explanation on what the BRI really is and the true spirit it embodies: openness, inclusiveness and mutual benefits.
What is BRI?
The Belt and Road initiative is proposed for building forms of connectivity among the continents and countries around the globe in order to facilitate closer cooperation in development and beyond. It could find its root long back into history in the ancient Silk Road, a collection of trade routes that spanned across the Eurasian continent about 2000 years ago that enabled the trade of silk, porcelain wares, spices, wines and other commodities among countries along the routes. At that time, China was the starting point in the east for merchants to start their quest. Today, China once again served as the initiator of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and it is meant for the world to share. The BRI connects different countries and regions, different stages of development, different historical traditions, different cultures and religions, and different customs and lifestyles. It is an initiative for open, inclusive, shared and peaceful development, as well as a way to build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind, which is essentially the Chinese way of saying a better world for each and every one.
Based on the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, the BRI pursues a path for shared development and prosperity through cooperation in five major areas -- policy coordination, connectivity of infrastructure and facilities, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and closer people-to-people ties. Big infrastructure projects and active economic activities focusing on trade and investment are undoubtedly the most tangible part of the BRI, but it has much more to offer in other areas of connectivity such as cultural exchanges, technology transfer and people-to-people contacts. The yearly “Happy Chinese New Year” gala, convened by the Chinese Embassy in Bangladesh in cooperation with local organizations, has become an annual cultural carnival for a wide range of Bangladeshi audiences over the past 6 consecutive years. The number of Bangladeshi people travelling to China for the purposes of tourism, education or training is growing at a stunning rate. Chinese think tanks, scholars and experts are flooding into Bangladesh for experience sharing and academic exchanges. All of these are also a fundamental part of the BRI.
Up to today, more than 150 countries and international organizations have signed BRI cooperation documents with China. From 2013 to 2018, the trade volume between China and other B&R countries surpassed 6 trillion USD, and China's investment in B&R countries exceeds 90 billion USD, with more than 244,000 jobs being created for the locals. The idea of a Community of Shared Future for Mankind has also been written into relevant documents of various international organizations including the UN and the G20. It is increasingly evident that BRI has become an important contributor to global peace and development, and thus it is gaining more and more popularity and recognition around the world. And this is why the BRI is being accepted by more nations and organizations as an important channel to move forward together.
As an early and strategically important partner of the BRI, Bangladesh is well-positioned to reap the benefits. In 2018, the amount of our bilateral trade reached 18.7 billion USD, up by 16.8% over the last year. And the country is well projected to become the 2nd largest trading partner with China in South Asia this year. Bangladesh is now the leading cooperation partner to China in G-to-G projects as well as a major destination of Chinese investment. The construction of the Padma Bridge, the dream bridge of Bangladeshi people, is under full swing by the Chinese contractor China Railway Major Bridge Engineering Group. Various projects funded by Chinese grants, including Bangladesh China Friendship Bridge 1 to Bridge 8, Bangladesh China Friendship Exhibition Centre and Bangladesh (Bangabandhu) International Conference Centre, are sprouting up all over Bangladesh, with more to come in the pipeline. The ever-strong momentum of China-Bangladesh cooperation, especially after the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the country in 2016, continues to speak of the true strength of BRI cooperation.
Is BRI A Debt Trap?
A commonly seen allegation against the BRI is that it creates heavy debt burdens on some countries as China provides loans beyond their ability to repay in order to gain control of certain key projects, or the so-called “debt trap” as cooked up by certain western media. It has been repeatedly debunked by China as well as officials from the relevant recipient countries.
A typical example would be Sri Lanka. According to a report published by the central bank of Sri Lanka, its China-related debt accounts for merely 10.6% of the total, 61% of which is at an interest rate far below that of the international market. Sri Lankan President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Parliament and Head of the opposition party all have mentioned that the bigger part of Sri Lanka’s current debt burden comes from multilateral lending institutions, not China. Rather, to cooperate with China will help them walk out of the debt crisis. Similar case is found in Pakistan where the Chinese loans make up only 10% or so of the total.
Bangladesh already has strong institutional arrangements in place with a healthy debt to GDP ratio well below 30%, as the Governor of Bangladesh Bank once pointed out, so there’s even less ground to be concerned about the make-believe “debt trap”. In addition, in order to increase financial security for BRI projects, China and its partners have formulated the Guiding Principles on Financing the Development of the Belt and Road and published the Debt Sustainability Framework for Participating Countries of the Belt and Road Initiative to provide guidance for BRI financing cooperation.
As a matter of fact, the BRI wouldn’t pose any form of risk to its partners, which has been well proved in the practice and implementation of the BRI in the past 6 years. BRI is open, Inclusive and beneficial for all. Moving into the future, China will seek to build a more dynamic and inclusive BRI by engaging in bilateral, trilateral and multilateral cooperation with all participants, an open, green and clean BRI that is transparent and free of corruption, and a higher standard BRI that aims to improve people’s lives in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UN 2030 Agenda, as stated by President Xi Jinping of China at the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in 2019. China always stands by its words to welcome all countries to join the BRI in a common effort to make our world a better place.
