First, fast, furious...Bangladeshi business blog

We provide
--social media strategies for Bangladeshi businesses worldwide
--public speaking on Bangladeshi businesses and social media
--paid product/service/website reviews of Bangladeshi companies

Interested to place an advertisement for your business?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ensuring security with respect

One fine evening, I came out of Landview building, at Gulshan-2. I stood at the stairs while I saw a group of roving RAB officers parking their bikes. One of them came up the stairs while the others took time in anchoring their vehicles. As if I had found a long lost friend, I asked the officer standing next to me, “ei je RAB bhai, apnader gorom lage na? ei je kalo jama pore rodey ghora ghori koren...” (Yo RAB bro, you don’t feel hot or what? Wearing this black outfit and out there in the sun…). The officer looked at me with his sun-glassed eyes, scanned me from top to bottom and replied after a long silence, “No…we are used to it”. By the mean time, I have realized that I had put hand in a tiger’s mouth and asked if the teeth were sharp or not. The other officers starting appearing, I gave the RAB bhai a dry smile and immediately disappeared into thin air.

These RAB officers, I thought, have surely created a brand image for themselves. For their heroics, the headlines (right or wrong) or because of the mere black gears they were, have certainly helped create a sense of trust and security (for some), awe (for some) and fear (for some). However the same cannot be said regarding our ‘supposed to be custodians’—the police. They are however, government servants, mostly ill-paid and ill-fed. Talking about what the government should do to uplift the police’s image is beyond the scope of this blog. So we turn our focus to the private players who are playing in the fields of providing security—G4S and Securex. We talk about G4S here.

First and foremost, I ask to the wiser amongst you, do you have any idea about this industry? What is their market size? How many players are there other than the ones I know? What is the number of employment they are generating? Do they have any association or something? (I bet they do, any more than two Bengalis are supposed to form a political party, association, council, committee etc.). I would love to know more about this service sector which seems to be growing in leaps in bounds.

Big private corporates, embassies, clubs, NGOs, banks—I guess the major clients who are provided security by companies like G4S. I guess they are the market leaders, just assuming, as I see their security personnel around most often. I believe they are doing a good job, their employers have lot of room to do even better for them. Other than providing them with clean uniforms and caps, other than installing discipline into their lives (through parade/P.T. conducted by ex-defence personnel), the employers can orient them with self-dignity as well. No doubt that the general public don’t give as much ‘patta’ to the G4S folks as much as they give to the RAB Bhais. The elite black force has created a ‘brand personality’ for themselves, as coined by Shahriar in his recent post. But due to some common reasons, private security personnel are yet to create that brand image for themselves. Why is that?

Education could be a reason. Self-confidence could be another. Behaviour, conduct, attitude can be other. All these seem to be tacit knowledge but very important in a crucial service sector like security. I hope the management of G4S does not become too complacent of the fact that we are a labor-intensive nation and we can ‘cheap-bargain’ manpower to accomplish our own corporate objectives. The circumstances are such in Bangladesh that we become compelled not to give dignity of labour. I can give a ‘jhari’ to a G4S security-wala easily, but I would think twice before taking a piss with a RAB man. I am not asking the G4S people to be rude or ill-mannered or fearsome. But some sort of attitude should be instilled in them. I guess once their employers start giving them respect for their job, they will reflect that respect to us, and eventually we all will deal with each other with the ‘due’ respect we expect when we meet.

Friday, September 28, 2007

What Spiderman can do, Superman can't

Your brand must connect to the audience and your audience must identify with the brand. And that is where your brand personality can play a big role.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is brand personality?

Lets see an example of our favorite local super heroes and in terms of their box value. In recent times all 3 major super heroes – Batman, Spiderman and Superman had a movie released. But not all of their box office fate was the same. While Spiderman 1,2 and 3 all three of them have written and re-written box office records – Batman Begins and Superman returns have not reached the height Spiderman has set. Although there are many reasons behind it ( fantastic marketing super distribution of Sony pictures) – one stand out reason was how much the audience can identify with the characters.

Superman is an alien from outer space and have problems with kryptonite. Batman is filthy rich and is trying to come in terms with his dark side. Both these brand characters have personality traits that mass people can never identify with. But think of your friendly neighborhood hero Spiderman. He is an average guy whose problems include conflict between work and social responsibility and frequently have girl troubles. Plus, he seems more like a naïve person who is trying to do good for himself and people he loves in his own way – rather than an infallible super hero. Now that, many people can identify with.

If your audience can identify and empathize with your brand through its personality – it only assures great success. That’s why its not a co-incidence that the success of these 3 movies are related to the brand appeal of each of these characters. They are very much related.

So now, on a scale of 1 to 10, how important do you think your brand personality is?

Shahriar Amin is the creator of the first brand related blog in Bangladesh ( ), where he disburses brand marketing knowledge for Bangladeshi business students and local small and medium sized businesses in general

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Promote Your Business with a Company Blog

An interesting article appeared recently in the Small Business section of The New York Times, from

From the article:

"Blogs are gaining more and more traction in the business world. Experts believe the trend will continue, and that companies should at least monitor blogs to gain knowledge about what's being said about their products and services. And if you have the time and inclination to launch your own blog, the result could be increased business visibility, excited audiences, and added revenue."
The article includes a list of 10 things to consider before starting your own company blog. Point number five caught my attention, especially for the Bangladeshi corporate context, as well as for what we are striving for with this humble blog:

"5. Share your thought leadership. If you want to be a leader, you need to get others to buy into your ideas. That means writing about the sound tactics you've used to position, promote, and reinforce your credibility within your company and, more importantly, within your marketplace. Everyone loves to get valuable information for free, and if you're willing and able to provide it, that can only mean good exposure for you and your business."
The complete list is available in the article here (may require free registration to access, or you can use the free service at Bugmenot, for which there is also a handy little extension if you are a user of the Firefox browser, or a bookmarklet for other lesser browsers). is also a handy little site for small business resources, with some recent articles which may be of interest to our blogging community.

