In every age of human history, there has been one thing that was and still is required the most for survival – innovation. Be it new ideas, thoughts, beliefs or passion, innovation has been the root of revolutions. Had our ancestors not believed in improving the way they lived, we would have never seen this marvelous paradise now.
Innovation is a constant for every country. Bangladesh is no different. This resilient country of ours has shown promise and determination to bring forward novel changes to better the lives of its people. This is especially important because the country is not only planning to digitalize itself by 2021, but also to become a developed country by 2041. Ensuring these ambitious goals are achieved, is not only the responsibility of the government of the country but also the responsibility of its people. Multiple stakeholders need to collaborate and cooperate to make this dream happen. With the demographic dividend at hand, this multi-dimensional approach can surely make our huge population a highly lucrative market, attracting investors for future development.
Even though quite a large number of innovative approaches have been successful, Bangladesh is still taking baby steps towards this cutting-edge future. A lot more attempts are essential for the country to cope up with the rapidly pacing world. For this, awareness is crucial. Awareness leads to discussions which eventually lead up to implementations of innovative ideas. These discussions should go hand-in-hand with support, funding and encouragement from both public and private sectors.
To pave a path in this movement for innovation, Bangladesh Innovation Conclave (BIC) has organized numerous events. To initiate more of such crucial discussions related to progress and to provide encouragement to those who embark on the journey to innovation, on the 20th of October, BIC successfully pulled off the very first Bangladesh Innovation Awards preceded by Bangladesh Innovation Dialogue 2018, both of which took place in the grand ballroom of Le Méridien, Dhaka. The whole event, powered by Mastercard, invited numerous entrepreneurs as well as highly experienced businessmen to celebrate the advent towards a more creative future.
BANGLADESH INNOVATION DIALOGUE
Bangladesh Innovation Dialogue 2018, focused more on the ‘discussion’ part of the journey to progress, inviting high-end business professionals from various backgrounds to talk about innovation and raise awareness among the people of the country. The event started with the opening speech from Syed Mohammad Kamal, Country Manager, Mastercard Bangladesh. This was followed by the welcome speech from Shariful Islam, Founder, Bangladesh Innovation Conclave. Bangladesh Innovation Dialogue comprised of two keynote sessions and two panel discussions. Each of these discussions addressed crucial topics that were relevant to the on-going situation of Bangladesh and rest of the world. The MC of the Innovation Dialogue was, none other than the youth icon, Ayman Sadiq, CEO of 10 Minute School.
Before the dialogue, there was also a special online dialogue session between Shariful Islam & Ayman Sadiq. In that session, which was broadcasted live, they talked about why every youth should know and be ready for the innovation era.
In his opening speech, Syed Mohammad Kamal pointed out that no one should misjudge the word ‘Innovation’ as a buzzword for the business community. Innovation is the omnipotent key to making a business stand out as something unique. It is what drives the entire world. He talked about the massive changes through innovation caused by internationally recognized companies like Airbnb and Uber, as well as homegrown companies like bKash and Pathao.
Talking about Mastercard, Mr. Kamal highlighted that innovation has been at the heart of the company’s 52 year journey. Mastercard constantly works towards transforming the way people pay and are paid. The company believes that the cashless future is here. Their mission is a world beyond cash.
Mr. Kamal further explained that, in Bangladesh, as a lot of innovative ideas are arising in different sectors, it is the time to nurture these ideas. To properly use these ideas and commercialize them is one of the key objectives. The need of the era is the collaboration of the industries, ecosystems and government to develop policy frameworks that spark the adaptation of safe, secure, affordable and accessible innovation.
Shariful Islam claimed that though we live in a world where many might not agree on the same thing, one thing everyone does agree on is innovation. It is the only way for a country, company or society to move forward. It doesn’t matter how powerful or how big a company is, if it cannot evolve, it will not survive.
He stated that as a nation, we have a very ambitious goal of becoming a developed nation by 2041. This will be impossible to achieve without innovation. We, as a nation, forget that being innovative requires a skillset of being creative, inquisitive, collaborative and observational. Unfortunately, this set of skills is not groomed in our usual setting. Mr. Shariful emphasized the importance of taking the core dialogue of innovation to a broader circle, beyond any certain group. He believed that innovative thinking should begin from school level because the future of the country depends on those people who think differently.
“The whole drive of Bangladesh Innovation Conclave is to make sure how we, as a nation, can collaborate into creating the future that we dream about,” he added.
Varun Sakhuja and Innovation 3.0
The Director of Innovation Management at Mastercard Labs, Varun Sakhuja began his speech reminding us that change is the only constant. Many examples can be found in today’s world where change has brought us closer to a better future. From E-commerce leading the way further than any retail processes to public companies reinventing themselves – a lot more is happening in this world.