Li Jiming is Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Bangladesh
Bangladesh, which is graduating from the least developed countries (LDCs), has become one of Asia’s most remarkable success stories in the recent years. HSBC Global Research7 projected Bangladesh to be a $700 billion economy in 2030 from $300 billion now. Not only this, International Monetary Fund has recognised Bangladesh as one of the three fastest growing economies in the world. Development is taking place rapidly across Bangladesh. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is perhaps going through the development activities in the largest scale ever with metro rails being constructed and high-rising buildings, markets, shopping malls and educational institutes standing up everywhere in the city. But will all these development activities benefit all? Will the persons with disabilities be able to think that their beloved city has become friendly towards them?
Today, December 3rd, is the International Day for the Persons with Disabilities. The day is being observed in Bangladesh along with 176 other countries around the world to uphold this year’s theme “Promoting the Participation of Persons with Disabilities and Their Leadership: Taking Action on the 2030 Development Agenda.” At present, the world population is over 7 billion and more than 1 billion people of the world live with some form of disability. According to World Health Organization (WHO), about 15 percent of the world’s total population have some form of disability. And, a study of WHO shows that one in every five persons in the developing countries lives with any form of disability. It is therefore needless to say how important the International Day for the Persons with Disabilities is in Bangladesh’s context.
The persons with disabilities, up until today, are often subjected to discrimination and negative attitudes in Bangladesh and they live in an unfriendly and hostile environment. Every day, they encounter non-cooperation, ill treatment, social neglect, and economic vulnerability at the family, community, society and government levels.
Dhaka, where more than 20 million people live, is also home to a large number of disabled persons. But it is a matter of regret that the city still does not care for them. From the homes to footpaths, educational institutes to public transports, office buildings to shopping malls, everywhere the mobility of the persons with disabilities is obstructed. Though the Disability Right & Protection Act 2013, enacted by the government of Bangladesh, upholds provision to protect the rights of persons with disabilities and ensure their accessibility in common infrastructure, markets, hospitals, educational institutes, and other buildings, it is still a far cry. Our transport and communication sector, which has got the third highest share of the total budget, has no specific allocation to make roads, highways, footpaths, footbridges, and public transport disabled-friendly. It is very awful to know that in the recent years BTRC has bought 600 buses, however, none of these has any ramp. Again, the Dhaka Building Construction Rules 2008 has also been framed with the provisions of accessibility for the challenged people, still many buildings are being constructed in the city without keeping the accessibility of the disabled persons in mind. As per the Building Construction Act 1952 and National Building Code 2008, every establishment should be designed and made accessible to the persons with disabilities so that they can enter and exit the building without difficulty and the toilets in these establishments should also be accessible. But the reality is totally the opposite. The ministries at the secretariat do not have any ramps or pavements for the persons with disabilities at all.
Few days earlier, I went to New Delhi, India and I went to a shopping mall there to watch a movie. An elderly woman aged around seventy also went to the cinema hall to watch the same movie. With a surprise I just wanted to know if she faced any problems to come to the cinema hall. She replied, ‘I watch at least one movie every month coming to the cinema halls. And I don’t need help of others for my movement in the city as everything on my way is accessible’. But, in Dhaka, can we imagine that a wheelchair-bound person will travel from one place to another without anyone’s support?
The section 32 of the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disability Act, 2013, states that 5 percent of seats in any public transport should be reserved for persons with disabilities; the reality is different from what the law spells out. Most of the bus, train or launch stations do not have necessary infrastructure and support systems in place for these individuals. Therefore, persons with disabilities are facing a huge problem in the public transport space. Apart from this, using the train is next to impossible for the disabled people in Bangladesh, considering that even a fully-abled person faces difficulties getting onto a train. A majority of the rail stations are not having ramps. In the last term, the railway department imported 270 couches, and is importing 250 this term. Sadly, only 10 percent of them have some seats reserved for the disabled persons along with washroom facilities.
How would you feel if you can imagine that you have grown up old and are travelling by launch from Sadarghat on a wheelchair? Certainly you would not expect this to happen to you. According to the data obtained from Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), around 4.5 million journeys were undertaken by persons with disabilities (PWDs) through the Sadarghat-Barishal launch terminal in 2017-18. However, there has been little support delivered to the persons with disabilities travelling from the capital’s launch terminal. Launches do not use ramps for the passengers and the toilets in the launches are not even accessible too.
There is misconception that ensuring accessibility for persons with disabilities in Dhaka is expensive and unrealistic. The reality is, some accessibility arrangements are simple and can be easily done. Though it is also true that some are complex, but all are very important. Increasing access means creating an environment that can be used by all people including the persons with disabilities. By using signage, visual or auditory announcements, assistive services, and slip-resistant paths we can ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.