To blog or not to blog?
16 Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Business Blog


Doing business gets tougher in Bangladesh

Global survey shows ranking down by 18 steps to 107th position
Daily Star reports

Bangladesh slid down 18 steps to the 107th position among 178 countries in terms of ease of doing business in a country, said a global survey report jointly prepared by International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the World Bank (WB).In 2006 the country ranked 88th in the same survey.The survey titled 'Doing Business-2008' reveals that Bangladesh fell behind in nine indicators among ten, improving only in cross-border trading. Economists termed the survey result for Bangladesh as a reflection of bad governance by the immediate past elected government in both economic and administrative areas.However, the overall business environment will improve following the reform measures taken by the present caretaker government, they said adding that the survey incorporated the reflection of the development brought to Chittagong Port by the present caretaker government.
The survey shows that the cost of export in Bangladesh is 23 percent lower compared to the average cost of exporting goods from the region of South Asia, while in the case of import the cost is 13 percent lower than the regional average.The survey is based on the figures gathered from the last fiscal on ten categories to ascertain a country's business competitiveness, which are: starting a business, dealing with licenses, employing workers, registering property, getting credit, protecting investors, paying taxes, trading across border, enforcing contracts, and closing a business.
According to the study, Bangladesh is the fourth easiest country in South Asia for doing business in. The top ranking countries in the region are The Maldives with a global raking of 60, Pakistan with a global ranking of 76, and Sri Lanka with a global ranking of 101. Bangladesh is ahead of Nepal which has a global ranking of 111, Bhutan with a global ranking of 119, and India with a ranking of 120. A joint news release by WB and IFC said last year South Asia had ranked the last in the world in terms of the rate of reforms while this year two-thirds of its countries had at least one reform. The pickup in reforms was led by India, which climbed 12 notches in the index by making reform of business regulations a policy objective. India has been the top reformer worldwide in cross border trading during the survey period, the news release said. Bhutan and Sri Lanka are the other top reformers in South Asia this year. Bhutan introduced the country's first fundamental labour rights protection while Sri Lanka made it easier to start a business and cross border trading, the release added.In terms of the standing in ease of starting a business, Bangladesh slid down 17 steps ranking 92nd in this year's survey report, while it had ranked the 75th in 2006.
Bangladesh requires going through eight different procedures for starting a business, while the regional average is 8.8 for the same purpose. The number of days needed to start a business in Bangladesh is 74 while the regional average is 42.6.The cost of starting a business in Bangladesh, as a percentage of the per capita income, is 46.2 percent, while the regional average is 37.2 percent. Bangladesh ranked 116th in the category of dealing with licenses, where its ranking had been 113th in the previous year. In Bangladesh one has to go through 14 procedures to obtain a license, while the regional average number is 18. Businesses in Bangladesh need 252 days to obtain a license, while it takes 238 days on an average in the region, the survey says.Licensing cost in Bangladesh, as a percentage of the per capita income, is 751 percent, while the regional average is 2,871 percent of the per capita income, according to the survey. In terms of how easily properties can be registered in Bangladesh the country ranked 171st in the current survey while it had ranked 113th in the same category in 2006. Property registration cost in Bangladesh, as a percentage of property value, is 10.3 percent, while the regional average is 6 percent. A total of 425 days are needed to register a property in Bangladesh, while it takes 134 days on an average in the region.
The survey says in terms of getting credit for doing business, Bangladesh ranked 48th in the current survey, the ranking of which in the category had been 45th in 2006.In the categories of employing workers, protecting investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts, and closing a business, Bangladesh ranked 129th, 15th, 81st, 112th, 175th and 102nd respectively in the current survey, in the same categories its ranking had been 117th, 15th, 76th, 139th, 175th, and 93rd respectively in 2006.Entrepreneurs require 400 hours to pay taxes in Bangladesh, while the average time required for paying taxes in the region is only 287.6 hours. Going through a total of 41 procedures is required for enforcing a business contract in Bangladesh, while the average required procedures for the purpose in the region is 45.1. Entrepreneurs have to spend 1,442 days for enforcing business contracts in Bangladesh, while the average requirement in the region is 990 days. Bangladesh has improved in cross-border trading in 2007. The country requires only 7 documents for exports, while the average regional requirement is 8.3 documents.
Bangladesh is also ahead in the region in terms of time required for export. It needs 28 days to export goods, while the average required time in the region is 32 days.In Bangladesh the cost of exporting a container of goods is $844, while the regional average is $1,106. The cost of importing a container of goods in Bangladesh is $1,148, while the regional average is $1325. Worldwide the top 10 reformers in order are: Egypt, Croatia, Ghana, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, China, and Bulgaria. The reformers made it simpler to start a business, strengthened property rights, enhanced investor protections, increased access to credit, eased tax burdens, and expedited trade while reducing costs. In all, 200 reforms in 98 economies were introduced between April 2006 and June 2007.The top 25 countries in order, in which doing business is the easiest, are: Singapore, New Zealand, the United States, Hong Kong (China), Denmark, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Australia, Iceland, Norway, Japan, Finland, Sweden, Thailand, Switzerland, Estonia, Georgia, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Latvia, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Austria.
Dr Zaid Bakht, research director of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said the report reflects the result of the damages done to the economic and administrative sectors by the immediate past partisan government.He said just before handing over power, the immediate past elected government packed the administration with partisan people destroying business environment violating laws and regulations of the country. The first caretaker government in the recent series of two found the country with an economic uncertainty looming large over it. But the present caretaker government initiated reform measures including a massive anti-corruption drive and the development of Chittagong Port, the result of which has yet to make an impact on the national economy, he said adding, if the government's ongoing efforts manage to sustain, it will bring much good to the country.A large number of top corruptionists were detained under the present government's anti-corruption drive, but the massage of the drive has yet to reach the mid and lower levels of the administration, Bakht said adding, when the message will reach every level of the society, the overall business environment will improve.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

VAS That Does Not Add Value

I wish I had fully known and understood the value of value added services offered by our beloved "Grameen Phone". Last night I logged into GP's own website on my handset and was browsing through its contents. "The Ringtone City" or something of that sort caught my attention... i went on and found one of my favourite songs "e ajnabi" from Dil Se. The price tag showed polytone 15.oo and truetone 20.00. The later was the obvious choice to go for. Something around 30 bucks was gone and what I got in return was a recorded amr version of the song...something i can even record by my cellphone...

Dear GP, is that what a true tone is? Is that for what your so called "VAS provider" should charge 20 bucks? Is it something only the VAS provider should be resposnble for?

