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Tapping into foreign potential

  • Published at 12:01 am May 22nd, 2019

The diaspora community has the potential to significantly contribute to a country’s economy

The incumbent government has taken a laudable initiative in recent times as it has completed a comprehensive study and published a book titled Engagement of Non-resident Bangladeshis in National Development, Strategies, Challenges and Way Forward under the K4DM (Knowledge for Development Management) project. 

The research offers an NRB (non-resident Bangladeshi) community engagement framework, namely the “PIE” framework, where “P” stands for philanthropy, “I” stands for investment, and “E” stands for expert engagement. 

It’s a noble initiative to engage an estimated 2.4 million Bangladeshis in a development endeavour, who have been living in different parts of the globe. 

To date, the NRBs have been contributing to economic development, mainly by sending remittance and often through informal philanthropy and investment. 

However, as was envisaged in the report, the NRBs could be vital for economic enhancement through institutionalizing the culture of philanthropy -- fetching more foreign investment through diaspora entrepreneurship or serving as a critical bridge for foreign investors along with engaging experts through forming platforms for knowledge sharing. 

It is now evident that the diaspora community has the potential to contribute to the upward mobility of the economic status of a country. Countries including Mexico, China, and India have institutionalized their strategic steps to engage the diaspora effectively in a multifarious way. 

A UNCTAD report in 2012 showed that around 80% of the FDI in China came from the diasporas of Chinese origin. 

While on the other hand, the Indian diaspora, having been experienced in Silicon Valley in the US, has been contributing to building the IT base in India. 

Taking lessons from these successful initiatives, it was suggested to engage NRBs for institutionalized philanthropy in order to entrench it as an effective tool for local development. 

It recommended to jointly identify local development projects for seeking philanthropic contribution and engaging the diaspora at every level of development -- from identifying and planning to execution and evaluation.

For foreign investment, it was recommended to establish special economic zones for diaspora entrepreneurs, to establish and galvanize the connection of diasporas with the national and local chamber of commerce and industry, and to provide one-stop services in those special economic zones to fetch the desired investment. Further, it was suggested to making the bond investment lucrative so that the NRBs become more inclined to invest in Bangladesh. 

To ensure expert engagement, a platform through connecting scientists, academics, managers, IT professionals, doctors, engineers, pharmacists, architects, agriculturists, and others in relevant important sectors needs to be created. Understandably, these sections of NRBs should be connected through pertinent ministries or their affiliated government organizations. 

For instance, the academics and researchers, working and staying abroad, should be connected and mobilized through the Ministry of Education. 

As was envisioned, if the diaspora communities are to be engaged in many areas of development, then trust building and formation of a partnership with the targeted NRBs would be a critical challenge. The challenges faced are:

Policy level challenges: As of now, there is no concrete policy framework to engage the NRBs in development activities at the local level in Bangladesh. 

Hence, policy provisions, management of philanthropy funds, and coordination with the diaspora communities would be critical in this regard. 

General challenges: The formation of a database of NRBs through the embassies abroad would be a primary challenge as they are often not sufficiently staffed to do this task. 

Moreover, most of the people are being affiliated with political parties and they usually constitute numerous associations or factions. 

Thus, identifying and inviting appropriate associations would be another challenge. 

Once those are attained, getting the people interested in such initiatives could be a mammoth task. 

On top of that, the capacity gap in forming and exercising appropriate modalities in the government sector including the embassies abroad would also be critical. 

Institutional level challenges: Matching the interest of diaspora professionals and the host institutions in Bangladesh, bringing positive perceptions of the investment climate would also be critical. 

A clear direction from the government would be extremely important in this regard. 

Finally, recognizing the diaspora contribution, arranging annual diaspora conference, and steps towards familiarizing the second and third generation Bangladeshi origin diasporas by initiating certain programs, issuing life-long visas, and arranging language learning programs, among others, could expedite the overall goal of the initiative. 

Mohammed Hossain Sarker is First Secretary (Labour), The Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations in Geneva. The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and in no way reflect the views of the government or the organization to which the writer is affiliated with.