Bangladesh Innovation Conclave Roadmap: Chittagong

Bangladesh Innovation Conclave Roadmap: Chittagong

July 2, 2017

The capital witnessed the first ever Bangladesh Innovation Conclave on the 20th of May, 2017, to start a conversation and set building blocks in meeting the growing need for innovation in our country. The event was presented by Microsoft and organized by Bangladesh Brand Forum. Apart from the keynote sessions and panel discussions, one of the highlights for the conclave was its 4 separate Breakout Sessions, on how to drive regional innovation through 4 major divisions of the country, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna and Sylhet. The aim for these sessions was to discuss and construct innovation roadmaps for the individual divisions.

Chittagong, boasting a population of over 2.5 million people, is Bangladesh’s second largest city and holds the nation’s most important coastal seaport. The city, for years now, has been a major financial center for the economy, contributing heavily through its Blue Economy.

The session on Chittagong commenced with a brief presentation on the division, laying framework for the dialogue to move forward. A number of different sectors were identified which require innovative measures to move forward; the sectors being banking, real estate, restaurants, fashion houses, fisheries, RMG, tourism and the shipping industry.

Is There a Need for Regional Innovation Strategies?

The dialogue, in its opening stages debated the need for separate regional strategies, what should be the end goals and how to achieve them. The speakers unanimously reflected upon how the next 10 years will define the coming 100 years for Bangladesh and thus the need for separate strategies become imminent, if the nation wishes to leverage upon the regional strengths, moving forward.

Culture as a Strength

Chittagong being a port city, has been a melting pot of cultural heritage for centuries. The need to identify the cultural strengths of each division and promotion of such elements were discussed heavily throughout the session. Chittagong has been the cultural center for Sufism, poetry and the Bhandari form of music in Bengal. The division is also culturally renowned for its cuisines, the most popular of which being, Mezbaan e gosht, Musallam, Dried Fish (Shutki), sweet products of Comilla, etc. The suggestion was to promote the division focusing on its cultural roots and providing it with a separate identity of its own from that of Bangladesh as a whole.

Strengthening the Blue Economy

The Chittagong division still relies heavily upon the seaport for its economic turnover. Despite making immense contribution towards the nation’s growth, the shipping sector and the seaport have been subject to minimal change over the years and is in dire need of innovative advancements. Countless bureaucratic complexities arise from the outdated Port Authority Act 1970, which require amendment to allow integration of technology into the system and ensure smaller lead times and faster shipping transactions.

The entire seaport also requires an integration of online connectivity to track and record deliveries and transactions on a real-time basis, backed up with increased security and scanning of products being shipped in and out. The seaport and the entire shipping industry also need to update itself with the Global Marine Technology Trends 2030, if Chittagong is to benefit further, leveraging upon its Blue Economy.

Innovative Measures in the Tourism Sector

Chittagong, being the home of the world’s largest unbroken sea beach in Cox’s Bazar and mountainous terrains in Rangamati and Bandarban, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bangladesh. The nation, despite experiencing a fall in international tourists, has seen a sharp rise in inbound domestic tourism. These domestic tourists can be broadly categorized into two types, young adventure seekers and middle-aged pleasure seekers. The speakers shed light as to how Chittagong has the potential to satisfy both these demographics. Suggestions were made to start promoting Chittagong to domestic travelers similar to how India is promoting its separate states to international tourists.

Chittagong is also renowned for its indigenous and tribal population in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region. There has been a rising trend in adventure enthusiasts seeking homestays with such indigenous families. The proposal is to promote homestay facilities in Chittagong among international tourists, in turn creating revenue sources for such communities.

Drivers of Regional Innovation Strategy

The session ended identifying some of the key ingredients required for such regional strategies:

  • Technology and knowledge transfer
  • Encouraging innovators and providing mentorship
  • Developing effective financial strategies
  • Promoting successful entrepreneurial stories
  • Getting Non Residential Bangladeshis, helming from each division, on board
  • Benchmarking progress

The findings of the session and the dialogue on regional innovation is expected to move forward through a number of roundtable discussions in coming months with aims of delivering a roadmap to the regional authorities with expectations of materialization of the ideas proposed in the near future.

– Taposh Ghosh

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