Although i did not like BTRC's intervention regarding cell phone charges I guess now they should look into what our operators and deshi VAS providers doing in the name of value addition.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Supply chain management (SCM) in Bangladesh

Supply Chain management (SCM) means managing the supply of inbound and outbound goods and services in the most cost effective and time sensitive way. This can be done by designing a strategic route plan for the quickest possible pick-up and delivery regimen, from the appropriate suppliers, for all points throughout the assembly line, in order to achieve cost and time related efficiency levels. Then optimum operational smoothness can be guaranteed giving a business an edge over competitors in marketing goods and services by introducing goods and services quicker than established trend.Logistics is used to put this strategy in place physically. All manufacturing, service oriented and progressive companies have logistics departments that execute SCM plans so that goods and services that come in can be made available to the various departments for meeting production schedule and churning out finished goods and services to the clients in the quickest cost effective way possible.Logistics uses various infrastructure and machinery to bring about the execution of the SCM strategy. Such SCM and logistics mechanism can be relevant in the macro sense as well, encompassing the economic activity of the whole country. Therefore, roads, railways, waterways, seaport and airport customs facilities and regulations of a country need to be seamless and free of corruption. All of the above fall in the category of logistical infrastructure and are vital for the economic viability of a country .The preamble of our lead article in the logistics page is always introductory in nature, simply because supply chain management is a subject that is not in the news often and communication on the subject has not been to the desired extent leaving most managers unable to grasp the technicalities of supply chain management though most have to deal with the challenges of managing a supply chain.In Bangladesh, logistical infrastructure has been discussed at length in the media indirectly whenever we have seen news related to port facilities but the significance of supply chain management and the fact that modern logistical infrastructure is a national priority has not gained ground.Here lies the need for a strategic plan commissioned and adopted by the highest authority. A strategic plan for development of logistical infrastructure would be unique opportunity for not only to improve functional infrastructure but also to reap the benefit of creating thousands of jobs by establishing new businesses and to give a fillup to existing companies that would benefit by getting lucrative contracts to work in improving roads, railway lines, ports, airports, and so on.The strategic plan could improve many things .We have heard of suggestions like improving the condition of the Mongla Port, which is currently almost lying idle. Mongla port could be an alternative port to Chittagong port but this option is not explored for a variety of reasons, most of which are hazy in design and context. . What a waste that we are unable to offer an alternative port to ease congestion in the Chittagong port while we have a ready-made port waiting to be re-commissioned. Internal Container Depots (ICD) facilities need to be increased so that goods that can be unstuffed and delivered to destination in and around Dhaka if needed. Other suggestions that can be a part of strategic plan are - riverine ports facilities for moving goods from Chittagong Port through barge-mounted transportation, improvement of Bangladesh Railways, more off-doc facilities in Chittagong port to facilitate quick movement of containers within the port, computerisation of customs to shorten customs formalities and make them more transparent.The term Supply Chain Management (SCM) itself envisages the need for planning and, therefore, national strategic plan can be a great benefit for the whole national economy just as SCM plans are evolved for smaller entities like business organisations. The national strategic plan would have sections that relate to financial requirement needs to implement the plan. Viable financial plan can be drawn up with private sector participation in mind and if the emphasis is placed on transparency and strict supervision of a government team comprising well-known competent and honest officials.The logistics news in Bangladesh is now skewed toward positive sound bites. A prescheduled berthing system known as fixed day window berthing has come into effect in Chittagong port. The system, internationally recognised practice, would mean that arrival and berthing of ships would be fixed one-month back. There are also news items coming thorough that speak of initiatives to work toward finding a solution to the issue of licensing for the logistics companies. The much talked about Terminal Handling Charges (THC) which was abolished recently is also just under the surface with the logistics sector trying to figure out who will ultimately pay this charge which is applicable as per internally accepted shipping inco-terms with the exception of Bangladesh.Supply Chain Management (SCM) and logistics would have to be accepted as integral to the strategic economic planning that is done by economic think-tank of the country. It is actually possible to think of strategic models for economic development that revolve around a Hub-Port that would service regional economies sprouting growth surrounding the activities centered on the port itself. Businesses would grow to cater to the onrush of maritime visitors. Hotels, recreational facilities and restaurants would be a small part of the various kinds of service that would emerge. With new businesses would be financial deals to be stuck and venture capitalists would start emerging, merging with other high flyers to create a versatile environment where sky is the limit. Chittagong is so ideal for a port based development scheme with its natural beauty and potential for tourism. Bangladesh needs to start thinking of a strategic plan based on development of logistics infrastructure centered on a world class port in Chittagong and related development that can happen in a port based economy.
Ershad Khandker
Source: The Financial Express

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Silky Kumar and the scent of desire

For those who thought traditional advertising is the only way forward, Axe and MTV has shown a masterclass execution.

For a few weeks, people were intrigued by this “Silky Kumar” character. Here is this whacky looking singer, who is a self-proclaimed superstar, appearing in MTV singing catchy tunes and giving interviews. Media was a-buzz with intrigue, who is this Silky Kumar?

As it turned out, Silky Kumar is a fictitous singer / character created by Hindustan lever and Mtv, to create hype around their brand Axe. As we all so fondly know, Axe is all about turning the heads and hearts of the opposite sex. That is what their brand promise has been consistently for some time now. This great campaign just took that concept to a next level by creating a fictitious character and song, based on the same concept - creating appeal to the fairer sex.

For all those who want to study the effect of “branded content” and how its done - check out the music video of Silky Kumar called “Scent of desire” in Youtube.

Shahriar Amin is the creator of the first brand related blog in Bangladesh ( ), where he disburses brand marketing knowledge for Bangladeshi business students and local small and medium businesses in general

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Introducing DJs, RJs and also....CMJs

I went to Mysore, India in 2002 to visit the erstwhile riches and ruins of Tipu Sultan and his father, Haider Ali Khan. The massive Maharaja Palace still stands tall as the witness of grandeur and might of the great Tipu. Around his palace, the tourist guide also showed us a secret gate, close to the arms depot, which was made open by one of Tipu’s close aides, who betrayed him and betrayed the nation by letting the English enter through that gate and capture one of the greatest rulers of India. Remember Mir Jafar who made the sun go down quicker in Siraj Uddoula’s Bengal, waking up to a new morning under the British Raj? Remember the Rajakars who assisted their ‘true Muslim brothers’ in 1971 to help eliminate ‘Muslim-named’ Bangla speaking innocent people of the then East Pakistan? Yes…we all remember…we have read it in history books in school and in newspapers. However do you think we have modern day 21st century Mr. Mir Jafar’s amidst us…not only in the political arena…but also in the corporate world?

I don’t blame much the East India Company, they were pure businessmen sent by the Queen, they came to do a lot of FDI in India. Why did the businessmen base their headquarters in Calcutta? I think Calcutta had a port, the Bengalis were intellectual, they were excellent subjects and loyal too. However any historian reading this post please confirm the frequency of betrayers Bengal (West + East) produced over the period of history…who, by virtue of their short-sighted greed and ambition, never hesitated to shake hands with the ‘enemy’ and sell the country to foreign hands and invited misery for fellow countrymen.

