This opinion piece was first published in the Dhaka Tribune
Ask any development economist how the NRBs have contributed to the development of Bangladesh and you will hear mention of only the blue-collar expatriate Bangladeshi workers sending billions of dollars in remittance every year.
The economists do not mention the white-collar NRB technology professionals at all except for an anecdote here and a story there:
“A bank was set up by NRBs.” “An NRB IT entrepreneur just recruited a dozen of the best and brightest from the local IT industry.” “An NRB bio-technologist made the audacious move to do jute genome sequencing in Bangladesh.” “An NRB engineer is drafting the Padma Bridge plans.” “An NRB mathematician is the head coach for Math Olympiad helping Bangladesh win gold.”
The economists cannot cite statistics because all the stories put together do not generate enough data for statistics.
In contrast, ask any non-resident Bangladeshi professional -- especially in technology or engineering -- living in any of the hundred countries around the world, how they want to contribute to their home country Bangladesh, and you’ll get the unequivocal answer: “I want to utilize my skills, experience, and money in Bangladesh."”
The seed for this desire is sown the minute they set sail for a foreign country primarily for higher studies, and in some cases, for emigration. The seed germinates when an NRB feels established in his or her respective field of expertise in corporations, start-up, academia, or research.
Let’s call it the “We are for Bangladesh” or W4B seed (because us engineers love acronyms, especially if there is a digit in the middle).
I believe the journey triggered by CONE 2019 will bridge the gap between dreams of NRB engineers to contribute to their motherland and the reality of that contribution. I believe CONE will help the W4B seed blossom into full-grown plants for tens of thousands of NRB technologists and engineers in the years to come and generate significant statistics for our economists.
Why do I believe this? Because the government, as well as non-government, actors are ready for the NRBs who are coming with specific proposals, 38 to be exact.
On the eve of CONE 2019, I am reminded of a similar proud and surreal moment 19 years ago, when I welcomed about 300 non-resident Bangladeshi technologists, engineers, and scientists in the TechTransfer 2000 conference in New Jersey.
The dream of that gathering was to start a journey they had been pining for since the germination of the W4B seed within them. A few of them started that journey but most did not complete it.
We held a follow-up conference with a few hundred NRB technologists and engineers, along with a thousand of their resident Bangladeshi counterparts, in December 2000. Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury was as much a part of it as he is now a part of CONE 2019.
A few days after the TechTransfer 2000 Dhaka conference, a small NRB delegation, that included me, met with the then prime minister (who serendipitously is the current prime minister) Sheikh Hasina. She was so encouraged to hear our plans that she allocated a government office space for our work.
Despite our sincerest efforts for the next few years, we failed to generate statistics, although a few notable collaborations resulted between the NRBs and RBs. I attribute that failure to our inability as a non-governmental organization, to remove barriers to NRB engagement in Bangladesh.
This failure is in sharp contrast to India which has developed a $100 billion IT export industry with their non-residents, China which has seen over 70% of its FDI flow come from its non-residents, and Africa which has enjoyed over $10bn in investment and $30bn in philanthropy from its non-residents.