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BDI 2019 International Conference at Yale University - Press Release

BDI International Conference on Bangladesh at Yale University

March 22-24, 2019

PRESS RELEASE – March 26, 2019

 

An international conference, "Bangladesh in the Next 30 Years: Challenges and Prospects," organized by the Bangladesh Development Initiative (BDI) has just concluded (March 22-24, 2019). The conference was hosted by the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, Yale University. 

The conference attracted some 135 participants from around the globe, including Bangladesh, the US, the UK, Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Australia. The background of the attendees was diverse—scholars, students, professors, government officials, bankers, diplomats, business professionals, policy makers, engineers, architects, entrepreneurs, artists, and members of the global Bangladeshi diaspora.

In his welcome remarks, Professor Munir Quddus, President of BDI, explained that BDI is a professional organization composed of scholars and practitioner who are passionate about their shared vision of a prosperous and democratic Bangladesh. BDI is strictly nonprofit and nonpartisan and committed to an interdisciplinary approach to solving the complex challenges of development and democracy. He invited attendees to be optimistic in their deliberations, just as, time and again, the people of Bangladesh have demonstrated their resilience from setbacks. He encouraged participants to celebrate the success of Bangladesh, but not be shy about asking tough questions. BDI founding member Dr. Ashraf Ali presented a brief history of the 30-year old organization that works as a think tank and an advocacy group with an emphasis on the social and economic development of Bangladesh. He reminded his listeners that when BDI started in the 1990s, the per capita income in Bangladesh was at $1/day, whereas today it stands at $5/day, and that we should all do what we can so that these trends continue.

During the opening plenary on “Bangladesh in the next 30 years,” plenary moderator Dr. Atiur Rahman, former Governor of Bangladesh Bank and honorary professor at Dhaka University, spoke of the great economic success Bangladesh had experienced in recent years. Professor Mustafizur Rahman (CPD) and Dr. Nazrul Islam (UN, BEN), both economists, used numbers and statistics to present the compelling story of Bangladesh’s dramatic economic success, but also discussed some of the challenges ahead. Specifically, as the nation moves from LDC to Middle Income status, it stands to lose many of the preferential advantages (trade, concessional borrowing of capital, others) reserved for the least developed nations.

Nadine Murshid, on the faculty at University at Buffalo, moderated the second plenary “Multiple perspectives on the Rohingya crisis.” The diverse group of panelists included a lawyer (Sara Hossain, Advocate of Supreme Court, BLAST), human and women’s rights activist (Shireen Huq, Naripokkho), physician and researcher (Ruhul Abid, Brown University), economist (Reshma Hussam, Harvard University), and anthropologist (Dina Siddiqi, New York University and BRAC University). The general consensus to emerge from their presentations was that, while Bangladesh had acted with courage, compassion, and leadership in accepting these distressed people driven from their homes after being subjected to unspeakable horrors, it is time to do much more. Given that the crisis will not be resolved in the short run, as a nation that was born in the middle of a mass exodus of millions of its own people, Bangladesh should move from the “humanitarian” to a more pro-active “development” mode of support for these displaced people. Their human rights is our human rights.

During the formal opening on Saturday morning, Professor Munir Quddus welcomed all participants and spoke of BDI’s vision and mission. He asked, “Why do we do these conferences? Because we care for Bangladesh. We love Bangladesh! This is also the reason you all are here today.” An important part of BDI’s mission is to support solid research that can inform and guide policymakers, and impact trends in the private sector. To achieve these goals, BDI organizes research conferences such as this one, publishes books and a scholarly journal (Journal of Bangladesh Studies), plays an advocacy role, and collaborates with a number of organizations such as PRI, AEDSB, BEN and AIBS. More information on BDI is available on its homepage, www.bdiusa.org. There are multiple goals for these conferences - education, networking among scholars, supporting young scholars, honoring established scholars, and nurturing and developing new ideas to help solve Bangladesh’s complex problems. The overall goal is to enhance “Brand Bangladesh” in the United States and globally.

Korvi Rakshand of JAAGO, a much-admired young social entrepreneur who is waging a war on poverty by building schools for children from poor families, was the keynote speaker for the luncheon program. With a curriculum that places an emphasis on English as a global language, the JAAGO team is teaching 3,500 children in twelve different schools (including in remote areas through the Internet). In addition, Rakshand has assembled a formidable group of 35,000 volunteers and mentors to help his team educate these children from low-income families. He proudly spoke of a JAAGO student who has received full scholarship to complete high school in the renowned United World College in the United States.

In his keynote address during the award ceremony dinner, former Bangladesh Bank Governor Dr. Atiur Rahman spoke of Rabindranath Tagore’s vision of change and development. The world is in flux today with rapid changes that are expected to accelerate. Disparities between the rich and poor are on the rise. The world Tagore lived in and wrote about was similar with major changes transforming society. The great poet’s message was one of peace and equity. He wrote that as a nation, we must not forget the most marginalized members of our society, the peasants.