I wonder if you have ever noticed such elements at your workplace. These Corporate Mir Jafars (CMJ) are the ones who are in close contact with the decision making unit at your work place. They are ones who are always eager to score brownie points from your non-Bangladeshi managers. They are the ones who expose our vulnerability and ‘not-so-strong’ aspects of our working habits to the ‘bideshi probhus’, so that the Management Lords can squeeze the work out of us with minimum pay, minimum motivation and non-existent employee rights. ‘Dhola Probhus’ who come from the West bearing the Western work culture values in mind are gradually trained to deal with the local workforce, slowly they comprehend the local ‘khaslot’ as intentionally fed back by the CMJs.

The CMJs are also the ones who recommend to the bosses that its more than enough to send local work force for training to ‘cheaper’ locations such as Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore, rather than sending them over to developed nations in the EU, US etc., just incase they get lost like the sportsmen who disappear from the opening ceremony during Olympic/Commonwealth Games etc. They are the ones who work as the ear and eye of the management, they usually leak out the casual work place conversations you have at work regarding other colleagues, the work itself or about your bosses. They can, by virtue of their twisted skills, can turn light-hearted, jokingly made remarks to serious issues while reproducing it to higher management. These Corporate Mir Jafar’s usually do all these to be in the good books of immediate superiors. They employ and endorse such tactics to validate their professional aspirations. Most of the times, they assume the management posts themselves later and unleash their reign with full might.

Very much like in schools where you used to see teachers pets, at work place too, we have management whip-boys, ladies…this is part of life and work. We have to live with them, tackle them and be careful about what to say and try to predict what they are upto.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Teletalk, I want you to be the # 1

I still remember the dawn I waked up early to grab a Teletalk (bMobile) SIM. I won that in a lottery!

Those days are gone, I guess. Now a Teletalk SIM is available in a near by mobile store. When Teletalk was launched for the first time, we had a great many expectations regarding it. Some of our expectations were fulfilled by Teletalk. As for example, free incoming calls from BTTB Land phones, low-rated tariff etc. But there were some other expectations too, like robust network all over Bangladesh, low-rated VAS (Value Added Services) and a confident Customer Care System. These were not in the focus of Teletalk's concentration. I think these have made Teletalk gradually lose more of its valued customers.

Teletalk needs a strong business plan. It needs to hire experienced business personals in order to run the business as it should be running to stand against the other mobile operators. It must change the customary business plans it is following nowadays. It must develop some unique business strategies and execute them as per required to grab a larger market share in Bangladesh. It should never forget it has got our very government on its back. It must use all of our resources to make our only home-mobile-operator the best one.

Let me suggest some plans that may help Teletalk to gain a larger market share:
a. To review the call rates that match the expectations of the customers.
b. To bring a new package that matches the young folks of the country.
c. To start a package that will be best for the use of the rural people.
d. To start different VAS including MMS, Voice Chat, RBT and so on.
e. To start business solutions for the voice communication of the business people.
f. To take part in different social activities.
g. To sponsor different games and activities that reflects the expectation of the people of the country.
h. To conduct different surveys regarding services and expectations of the people.

If Teletalk starts business as I have cited in the former paragraph I think it will be bring a lot of intricacies for the other mobile operators to run their businesses. Then Teletalk can easily throw a great challenge towards the other mobile operators. They just need to set things on the right track.

In fine, I would like to suggest Teletalk to employ the best options to be the # 1 in your very own country.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

United We Shock

I returned from ‘bilet’ after two years last year and was invited to my nephew’s naming ceremony (akeeka) within a week of my arrival. Sumptuous arrangements were underway and I treated myself with 'Made in Bangladesh' style biriyani and borhani which I so badly missed abroad. As my meal was nearing an end, I noticed sudden precipitation amongst the waiters. As soon as I finished my food, I found the reason of their being precipitated as I found myself surrounded by two of them with one holding a bowl of hot lemon water and another waiting eagerly behind him to wipe my hand off with a fresh pink towel. I was surprised to see this unexpected improvement in our hospitality sector and took advantage of the luxury of the service offered. Being satisfied with the food and the service, I stood up and stood in front of two smiling faces who very politely asked for some bakshish! I realized that there is indeed no free lunch and every good thing in Bangladesh does come with a cost, both big and small good things. I recollected from my embarrassment, made a strict face and retorted ‘kisher bakshish!’ It was my family dinner, I paid you to come, cook and serve me the food, I never asked you to wash and wipe my hands off, you did it yourself and now you are asking me for bakshish?? Get lost! End of story. Moral of story : if something too good to be true is happening to you in Bangladesh..while receiving a service…something is wrong. Please beware of the catch that follows.

A year after…I had the unfortunate privilege to be rushed to United Hospital emergency for a problem. My first encounter with the corporate hospital in town. At this hospital, patients are expected to recover from illness due to three reasons in terms of priority and reality. Firstly, the hospital is a five-star-hotel look alike, its clean, its spacious, its décor is attractive (both internal and external). The ambience is bound to create the ‘feel good’ factor in patients’ minds, so that is the first step towards cure. Secondly, the bill will come as such a shock that the bill itself and/or the fear of it will keep general diseases at bay. Patients who took care are very unlikely to return as the thought of the United bill is enough to keep any ill-feeling away. Lastly and very remotely by chance, if the doctors are genuinely good, they will help cure your disease.

Interestingly, the popular conception in Bangladesh regarding our medical services is that the diagnosis of disease is generally flawed. So the prescription that follows, as prescribed by the doctor, is bound to produce unwanted results. We keep on blaming the doctors, however we don’t always realize that the pathologists have an important role in between. Coming back to my own grievances, as I was lying in the emergency bed crisping with pain, I was approached by an intern-looking doctor who also appeared extremely nervous and looked at me as if I am in the last stage of my life and he has little to do other than ‘chukchuk’ing. His knowledge enabled him to identify some ‘spots’ in my back and in the upper portion of my eyes, I also appeared yellow to him and he hinted that either I have jaundice or I have ‘mild’ hepatitis-like symptoms. My exponentially increasing worry and pain was relieved to a great extent when the ‘actual’ doctor appeared and blew away his intern’s observations as mere crap. The intern disappeared. While doc kept on checking my system and kept on asking me questions about my parents’ natives, why they married each other, my beard style etc. He also expressed his intention to mimic my beardy fashion statement. My ‘irritometer’ (irritation meter) compounded with the ‘painometer’ was rocketing and I could manage to request him to focus on healing me and promised him that we will raise the topic once I am OK. He took guard and enquired about my previous medical records. Upon knowing that I have been seeing an Indian doctor for the last few months, he also expressed his disappointment by asking me if all the Bangladeshi doctors are bad or not? He left and I kept on lying on the emergency bed wondering what’s next.