He connoted that there is no single formula for innovation. It is in fact a combination of experience and forward thinking. To innovate one can reinvent everything or one can use existing processes, platforms and collaborate with them. He claimed that the key to innovation is convergence. From his experience at Mastercard, he laid out some basics that are looked at for innovation: identification of unknown needs, meeting the speed of convergence and ensuring interoperability.
He then elaborated that, for Innovation 3.0, there are three vital aspects. These are design thinking, big data and financial inclusion. Something as basic as design thinking goes a long way. But to do this there needs to be proper framing, empathizing, defining, ideation, forming of prototypes and testing. Then comes Big Data. Varun emphasizes that Big Data is the next new oil. He said that it is not just analyzing data and finding a trend. To innovate, one needs to go beyond that. After this there is financial inclusion. The term Financial Inclusion can be easily misunderstood by people and it is because of this that companies are missing out on huge opportunities that exist in that area. For proper financial inclusion, companies should ensure the people, who are less included, can make payments and use their accounts simply in their day-to-day lives.
Varun emphasized that convergence cannot happen alone. The ecosystem needs to work together to get the best results. For this, companies and start-ups need to work together. Incubators should be there to support start-ups and bring new ideas to life. The whole idea is to deliver innovation by working together.
His key message for innovation was that companies need to start with the basics of design thinking then work with the ecosystem to get the best results.
Innovation Model for Companies by Manoj Kulkarni
Manoj Kulkarni put forward the notion that to unlock success in innovation, companies should aim for a future that does not represent the present. According to an analysis made by a U.S. based firm, a company cannot grow in terms of economy if there is no innovation. So to start innovation companies have to change their ways of thinking.
He elaborated that there is a culture of innovation starting in Bangladesh. People are getting sensitized to use new things and are doing so. It is important to understand why this positive disposition is happening. There are eight parameters companies can follow to innovate as well as minimize the risk associated with it: nuclearisation, migration, digitization, technology, style and statement recognition, relevance and adventure trip. Of all these, technology is the most important.
Manoj cited observations of customer behavior. Customers subconsciously link new to better so it is worth it to try out new things. They might want to try it out to stay in touch with trends or become trendsetters themselves. As a result, there is positive disposition to things that are new. Thus it is the best time to innovate. Again it is not an option for anymore to choose innovation or not. It is the demand of the age.
Unfortunately, there are certain myths about innovation as Manoj stated. It is important to break such myths. Many companies think that plans for innovation will not give the necessary return and thus invest in established brands. These companies take on the risk of losing consumers who look forward to new and improved products. Many believe that innovation costs a lot of money. Not all of them do and sometimes a simple change that is relevant to the customer can bring massive benefits. Again companies are seen to follow the old saying that consumers will ask for the ‘faster horse’ and not the ‘car’. This denotes that consumers cannot come up with ideas to innovate. But in today’s world, people are actually able to come up with creative ideas and companies need to listen to them. A well-known myth is that a good idea is all one needs to start to innovate. Ideas are crucial but so is execution and maintenance. Some companies view innovation to be disruptive. Innovation does not necessarily need to be disruptive. It can be improvements as well. No company has to come up with something that is radically different because uniqueness is not the only parameter consumers look at. A popular business superstition is to stay away from the red ocean but it is seen that the most successful of businesses rise from red oceans despite intense competition. Manoj emphasized that it is crucial that all these myths are debunked.
He later gave a few tips for companies to follow for companies who want to innovate. Firstly, the company should be a ‘category disruptor.’ If companies are able to understand consumer struggles and caters to particular struggles, disrupting categories, then they will be in a stronger position. Secondly, companies should use analytics not just to minimize risks but to maximize opportunities as well. Lastly, execution should be made a focus and not just an after-thought. Only then will the companies realize the full potential of their concept.
Manoj ended his speech citing a few leadership mantras to help through the journey of innovation. He said, when the wind of change comes, instead of walls, windmills should be built. Data should be used to understand the customers’ needs and those needs should be catered to. Last but not the least, the journey to innovation can be frustrating but one should know how to enjoy it as well.
Innovation: The Bangladesh Model
Bangladesh is not new to the word innovation. Knowingly or not, people have always been a part of innovation. At present, this word is hugely misunderstood by a lot of people. Innovation is thought to be something completely new and expensive but in reality, innovation can be something as simple as finding a simpler yet better way to do a particular thing. The country is experiencing the gradual rise of an innovative revolution through the inception of different companies. It needs more to keep up with the world. Investigating this topic was the first panel discussion of the Innovation Dialogue.
