Bangladesh a global leader for creative solutions: UNDP

The most promising aspect of development in Bangladesh is that it has nurtured several innovations in development and today it stands tall as a net exporter of southern expertise. Bangladesh is a global leader in reducing poverty and many countries struggling to reduce poverty can learn from Bangladesh on how it strengthened its capacities by focusing on certain key areas to remove barriers to progress ahead. Another remarkable achievement of Bangladesh has been that it is now able to feed its entire population of 164 million.

The recent achievements in many sectors are truly exemplary, especially poverty reduction and Bangladesh is a role model for many developing nations. The South Asian nation is a laboratory where creative development programmes are initiated and the climate adaptability capacities are said to be most amazing.

Bangladesh stands tall as a net exporter of southern expertise.
Bangladesh is a global leader in reducing poverty.
Bangladesh is a living laboratory for numerous innovative development programmes.
Bangladesh’s climate adaptability capacities are most amazing.
Bangladesh has deservingly earned its exemplary reputation in economic progress.
As a fast developing nation Bangladesh has earned itself a prominent place on the global stage.
The many creative solutions developed in Bangladesh can positively benefit other countries.
In poverty reduction a large number of the poor are no longer destitute.
Food security has been a major driver in poverty reduction in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has amazing capacities for adapting to climate change.
In disaster management, Bangladesh is a leader.

Bangladesh Post spoke to Sudipto Mukerjee, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in Bangladesh on Tuesday and elaborately discussed the following issues. He described the recent achievements in many sectors as truly remarkable, especially the large-scale poverty reduction that has taken place and said that Bangladesh is a shining example for many developing nations. He highlighted Bangladesh’s fast progress towards graduating to attain the status of a developed nation saying that the people of Bangladesh are not only extremely hard working but are also highly enterprising.

He said that Bangladesh is a living laboratory where numerous innovative development programmes are continuously being initiated and highlighted the climate adaptability capacities which he said amazes him most. Sudipto said, “From my near three decades of working as an international development professional and also observing Bangladesh, both internally and externally looking through my lens how does Bangladesh compare with other countries, I think Bangladesh has deservingly earned its exemplary reputation in economic progress.”

“I understand Bangladesh more than any of my predecessors (UNDP) since I am from the sub region and a near son of this soil. As an ethnic Bengali, I am fully conversant with the local language and culture and have also closely seen Bangladesh for a very long time since the time I worked with development partners like DFID and had the opportunity to professionally visit Bangladesh. Having returned to work here after many years I cannot but notice the very visible signs of prosperity in Dhaka compared to many other cities during the same period of time.”

Praising Bangladesh’s recent progress, he said, “Bangladesh perfectly projects the image of a fast developing nation that is confident, deservingly proud of its achievements and through that has earned itself a prominent place on the global stage, and is now known for also contributing to the well- being of the world at large. In that UNDP and other most development partners are also working to amplify the voice of this young nation on complex matters of global importance.”

Sudipto, who is an architect and town planner, said that at one stage during my initial days of my work as the Resident Representative here I was told that Bangladesh is one of the largest living laboratory for development initiatives. A lot of innovations are carried out here almost on a daily basis, several of which I have witnessed myself.

He said that what is amazing during the last three years since I have been in office here in Bangladesh that the nation has turned from being a net importer to a net exporter of southern developmental expertise. So there are many things that Bangladesh can proudly showcase which are global goods now. The many creative solutions developed here and lessons learned can positively benefit others countries to achieve their development goals, and in turn can benefit the entire planet. On Bangladesh’s economic progress, he praised Bangladesh for making a very promising start to graduating from a least developed country status or LDC. He said that in doing so, Bangladesh has set a record but cautioned that that it should not be caught in the classical middle-income trap.

Sudipto who possesses significant experience in UN country programming, said, “We want Bangladesh to be able to sustain its gains and meet all the aspirations the government has set for itself in achieving the SDGs by 2030 and becoming a fully developed country by 2041. We support those goals that Bangladesh has set. We believe if the risks are managed Bangladesh can achieve its dreams.”

“In any country,” he said, “The government has a great role to play to shape and to be the enabler of good development outcomes, but in the context of every nation, with Bangladesh, in particular, you also have to look at some inherent qualities of the Bengali people. The reason I say this is I have noticed that the average Bangladeshis are extremely hard working. With the amount of the hard work they do on a daily basis, indeed deserves them to quickly graduate and attain the status of a fully developed nation.”

He said, “I would like to highlight the amazing power of resilience of the average Bangladeshi people. As in other parts of South Asia the people of Bangladesh are also very enterprising. Apart from giving credit to the government for the development progress, I would also recognize other development actors like the non-government organizations who have a lot of contributions and of course, capacities.” He highly admired the outstanding contributions of the national NGOs and said, “If there is one big difference between Bangladesh and other developing countries it is the fact that Bangladesh is also highly endowed with amazing capacities of national NGOs. The NGOs and the general people also deserve credit for the many transformative developments here and we should recognize this.”

Asked about what is the most outstanding development that you can appreciate, Sudipto said, “I think it is the sheer scale of reduction in poverty which has happened here. At the same time, there is still a ‘stubborn’ level of extreme poverty of 12 percent and taking into account the large population of Bangladesh accounts for a large number of poor people and there may be strong structural reasons like geographical locations, ethnicity or social status that may require more creative and sustained multi-pronged efforts to address.”

“What strikes me most about Bangladesh’s poverty reduction is a large number of the poor are no longer destitute. And a large number among those who have come out of poverty are women. Progressive policies and programmes for women’s empowerment can be attributed to this major social transformation,” he explained.