During my short stay there, I did check out their toilets and found it to be clean and the equipments in right places. I recovered in 3 hours and left the premises with a big dent in my pocket. Nevertheless, emergencies are such in nature. However I feel there is a strong need to brand our doctors, either they can and should do it themselves, their employers can do it or any third party brand consultants can help create their image. These hotel-like five star hospital companies have good establishments and pricey medical services, but the nature of the service will always remain to the tacit knowledge and behavioral skills of the individual doctors. When we go see a doctor, we engage in some sort of a psychological contract with them, we hand in our life in their hands for a while and we expect them to treat us good. I think the medical know-how of our doctors notwithstanding, they have a lot to do on their interpersonal skills too. Inspite of ‘aalishaan’ buildings, Apollo has already gained the reputation of being a ‘bhua’ hospital, Square is next in line and who knows when United will be united to its industry peers. Both Square and Apollo had brought in some white-colored and Indian doctors, as an eye wash…but I ask why can’t our doctors be like them? What do they have that we don’t?

A piece of advice for United. The recent adverts in the newspapers are highlighting only your doctors, their degrees and their model poses. Can we see faces of some happy people who were treated by your doctors and are living happily ever after now? Can we come to know what their disease was, why they chose United, how they were treated and how they are now? If they recommend me to go their next sick-time round, I will pay heed to that, otherwise, thank you anyways for the flashy hospitals and hollow-headed practitioners.

I never realized that the prompt service, cleanliness, timeliness, accuracy… things which appear so elementary in medical services are prelude to the bill shock that follows. Much like the waiters who served me biriyani and asked for Bakshish for passing me the wash-bowl, the price I pay and the service I receive in our hospitals, its certainly not worth it. We have a crucial missing link…the doctors themselves.

as narrated to Red & Green by Mr. Shams

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What else they could have done?

I am writing this article while Bangladesh Cricket Team is playing their first ever Twenty20 Cricket World Cup (2007) in South Africa. They played their first match against West Indies, and they have won that. But the following matches left only sorrows with no achievements. Now the question comes- what else they could have done?

From the very beginning of Bangladeshi Cricket we have not been persistent in whichever way you look at us. We win one game, and then we lose in another. I have talked with a lot of cricket loving folks who have been continuously complaining about the performance of our cricket team. Yeah, we have won in some matches, along with beating the stronger teams in the World Cups, and different other tournaments. But if you take a keen look you will certainly discover that none of our victory came in a row or at a stretch. You will come across several gaps between two or more victories. Moreover, you may find some lucky incidents taking place during the games causing victory to the Bangladeshi Tigers. Though it doesn’t mean that our players cannot play well nor it means that we don’t have a good coach to train them up. It’s something else hindering our importunate victories.

We need to be accurate and persistent. We need to make more detailed plans and execute them as required. Obviously a question arises- How? An answer could be playing a lot of domestic crickets. You may raise another question- Aren’t we playing a lot? The answer is no. We are not playing enough to make our players’ performance world class. So we need to play a lot. We are to arrange a lot of tournaments. Now, in order to arrange a lot of tournaments we need huge finance. We want the finance come from the corporate giants operating in Bangladesh.

Ours is a poor country. Our government remains so busy in other activities that it often gets impossible for them to concentrate on cricket. Though I must admit our government has patronized cricket for years over different other games. Still we need a handful corporate sponsors who can give us what our cricket really needs. We have already seen some corporate giant participating in the betterment of our cricket, but we need more. We have to arrange a lot of twenty20, 1st class tournaments from where we may find our stars.

In our country huge amount of money is expensed in different advertising campaigns. If the MNCs, together with domestic sponsors patronized cricket more we could find the team Bangladesh has always been looking for.

There are many poor cricketers roaming here and there in our country. They cannot even find a chance to show what qualities they have in them. We are to find and train them hard so that the next tournament Bangladesh participates ends with some consistent victories.

Friday, September 14, 2007

GP 789 and the location based services connection

Please don't be confused between 786 and 789. 786 is the Arabic numeric for 'Bismillah', its also the helpline number if your Warid connection has got a problem. 789, on the other hand, is GrameenPhone's healthline service, its the helpline number if your body connection has got a problem.

The best time to rip off money from general public by our businesses is when they are the most vulnerable. Be it during Ramadan with the hike in the prices of essentials, be it with taxi fares when there are no other taxis around etc. Similarly, when you call your favorite mobile operator's hotline (121 for me...GP) when your mobile connection is not pay 'extra' charges...also when your body and soul connection is not can dial 789...the GP healthline call center...start counting 15 taka for 1st 3 minutes...then 3 taka for every next minute...and seek divine directions and prescriptions from the doctors on the other side of the line. 15 taka is not a big deal I guess when we are talking about life and death situation right? I personally have not checked their service out, so I will refrain from being critical about it. Just as a food for thought, I wanted to raise the topic of 'location based services', initially coined by fellow blogger Bengal*Foam here.

Imagine when you call the 789 helpline and seek advice, the doctor at the call center is able to view from where your call is being generated (under which Base Transceiver Station, you are located). Then alongside giving you basic advice over phone, how wonderful it would be if the doc is also able to recommend you (or your family/friend incase you are unable to talk) the nearest hospital or life-saving drugs in pharmacies in 'your area' . A true customer delight would be if the call center can call an ambulance from the nearest hospital to be rushed to your place. 15 taka/3 minutes no big deal then isn't it?