The discussion included eight eclectic panel members taken from different fields. They were Md. Abul Kalam Azad, Principal Coordinator, SDG Affairs, PMO, Govt. of Bangladesh; Shehzad Munim, President, FICCI, Managing Director, British American Tobacco Bangladesh; Farzana Chowdhury ACII (UK), Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Green Delta Insurance Company Limited; Syed Farhad Ahmed, Managing Director, Aamra Technologies Limited; Syed Almas Kabir, President, BASIS; Hossain Khaled, Managing Director, Real Estate Infrastructure, Jute and Automobile Division, Anwar Group of Industries; and Micheal Patrick Foley, Chief Executive Officer, Grameenphone Limited. The session was moderated by K. A. M. Morshed, Director, Advocacy for Social Change Information and Communication Technology Partnership Strengthening Unit, BRAC.
The panel discussed of a not-so-distant future where innovation would greatly impact how everyone will live. The moderator of the panel, K. A. M. Morshed, explains that from Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Machine Learning to Industrial Revolution 4.0, all these will bring drastic changes to every country, irrespective of their own technology readiness and their own capacity. Like every other country, Bangladesh should prepare for this as much as possible and for that the country needs to up its game through rethinking every process, policy, step and strategy. Innovation is a dire need for survival.
Panelists then talked about the scope of innovation in Bangladesh in their respective fields of work. Hossain Khaled shared his thoughts of the industrial sector. He explained that progress is happening and enough scope is there outside of Dhaka. For this, the focus needs to be shifted from Dhaka.
Shehzad Munim, talking from the perspective of the agricultural sector, said that the biggest scope is to minimize the system loss. Removal of the middlemen, giving back to the farmers, solving problems caused due to inefficiency through innovative means. He further explained that innovation can help prepare our country to tackle the effects of natural calamities and global warming.
In the ICT sector, Syed Farhad Ahmed described that the scope of innovation is through addressing crying needs with simple technology. Again, Syed Almas Kabir, dictated that scope exists in the introduction of different E-services. Bringing up the concern of robots replacing humans in the RMG sector, Mr Kabir further advised that, to compete with the world in that sector, innovative technology like robotics and AI should be introduced in the country beforehand.
On the contrary, Micheal Foley stated that the scope of innovation is not limited to technology or products, rather it can be found in the changing of mindsets in a company. This mindset change, though disruptive, is required for both organizations and the government if progress is to be made with friendly policies.
Farzana Chowdhury expressed that even though innovation had not touched the insurance sector thoroughly, there still were opportunities to innovate, like reformation of insurances to appeal to the targeted audience by addressing their needs. Apart from this sector, she emphasized that huge opportunities exist with the youth of the country and this generation should be introduced to start-ups or innovative professions.
On the topic of what changes Bangladesh should see for a better future, the panelists suggested and recommended quite a few important improvements. Firstly, the education sector needs to be revamped in a way that creativity is encouraged. Children are the future so they should be groomed to acquire the necessary skills for the future. There should be a lot more hands-on-education and they should be encouraged to think freely. Strong bridges should be formed among parents, academia and industries to prepare for future needs. Secondly, an incubator system must be there to encourage and support new ideas and take them forward into implementation of those ideas. Support should also be given to existing innovators so that they can be recognized globally as an icon inspiring future entrepreneurs. Thirdly, diversity is absolutely necessary to understand different perspectives. It is at the intersecting points of different approaches where innovation is born. So, by including both men and women, we can avoid being suboptimal. Lastly, all of the mentioned suggestions should be attempted simultaneously to get the best results.
It was also explored in the session, how the government is approaching the demands of the future. The economic condition of Bangladesh has been quite favorable compared to that of the last decades. The government had successfully completed almost all the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) and now is aiming to fulfill all the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). Despite obstacles, the path forward is looking towards development through filling the infrastructure gap, increasing investment in human development, making of 100 Economic zones and so on. Bangladesh has improved so much that making a plan to become a developed nation has become feasible. The government has not only made this development plan of 2041 but also went to the extent of making Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100.
To make all this possible it is imperative to think out of the box. Innovation is truly a gift. If properly implemented, it can reap much more than what was sown.
How Companies Should Drive Innovation
The second panel talked about how innovation was crucial to develop in this era and how companies should drive innovation. The moderator of the panel was Prof. Syed Ferhat Anwar, Director, IBA, University of Dhaka. Panelists were Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Robi Axiata Limited; Sabbir Hasan Nasir, Executive Director, ACI Logitistics Limited (Shwapno); Syed Mahbubur Rahman, Managing Director, Dhaka Bank Limited; Munawar Misbah Moin, Group Director, Rahimafrooz; Mahboob Zaman, Managing Director, DataSoft System Bangladesh Limited and Kamal Quadir, Chief Executive Officer, bKash Limited.