Awareness has great potential to play a significant role in ensuring inclusive practises in the country and there is a greater need to change our perception towards the persons with disabilities as well. The policymakers must realise that persons with disabilities can also actively participate in the economic activities if they get necessary support and cooperation. The government should also implement the national action plan on disability 2019, which identifies and proposes a large number of activities to be executed by the relevant actors to ensure inclusive practises in the society. However, the government should give special emphasis on skills development, accessible education, accessibility in the public transport, job creation and health access to the persons with disabilities. Several international organisations including Sightsavers, UKAID and ILO are implementing specific programmes for the persons with disabilities in Bangladesh. The government should also work closely with them to bring about positive changes in the country.
Whether we want it or not, all of us are likely to experience some form of disability at some point of life, particularly when we grow older. However, disability inclusion has not still been a priority in the policy making framework of the country. If such a huge number of people remain unproductive due to lack of proper accessibility and inclusion in our society, the progress of Bangladesh, which has recently stepped into a developing country, will be imperfect and unexpected too.
The writer is a development practitioner and currently working at Sightsavers, a UK based INGO.
Dhaka: 03 October 2019/UNB - In Bangladesh, more than 120 companies export information and communications technology (ICT) products worth nearly $1 billion to 35 countries. By 2021, it’s expected that this will increase to $5 billion. Indeed, the growing strength of the ICT Industry underpins the four vital pillars that will support Bangladesh’s transformation to a digital economy by 2021, and a knowledge economy by 2041.
Announced in 2008 and officially launched by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2009, the Digital Bangladesh Vision identifies human resource development, connecting citizens, digital government and the aforementioned promotion of the ICT industry as critical to meeting these transformation targets. Here’s why they are so important:
Human resource development
The government wants Bangladesh to be a gateway for the digital world and has started multiple initiatives to develop a skilled, equipped and digital-ready pool of talent. Our education system produces more than 500,000 university graduates every year and, thanks to the introduction of several dedicated training programmes to get the talent pool ready to deliver value on a global scale, we have trained more than 65,000 Information Technology Enabled Services (IT/ITeS) professionals in the past year.
According to the Oxford Internet Institute, Bangladesh has the second largest pool of online workers in the world. To further enhance skills, we have established specialized labs in all of the country’s 130 universities. We are investing in frontier tech centres of excellence with global technology partners such as IBM, and we have a strong focus on training professionals in emerging technologies – the Internet of Things, blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and analytics.
The next pillar is about connecting citizens - and Bangladesh is committed to ensuring 100% internet connectivity by 2021. We have already made good progress with currently more than 93 million internet subscribers and 160 million mobile subscriptions throughout the nation, making Bangladesh the fifth largest mobile market in Asia Pacific and the ninth largest in the world.
We have ensured seamless connectivity through two submarine cable connections with 1,700 gigabits per second (Gbps) and seven ITC connections with 400 Gbps. We plan to further enhance this by becoming an early adopter of 5G. By the end of 2019, we will provide high-speed internet connectivity to even remote villages.
In order to ensure a cost-effective space for companies interested in investing in Bangladesh, we are building 28 high-tech parks around the country and plan to increase this to 64. There is a focus on developing a thriving environment for partners and investors who are keen to take advantage of the opportunity that Bangladesh presents.
E-governance is the next step in driving the Digital Bangladesh engine forward. The government is proactively pursuing the digitalization of all government portals, such as passport applications and visa applications, by the year 2023. In 2014, we developed the National Portal which now houses more than 45,000 websites and services of different government offices. We have developed more than 5,000 digital centres across the country to help provide various digital services to citizens, while addressing the issue of a digital divide.
Our Bangladesh National Digital Architecture (BNDA), which ensures interoperability, won a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) award this year and WSIS has recognized Bangladesh for different e-government or digital government initiatives for the past six years in a row.
We have established a Digital Service Accelerator to expedite and facilitate the e-services of all ministries and have issued more than 100 million digital IDs to our citizens – one of the highest volumes in the world. Services are very carefully designed to ensure they are relevant to all three groups of Bangladeshi citizens: younger, tech-savvy generations growing up with technology; “digital adapters,” who are middle-aged individuals who have adopted technology; and the minority who stay away from technology. The scale of digital governance in Bangladesh has a tremendous impact on the transformation of the nation.
Promotion of the ICT industry
The vibrant and rapidly growing ICT industry in Bangladesh is the fourth area supporting digital transformation. We serve clients in an array of domains, including financial services, telecoms and healthcare, and drive the IT/ITES engine behind some of the world’s most global companies.
The four pillars behind Digital Bangladesh are strengthened by strong government commitment and support.
Bangladesh is experiencing nearly 8% gross domestic product (GDP) growth and is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. We are 34th in the World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Development Index, ahead of many established nations, and by 2030, we will be the 24th largest economy in the world. The essential ingredient behind this growth has been the smart use of ICT to spur progress in all sectors.
The writer is the State Minister for ICT, Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications & Information Technology, Government of the People's Republic Bangladesh.