The city is already divided into hexagon-shaped BTS zones where our present location appears as a tooltip in most modern handsets. Hospitals, pharmacies etc. can tie up with GP, pay them a monthly subscription fee, so that when calls are generated from 'their' TBS territory, the call center can forward the patients to the subscribed hospitals, pharmacies incase the service gets beyond the call center docs' scope. So GP gets rich from both ends. And what about us...the patients? Frankly speaking I won't mind if the GP health call center sends a request on my behalf to my 'local' pharmacy to do home delivery of a Tushka syrup and 3 files of Ace tablets. I know I am vulnerable, alone and suffering from illness at home, I know people will make use of it and squeeze out money out of my pocket...please take it out from my flexiLoad/pre-paid account automatically...I will see what can be done when I am back on my feet again.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New avenues being explored to promote local products

Sarwar Zahan writes in FE

The government is exploring new venues, in addition to 21 already selected, to organise trade fairs abroad aiming to promote Bangladeshi products and identify new export markets, Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) sources said.
Earlier, the commerce ministry took a decision to hold 21 trade fairs abroad in the current fiscal. Besides, five single commodity trade fairs will be held in separate places abroad.
EPB sources further said the preference will be given, while holding international trade fairs, to such countries where the buyers are not familiar with Bangladeshi goods but which hold out good marketing prospects.
The countries already selected for holding trade fairs include Germany, USA, Kenya, Vietnam, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong, Nepal, Senegal, India, Myanmar, Belgium, Sri Lanka, China, and Canada.
Special importance will be given to selecting products to put on display in a trade fair in a country where it market potential can be exploited.
Russia has been chosen as the debut country where presence of Bangladeshi products is limited, but there are promising prospects for Bangladeshi garments products. A readymade garment fair will be held in Russia, EPB sources said.
The government considers Vietnam as the potential market for pharmaceutical products and a decision has been taken to hold a fair to promote pharmaceutical products in that country.
Already duty-free access has been availed for the markets in the European Union, Canada, Australia and Norway. Although on a limited scale, Bangladeshi products have already found their access with lower duty in the markets of Thailand, India and Pakistan, the commerce ministry sources said.
Talks are under way with China, Russia, Malaysia and other neighbouring countries in connection with export promotion. A positive result is being expected within a short period, they said.

Good to see Bangladesh Corporate venturing into foreign territories, no wonder when the home is in order, you can afford to peek into neighbors home and make it yours too. Good luck.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Aktel Dhakar Chaka does not move anymore!

When a match is on, some people do tend to support the visibly weaker side. Unusual and rare victory by the weaker over the stronger has a different appeal attached to it and out of emotion too, people cheer for the weaker side. I prefer not to show any bias towards any weaker side just because they are weaker, infact they appear to be lazy or inefficient or not confident. Similarly I prefer not show any sympathy towards Aktel.

I am an avid listener of Radio Today 89.6 or Radio Foorti 98.4. I keep on switching between the two channels depending on the mood. However whenever I am driving or being driven, I have been trying to rely on Radio Today's traffic update program called 'Aktel Dhakar Chaka'. Ever since the launch of this program, I find the scope of airing it being narrowed day by day. The on-the-street reporters of the program also sound more exhausted and weary as they gasp for breathe and inform the city dwellers that too many cars in the street between Gulshan-1 and Gulshan-2 'theke theke jam srishti korche', or when they say the it would take you 5-7 signals to cross between Panthapath and Farmgate or Farmgate to Shahbag etc. We really can't blame them can we, mere young bloods out there in the polluted streets of a horribly unplanned capital, just working for some quick bucks or work experience. The city's traffic system will come to a gridlock by june 3rd 2009...(imaginery date) you will take out your car from home and get stuck immediately with your neighbors in the cars next to you even before you hit the main roads. And when the stakeholders will feel that nothing is moving and their near and dear ones are dying because of stuck ambulances in traffic jams, they will start building flyovers at important and busy junctions of Dhaka. So its just a prediction, a rather grim one, that we are heading for a complete locked traffic system. Given the current deteorating circumstances, 'Aktel Dhaka Chaka' does not make my car move anymore, it sounds like a useless program as there is nothing new to report other than sorry tales from the streets of Dhaka. And its even more sad to hear Aktel's name again and again with the show. It conveys some sort of a 'loser's message. They were caught napping when Banglalink and Warid whooshed by them and Aktel still burps with the punchline 'ekjon kintu egiyei thake...', I wonder does it really matter if you are running the race alone when the race has already finished and the winner are respectively GrameenPhone, BanglaLink and Warid? Look back and you won't see anybody running behind you...other than gov-whip-boy Teletalk and CityCell. Aktel also screwed up big time with the golden coin offer, as BTRC intervened and banned all sort of monetary rewards, lottery-like activities in the name of promotion.

Dhaka city will continue experiencing horrible traffic jams. Radio Today will keep on airing Aktel Dhakar Chaka. Aktel will keep on associating its brand with something 'not so good anymore'. Life will move on. I will be happy if all this is proven wrong.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Lights of opportunity in nights of Dhaka

11.20 PM, 6th September, 2007, Thursday

Regency Hotel, Dhaka.

Remember how many times you have watched in TV or in person famous Hollywood celebrities coming out of their lavish limousines on to the red carpet…flashes of cameras and cheers of fans and onlookers. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Well we had our fair share of attention too when we came out of our car (small Toyota Soleil though) in front of Dhaka Regency…the happening hotel in town these days…I, rather we, were stared at, scanned, scrutinized, ogled, name anything…by around 100 patient people in front of the hotel and by some from the foot-over bridge too. No camera flashes or cheers for us though, only a strange calm along with some buzz and suspicious looks…as if we were about to enter a dangerous, unholy or tabooed ceremony or something. But which Oscar award ceremony we were going to? What was it that glued general passers-by in front of the Regency entrance? Well…not Oscars this time, it was more happening it seemed in Dhaka for the time being, as JPR managed to fly in from next door DJ ‘icons’ Akbar Sami, Suketu, Aqeel and Channel [V] VJ Tina…in a bid to bridge a ‘cultural divide’….

When the buzzword is globalization, entertainment cannot seem to be any different. JPR (Jet Set Public Relations) have identified this pretty well. My maiden attendance of any of their events was the one held at Radisson on the eve of 2007. Over a span of nearly 10 months, I sense that JPR, along with their partners in rhyme, Regency, have done extremely well…to become richer, popular and happening.

With more than half of the population below 25 years of age, it goes without saying that there is immense potential, bubbling energy and exuberance in our youth…to smoke, drink and dance all night long. They are ready to work long hours, they are ready to withstand adversities over which they don’t have any control, they are eager to succeed and they are demanding to have fun too. JPR spoke in the same language and arranged the disco extravaganza. There was music, there was noise, there was fun and there was…surprise too. Thanks to an interesting collaboration, JPR and Regency managed to bring under the same roof people from all walks of life, of nearly all ages, shapes, sizes and background. Teenagers who probably used to frequent hangouts like Thunderbolt have graduated to Regency nightouts. There were people who you see travelling with you (or next to your car) in duronto, maxi or rider in the streets of Dhaka. There were all sorts of drinks and water was priced at 300 Tk. Yeh dil maange more and more was it…long queues kept the bartenders on their toes all night. Equal number of girls, ladies, aunties were seen also participating in the merry making shoulder to shoulder, waist to waist, hand in hand with their male counterpart(s)….partners in sway, smoke, swings and sips! Techno savvy mobile users were seen frantically making the best use of their handsets to take snaps and video the proceedings (music, moves etc.) from as close a distance as one feet…keep your eyes on youtube..who knows you might soon see another upload by someone who can’t help but share the heat with the world. By the way the program was sponsored by Nokia…as they care. In a bid to further make the experience of entertainment-starved Dhakaiyas, the organizers imported blonde eye-candies from apparently Eastern Europe to add glamour, taste and dazzle to the event. That as if gave the event more international flare, endorsement and the Bangladeshi male the chance to contemplate face to face the shining golden hair through the dark and smoke….right here in Dhaka!