Prof. Ferhat began the discussion by reminding us the benefits of innovation. Most innovations start from the micro level with the intention of providing value to the customers and ensuring a better society. He then proceeded to ask the panelists about their ways of innovating and helping the society through their companies.
Kamal Quadir explained that their innovation could be found in the way his company thought. He and his team focused on addressing the people’s pain more than addressing their convenience. When one addresses pain, other people are inspired to come together and help to create solutions. From the retail sector, Sabbir Hasan Nasir said that everyone in that ecosystem are innovating in terms of connecting farmers with the consumers. Using the advantages of technology, both farmers and consumers are being educated of facts they did not know before. Munawar Misbah Moin stressed that his company, Rahimafrooz, has innovated before and is trying to innovate now as well. The company has been there during the electricity crisis when electricity was scarce and is still here when electricity demands are more than ever. From the financial sector, Syed Mahbubur Rahman elaborated that innovation in banks lies in empowering consumers and making everything more convenient for them despite having strict regulators. Mahboob Zaman explained that innovation is not just related to technology. It is connected to people’s wants and timely interventions to those desires. His company Datasoft now makes apps for enterprises, government offices etc. to make sure their current needs are addressed. Lastly, Mahtab Uddin Ahmed addressed the importance of thinking ahead by citing how his company, Robi, brought in 4.5G to both rural and urban areas to create new scopes for people to innovate using their internet services. His belief was that investing and getting things ahead of time is the way to ensure the country is ahead as well.
On the topic of changing of mindset, most panelists agreed that it is vital for mindset to be changed. Mahbubur Rahman emphasized that people should always keep an open mind because if they do not, they will become fossils. Sabbir Hasan agreed and stated that mindset change should start from the executive level and should be spread all the way down. On the contrary, Mahboob Zaman explained why he believed mindset should not be changed, rather the working environment should be made welcoming to innovation. Mahtab Uddin disagreed to an extent and stated that empowering environment is needed along with the change of mindset. In such environments, people should not be penalized if their ideas do not work. The company should learn from failing, otherwise they will not learn.
The discussion then turned to talking about policies present in the country and whether they are supportive or not. Government policies have enabled a lot of companies to innovate and develop, but some of these policies have also restricted a lot of companies obstructing development in the name of helping local businesses. This benefits a few people and not the mass. To solve this problem, policy makers should be more engaged with the people and understand what can be beneficial for most of the stakeholders before making new policies. Companies, on the other hand, should not leave everything for the government to do and come forward to help them.
At the end of the conversation, Prof. Ferhat Anwar collected suggestions for companies from all the panelists. It was advised that companies must keep an open mind. They should empower every employee and hear their idea. These ideas should be allowed to flow freely. It is counterproductive to have fear in the organization. A culture should be created where people are fearless in a positive way but not recklessly daring. Most importantly, there should be a budget for failure. People should be allowed to fail without repercussions. Only then can an organization learn from their mistakes and innovate.
Summarizing the whole discussion, Prof. Ferhat concluded that Bangladesh as a country is unique in its own way. Given our dense population, the scope to innovate in Bangladesh is immense. We should learn from the world and share to the world whatever we learn thus bringing good things for the future.
LAUNCH OF INNOVATION CENTERS
The award ceremony also marked the launch of four Innovation Centers in four different regions in Bangladesh. Nazia Andaleeb Preema, Director, Bangladesh Brand Forum initiated the inception through her announcement. In her opinion, for projecting and reflecting innovation, every individual has to be aware, from being parent to being a leader of the nation. To create an environment to encourage innovation, the country needs to tap into the next generation. Ms Preema also mentioned, “To build an innovative country, the country needs to engage the learners from primary level to the highest level of education.”
Ms Preema, an advisor of the Innovation Center initiative, added, “We are proud to realize that we need to make a massive shift by this small attempt of initiatives. To transform, we are working to develop 8 innovation centers in 8 divisions. Those centers are designed to use innovation to cater the potentials of the 8 regions.”
The official website of Bangladesh Innovation Blog was launched as well.
BANGLADESH INNOVATION AWARD
Innovation can be a miracle if used at the right place and right time. The people who come up with such miracles are blessings in this world. Such vibrant individuals should always be encouraged to innovate more. To embark on this journey of providing recognition and encouragement, the first ever Bangladesh Innovation Award 2018 was initiated by BIC, powered by Mastercard.
Through the grand award ceremony, a total of 19 innovations were awarded. Receiving 168 entries, awards were given under nine main categories and one special category. The main categories of the award were designed for sectorial innovation which took place in financial sector, apparel sector, healthcare, SDG inclusion, process, product development, start-up, social and technology. However, there was also one special category, namely Master of Reinvention, to inspire the core of innovation.
By Nafisa Nawal Khan