But there are concerns he says adding, “While many policies are in favour of women’s empowerment which is why women in recent times have been getting more job opportunities. At the same time, with many sectors modernizing and resulting in fewer jobs being generated, it risks a repeat of men crowding out women in the labour market. I think we should look at policies to sustain the gains and incorporate men and women both to prevent fragility. In other words, prevent falling back into poverty.”

The major drivers in poverty reduction have been many, but food security perhaps tops all the list. “If a nation of 164 million can feed itself, even though it still uses mostly manual labour in agriculture and not high-tech methods for efficiency, it can certainly continue to progress without having to look back. For every country to have a sustainable economy I think food security is a non-negotiable need. If you are dependable on importing food then you are extremely vulnerable.”

“The second driver of change in Bangladesh as I call it is the amazing capacities for adapting to climate change,” said Sudipto adding, “Bangladesh is one of the most climate affected economies and at the same time is no doubt is the world’s largest laboratory in terms of creative adaptation. All types of adaptation strategies have been tried here and are very successful.”

He mentioned, “We (UNDP) can take some credit for this as we were instrumental in setting up authorities such as the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and as a partner, UNDP has supported many capacity-building initiatives like search and rescue and recovery operations in the post-disaster events. Many countries have lots to learn from Bangladesh in climate adaptation capabilities.”

The third driver of poverty reduction is the sustained investment in human development like primary education and healthcare and in doing so raising life expectancy which is, in fact, higher than in neighbouring India. On Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) he said, “SDGs are the most ambitious development agenda in the world in history because it aspires to leave no one behind. While the MDGs had certain numerical targets in SDGs there all have to be included. The SDGs remind you that if you are a citizen of Bangladesh you are also a citizen of the planet. And for that reason, you as a citizen have responsibilities for the planet also. The whole world must come together to keep the planet healthy.”

He added, “So in the many transboundary development goals like climate change mitigation or the health of oceans you have to think beyond your political and administrative boundaries which is a major shift in the SDGs.” Another important aspect of SDG is the focus on governance – peace, justice and strong institution, he pointed out. Sudipto expressed serious concerns for growing inequalities and suggested more work is required to arrest them and thereby build more inclusive societies.

He said, “We have realized that prosperity or GDP growth in itself is a necessary condition but not sufficient. If inequalities increase tensions also rise. There will be social fragility and the developmental gains would not be sustainable. And growing inequalities is the downside of this rapid growth in economic growth in Bangladesh. The rich are becoming richer while those who are escaping poverty are not catching up as fast and this growing gap can affect social cohesion. It is a big risk to sustainable development. This phenomenon is occurring across South Asia and presents some serious concerns. For a more cohesive society, we must have a more equal and inclusive society.”

He also appreciated the current pace of the infrastructure development and said, “Another major driver to sustain economic growth and poverty reduction is the focus on mega-infrastructure. Although, they are yet to be completed and operationalized, the ongoing mega projects like power plants, bridges, railways, highways and ports, I foresee a very bright future for Bangladesh of accelerated developmental returns. For instance, once the Padma Bridge is open to the public it would have a huge positive impact on the national economy.”

He said that on the next UN sustainable development cooperation framework, we will be working to support the government’s 8th five-year plan. The next two Five Year Plans present opportunities for addressing some key blockades, “Bangladesh needs to work more for economic diversification. It is highly dependent on one or two sectors of the economy like the Ready-Made Garments and the pharmaceutical industries. While looking into economic diversification Bangladesh needs to focus on creating more jobs because jobless growth is increasingly a major concern.

He said that Bangladesh also needs to invest more on making its growing urbanization more planned and managed. About half the population depend on capital Dhaka for economic activities which generate over 50 percent of the GDP in the nation. Should there be a sudden disaster like a mega earthquake the economy of entire country will at a high risk of collapse. More than 5 percent of GDP is lost due to traffic jams in Dhaka city. It is indeed quite a large figure. At the pace at which Dhaka is growing bigger and bigger undoubtedly the unit cost of public service delivery in Dhaka must already be very high.

In terms of programming and planning of SDGs, Bangladesh is far ahead compared to other nations, but it still needs to look at how it can improve the quality. Surveys before the SDGs were framed show that people demand quality, and not just quantity of access to public services. On the issue of lessons to be learnt from Bangladesh, Sudipto said that poverty reduction is number one. In disaster management, Bangladesh is a leader.

He, however, said that more accelerated modernization and development business processes need to be simplified and as in many previous colonies, bureaucracy is still a major concern. Through a2i, UNDP is supporting the government to improve and reduce these barriers. I think in the long run government should only be a facilitator or act as a catalyst and let the private sector play greater role in all sectors of development. Direct involvement of the government in every sector of the economy has to be progressively reduced. More and more private sectors should be allowed to come in.

Once Bangladesh graduates to the next level from LDC it would be in the free market economy and one area which Bangladesh needs to invest in is international negotiating capacity. UNDP is well placed and would welcome the opportunity to build such capacity. And the second important thing that needs to be strengthened is commercial justice or enforceability of contracts. Once a developed country a lot of international companies would come to invest in Bangladesh and they would like to ensure that their investments are not exposed to very high risk. Better commercial justice systems would encourage the foreign companies to feel more confident and to invest and that would, among other things, also help to reduce the cost of doing business.

Supporting the Government apart, UNDP is increasingly also working with the private sector as they create the bulk of the jobs and bring in green technologies. “We are now looking to see how we can help the private sector better align their businesses for SDG achievement and in turn make more direct contributions to nation-building,” Sudipto concluded.

Sudipto joined UNDP in September 2009 in the Iraq Country Office and has since worked as Country Director at Sierra Leone (August 2013- October 2016) and Bangladesh (October 2016 – present). Since January 2019, he has taken over responsibilities as UNDP Resident Representative for Bangladesh.

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