In a bid to identify the ‘culture divide’ between social classes, JPR took the initiative to make a separate section for what it called VIPs, closer to the DJ god’s balcony. Non VIP disco dancers including myself were confined to the other half of the hall trying from time to time to peek and recognize in dark the dancing VIPs. So who were these VIPs? Very familiar looking models, singers, actors of Bangladesh, who are still finding it challenging to handle success and fame at the same time. There were also top brass executives from telecom, FMCG companies whom you see very often in TVs and in newspapers…they are the movers and shakers…who came to move and shake themselves for a change. Thanks to JPR and Regency that they gave the general public like me the opportunity to dance along our corporate idols, models and party animals. However some VIPs surely seemed irked to witness the awe-struck non VIPs who appeared to have appeared in a DJ party for the first time in life. There were some who appeared to have accompanied their wards as if in a dance school and were waiting for the class to end. Now this is where interest sets in. The elite social animals of the city attended private parties at homes and in International Clubs, Privilege, Bagha, Gulshan, Uttara Clubs. There was this cushion that they have been enjoying all along, as they could afford to attend such posh parties, and also because they knew the right people at the right places. But now things seem to have changed radically and their eliteness is decaying by the day. Globalization has made everyone aware and the average middle class Dhakaiya, are trying their best to show up in atleast one of these ‘previously elite and posh’ happenings and experience what is the big deal about it.

If you argue however that inflation, unemployment etc. have not increased the income of those who showed up that night, then I think Regency is selling itself cheap enough to be the preferred location by ‘eventgalists’ like JPR to arrange Disco Dhamakas in the heart of Dhaka. Who knows, in order to create a competitive positioning for itself, Regency wants to snatch away the party crowd from other hotels and endorse its eligibility, with the help of JPR, who made sure that corporates were invited to dance, drink and shake their ‘cashful’ booties at the Regency premises.

I am no culture police to comment on disco parties in Dhaka. But I saw opportunities for JPR and Regencies alike for lucrative growth in business. The word of caution came just because of our readiness. Just as there is no sex education in Bangladesh does not mean that we have stopped having sex and becoming happy 150 million, it does surely mean that our enjoyment of it could have increased along with safety had we received institutional orientation to it. Similarly doing business banking on something like high-end entertainment service i.e. disco parties, concerts, require maximum care so that people receive what they are ready to receive, they see what they are okay to see. Nevertheless, JPR can go a long way in establishing full-fledged discos, bars in future Bangladesh where the energy of the youth can be constructively channeled into dancing, drinking and dozing rather than picketing in streets, 'addafying' in tea-tongs all day etc. It seems we are sick of dancing and drinking in discos of Bangkok, London and New York...we want it open and available right here in our hometown! JPR can also tie up with social agencies, companies to promote safe interaction between ‘people’ in future Bangladesh. Jet Set PR is all set to take charge of our youth wagon…only during night time though….I just hope they have their headlights on and drive it well and guide us well to our destinations. I also hope they don't disappear into thin air during day time if someone looks for them.

Bemused…we came out of the hotel. The curious onlookers were staying standing up late even at 3 AM, on the footpath and on the foot-bridge. Will JPR-Regency bridge this divide too in near future? Who knows.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Grameenphone ladies: victims of their own success?

Unplanned Obsolescence

From Fast Company magazine

Grameen's famous Village Phone Program lifted thousands out of poverty-- and helped Muhammad Yunus win the Nobel Peace Prize. The problem: It's not working anymore.

From: Issue 118 | September 2007 | Page 107 | By: Richard Shaffer

At first, they all came. Not the beggars, of course, but villagers of every other sort, including many of the poorest. Most came in rickshaws, but some walked long distances across the rice paddies to line up at the door of a mud-walled home, waiting in the dust and the dung, with the chickens and the cows, even during Bangladesh's monsoon season, when the rain on the metal roof could make it difficult to hear.

And then, one by one, each talked on Laily Begum's wondrous new possession, a cellular telephone. A caller might come to check on money that her husband was supposed to send from his job as a day laborer in Dubai, or to keep tabs on the son who had moved to Chittagong in hopes of finding seaport work, or merely for gossip and the novelty of talking with someone far away.

But that was in the beginning, a decade ago; these days, cell phones are so commonplace that most visitors come only for a haircut, a shave, groceries, or a place to sleep, all of which Begum offers now. The few wireless calls are no longer made from her home but from one of her nearby shops--usually the one with the barrels, drums, and cans of motor oil out front and lining its walls. In March, when I visited her home in Patira, a stretch of dusty intersections 90 minutes northeast of Dhaka, she told me, "Hardly anyone uses my phone anymore."

On March 26, 1997--chosen because that day was the anniversary of Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan--Begum became the first participant in GrameenPhone's Village Phone Program. Now widely known, the plan offers small loans, or microcredit, that enable people in one of the world's most impoverished countries to buy cell phones and rent them, call by call, to neighbors who can't afford telephones of their own.

A compact, 44-year-old former seamstress with a skeptical look, Begum previously had borrowed and repaid lesser amounts to buy a cow, then another cow, and then to open a grocery store and tea shop for her husband. Next, she borrowed 25,000 takas, the equivalent at the time of about $580, to purchase her mobile telephone, a tall antenna, a heavy-duty battery, and some marketing materials. Almost immediately, she began earning more than that in monthly profits-- approximately $800, or nearly twice as much in a month as the average Bangladeshi, even today, makes in an entire year.

A decade later, instead of begging on the streets and sleeping with cattle as she once had done, Begum shares a two-room brick house with her husband, two sons, a daughter, a television set, and a refrigerator. Next door, she has built a barn, shops, and temporary housing that she rents to five poor families. Today, her banker estimates her net worth at $145,000, which may be more than everyone else in her village combined.

