Ever since Kissinger branded Bangladesh a basket case, development aid and its practitioners have flocked here as it became a testing ground for fine-tuning development models and practices.
Bangladesh is now among the fastest growing economies, thanks to its thriving businesses and many trade agreements. However, it faces multiple challenges on the road to transitioning to a lower middle-income country, including no longer having LDC benefits. First off, it has a poor record of attracting FDIs, has highly concentrated exports and suffers weak competitiveness because of corruption and poor physical and social infrastructure.
For example, there are no policies or acts for establishing social enterprises, but enterprises in Bangladesh are growing at both social and commercial scales which need governance and policy support. We also need to remember that our greatest resource is our human resource and with increasing tensions/conflicts around the world, more of our remittance earning workers will be returning home. We will need to absorb them into our economic space and we can do so by expanding home businesses and enterprises. Furthermore, to harness their full potential they will need to develop their skills beyond academic institutions.
The challenge at this point, is not having the know-how but policies that propagates knowledge transfer and the fostering of local businesses—we could look at how high performing countries have done it.
So what is knowledge transfer? It is the transfer of tangible and intellectual property, expertise, learning and skills between academia, non-academic community, practitioners and experts in both tacit and explicit ways. It used a concept in business management for the continued growth of businesses. However, for government and investors it could give an important return on investment, one that provides significant boost to enhance economic growth and societal wellbeing. Sustainability, which is now key to development all throughout the world can be ensured through knowledge transfer.
If we look to our neighbours, the post-independence policies made by Nehru and his administration was that of knowledge transfer by ensuring that businesses can grow and expand elsewhere, but that knowledge, capacity and network, is passed on to the next generation of Indians. The Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) is notable in increasing the interest of FDIs in India—a tacit means for nations to follow their own interest without disturbing another, in-tune with the domestic requirement of democracy and socialism, so that even opposing superpowers could work with India without finding conflicts of interest. Aid, for example, was welcome from any region; be it USSR or USA, Germany or Japan. On the other hand, foreign trade and investment were encouraged but regularised with terms and conditions of investment and employment. Thus, when Honda came to India, it came with an exit plan, which was the building of India's own manufacturing capacity, hence emerged Hero Honda. Currently India's “Make-in-India” campaign is a continuation of this drive to locally built domestic industries through knowledge transfer from well-established giants in businesses.
Knowledge transfer is not just about communication, it seeks to organise, create, capture or distribute knowledge and ensure its availability for future users. In an increasingly global locality of practitioners, innovation and ICT, the transfer of policies from one country or region to another in a short span of time has become feasible at a large scale. There has been a lot of attention in the field of public administration for policy transfer and institutional transplantation. This is where we can make our experience as a nation more meaningful especially where our foreign trade and relations are concerned.
Our unique ability to build resilience in climate vulnerable regions, our crisis management of the refugee influx are aspects that so many countries can learn from. However, because we do not have any policies in place when it comes to these issues, so much of the knowledge that we generate do not get passed on. Which is why we continually need to hire experts from abroad at high costs, also in case of managing our major industries and development projects.
We may not have had policies in the past but there is no reason not to implement them today as that would be in our own best interest. This will also help us develop local capacities, especially from neighbouring countries. There is much to be gained from such collaboration. It is thus extremely important at this stage of our graduation from LDC that the knowledge we have be documented, nurtured and capitalised on, as there are many things that other countries can learn from us and vice-versa.
Sharmin Ahmed is a development practitioner with a focus on private sector development and market systems development.