In his keynote speech on Sunday, Iqbal Quadir, formerly of Grameenphone and MIT, and now a senior fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard University, spoke of his life’s work and his personal insights into how a labor-rich developing nation such as Bangladesh can use innovative technologies to overcome the capital deficit. Although many believe that excess labor is a problem for economic progress, Quadir believes the opposite to be true. Labor is the source of wealth, since capital will always require labor in order to create wealth. He spoke of the lessons he learned from his readings of Adam Smith and other writers. Technology, such as cell phones, can be invaluable in these efforts because it increases our “connectivity” and saves time. Although new technologies can be disruptive and painful in the short run, they can help generate much greater wealth in the long run.

During the Saturday award and recognition ceremony, Dean Munir Quddus recognized three BDI members for their contributions to the organization: Dr. Farida Khan, Dr. Ashraf Ali, and Dr. Rahim Quazi. He also expressed BDI’s gratitude to major donors whose sponsorship had made the conference possible: BRAC Bank, IFIC Bank, The City Bank, Mutual Trust Bank, Standard Bank, Dhaka Bank, bKash, Eastern Bank, Summit Group, MGH Group, Dr. Saiful Islam, Imdad-Sitara Khan Foundation, and ULAB. He recognized three individuals as “friends of BDI”: Dr. Atiur Rahman for his proactive support in securing sponsorships and his other contributions in helping to make the conference a success; Dr. Mushfiq Mobarak, professor of economics and chair of the South Asian Studies Council, Yale University, for facilitating this new collaboration between BDI and Yale University; and Mr. Lovlu Ansar, Editor, Bangladesh Protidin for his long-term commitment to BDI.

For his unique services to the nation as an eminent engineer, scholar, and man of action, National Professor Dr. Jamilur Reza Choudhury, VC, University of Asia-Pacific (former VC, BRAC University) was honored with the prestigious BDI Lifetime Achievement Award. A knee injury prevented Professor Choudhury from attending the conference, but his niece Dr. Kausar Jahan, professor of engineering at Rowan University, accepted the award on his behalf. Dr. Sukomal Modak, one of his former students, offered some personal anecdotes. Both recounted stories from Professor Choudhury’s long and brilliant career as a faculty at BUET, a man of science, and a renowned scholar. Dean Quddus read a message from Sir Fazle Abed who wrote, “'I am delighted to learn that Prof. Jamilur Reza Choudhury is being honored with the BDI Lifetime Achievement Award. Prof. Jamilur Reza Choudhury is Bangladesh's most celebrated engineer and has served his country with great distinction in academia and as a cabinet member for the country's caretaker government. We take great pride in his achievements.”

The conference ended on an optimistic note on Sunday, March 24. Dean Munir Quddus and Professor Mushfiq Mobarak thanked the attendees for their participation and congratulated all on the completion of a successful conference on Bangladesh. There was general agreement among the participants that the conference had been superbly managed, and that important new ideas, with enormous policy implications, had been discussed over the course of these three days. The plenaries, sessions, and panels had shone a positive light on the uplifting story of the people of Bangladesh who were now clearly marching out of a history of poverty, conflict, and instability. There was no doubt that best is yet to come for this young nation.

Munir Quddus, Ph.D.

President, BDI

March 26, 2019

 

 

BDI President, Dean Munir Quddus, giving the BDI Lifetime Achievement Award for National Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury to his niece, Dr. Kauser Jahan

BDI President, Dean Munir Quddus, giving the BDI Lifetime Achievement Award for National Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury to his niece, Dr. Kauser Jahan

Professor Mustafizur Rahman (CPD), Dr. Nazrul Islam (UN, BEN) and Dr. Atiur Rahman (former Governor of Bangladesh Bank) speaking at the plenary, “Bangladesh in the Next 30 Years: Challenges and Prospects.”

Professor Mustafizur Rahman (CPD), Dr. Nazrul Islam (UN, BEN) and Dr. Atiur Rahman (former Governor of Bangladesh Bank) speaking at the plenary, “Bangladesh in the Next 30 Years: Challenges and Prospects.”

The panel on Rohingya crisis – from left to right: human rights activist Ms. Shireen Huq (Naripokkho), Barrister Sara Hossain (Advocate, Supreme Court, BLAST), physician and researcher Dr. Ruhul Abid (Brown), panel moderator Dr. Nadine Murshid (University at Buffalo), economist Dr. Reshma Hussam (Harvard), and anthropologist Dr. Dina Siddiqi (NYU).

The panel on Rohingya crisis – from left to right: human rights activist Ms. Shireen Huq (Naripokkho), Barrister Sara Hossain (Advocate, Supreme Court, BLAST), physician and researcher Dr. Ruhul Abid (Brown), panel moderator Dr. Nadine Murshid (University at Buffalo), economist Dr. Reshma Hussam (Harvard), and anthropologist Dr. Dina Siddiqi (NYU).