Begum's success has become legendary, embraced by the media and the world of economic development as an example of how microcredit and technology can help those born in poverty escape it, largely through their own entrepreneurship. The Grameen organization continues to boast that its Village Phone Program "has been incredibly successful … establishing a clear path out of the poverty cycle" and in June published a manual, featuring a photograph of Begum, instructing microfinance lenders elsewhere how to follow its lead.

But as it turns out, the legend is far out of date. The proliferation and democratization of technology has bested the economics of microenterprise. In Bangladesh today, the only one making real money on GrameenPhone's wireless service is … GrameenPhone.

GrameenPhone is a for-profit joint venture between Norway's Telenor and Grameen Telecom, a telecommunications affiliate of Grameen Bank, which won the Nobel Peace Prize last year together with its Bangladeshi founder, Muhammad Yunus. GrameenPhone shares Grameen Bank's fundamental philosophy--that targeted loans of modest sums can be profitable and bring millions out of poverty. In fact, it has overcome risks--spending $1.2 billion, for example, on communications infrastructure in an impoverished land--that few others would have considered and has improved the lives of countless people.

All this has occurred in one of the most desperate nations on earth. Those of a certain age may remember Henry Kissinger's description of Bangladesh as a "bottomless basket," or George Harrison's all-star benefit concerts in the summer of 1971 as hundreds of thousands were dying in the war of independence from Pakistan. Usually, if we think of Bangladesh at all, we think of its poverty, violence, corruption, and disasters--its cyclones, droughts, and floods, its nationwide strikes, stalled traffic, militant bombings, pollution, erratic electricity, and beggars. Two out of every five Bangladeshis are officially classified as poor.

In aspiration and potential, however, Bangladesh is the Hong Kong of South Asia, with a resilient workforce, a growing middle class, and encouraging recent progress. The growth of real gross domestic product has increased to 6.7% last year from an annual average of 4.8% in the 1990s and 3.2% in the 1980s. Although the country's second-largest export continues to be its people--nearly 290,000 Bangladeshis work abroad, each sending home enough money to support 37 others--shipments of its principal manufactured exports, ready-made garments, have been rising 11% annually, despite recent loss of trade protection.

Grameen's Village Phone Program has mirrored that growth, expanding ten-thousand-fold in 10 years to include about 280,000 operators, mostly women known as "phone ladies." It has won fame because of its reputed earning power. "The typical village phone lady has an average income three times the national average," according to a 2005 United Nations manual explaining how to duplicate the program elsewhere. In the most recent book about the program, You Can Hear Me Now, published in February of this year, author Nicholas P. Sullivan writes, "It is widely accepted that village phone ladies can make anywhere from $750 to $1,200 a year."

The current reality, however, is something different. According to Grameen Telecom, the GrameenPhone affiliate that manages the program, profits per operator have been declining for years and in 2006 averaged less than $70. "The program is not dead," says its manager, Mazharul Hannan, chief of technical services at Grameen Telecom, "but it is no longer a way out of poverty."

The reason is simple: Technology and GrameenPhone itself have made the village phone obsolete. Access to cell phones has expanded rapidly across Bangladesh, as in other developing nations. GrameenPhone, largest of the nation's six cellular providers, has more than 13 million subscribers, with yearly revenues of nearly $700 million. In all, perhaps one in seven Bangladeshis owns a phone, and ownership is expected to reach as high as one in three in a year or so.

Dhaka is hot, humid, crowded, frentic, and noisy. And across the city, cell phones are everywhere.

Ten years ago, Begum provided the sole telephone in Patira and the surrounding area, the only connection for nearly 10,000 people. Today, she must vie with 284 other Village Phone operators nearby, plus all the cell phones her neighbors have bought for themselves as prices have come down. As a result, Begum's phone rentals these days bring in monthly profits of only $22. "If I didn't have so many other businesses," she told me, "I couldn't afford to be in this one." Says her loan officer, Salim Khan, general manager of a Grameen Bank branch: "She is fortunate that she began when she did. Today, poor women who go into the phone business stay poor."

To understand the transformative power that cell phones have had in Bangladesh, one need only visit Dhaka, the capital. Dhaka is hot, humid, and flat, its skyline filled with cement buildings that seemingly aspire to East German monotony and dinginess. The city's air chokes with dust and the exhaust from ramshackle vehicles of every sort, patched together and resurfaced with fiberglass bonding compound, then gaily striped in turquoise, fuchsia, tangerine, chartreuse. Second globally only to Mumbai in the number of slum dwellers, the city is frenetic and noisy, with a constant beeping, honking, ringing, and coughing of buses, cars, rickshaws, and three-wheel taxis against the loud drone, in neighborhoods that can afford them, of electric generators. (Power fails several times a day.)

Yet across the city, cell phones are everywhere. In the Eastern Plaza, a multistory market building, several dozen cramped stalls offer phones exclusively. Because many handsets are smuggled into the country, suggested retail prices mean little, and bargaining is brisk.

Indeed, wireless has become broadly affordable--even in places that, until now, had no telephones of any sort. Advances in digital electronics have helped to lower the price of a cellular handset in poor nations from more than $400 to about $30. In practical terms, that's a reduction from more than the national average annual wage in those countries to less than the wages for a single month. As a result, many who once needed to use someone else's phone now can afford one of their own.

One afternoon, at the crowded livestock market near Dhaka's Gabtoli Bus Terminal, I met with cattle dealer Taiyeb Ali. He told me he sells about 120 animals--three times his usual volume--during the week leading up to Eid al-Adha, the second most important festival in the Islamic calendar, when families in Bangladesh slaughter cows by the hundreds of thousands. For most of his 25 years in the business, Ali had to spend as long as a month away from home selecting and buying animals near the border with India, the source of many cattle in Bangladesh. Then he bought a cellular phone, and these days, he stays in Dhaka when al-Adha approaches, ordering over the air once he's seen what customers are buying. "If demand is high, I buy expensive animals; if it's low, I buy cheaper ones," he told me. "It's very simple: I save time with the phone, and I make more money."

The wireless industry likes to give itself at least partial credit for Bangladesh's recent economic gains, and that claim is supported by recent economic research (partly financed, as it happens, by the industry). The mobile industry created 237,900 jobs in Bangladesh in a single year, according to Ovum Consulting, which also concluded that most of the benefit of mobile communications had gone to the poor. A study led by the London Business School concluded that in developing countries, a 10% increase in the use of cellular telephony increases GDP per capita by six-tenths of a percent. And according to McKinsey & Co., the overall benefits of cellular telephony can be as high as 8% of a nation's GDP.

A day after meeting Ali, I ferried by skiff to Karail, a warren of corrugated-iron-and-bamboo hovels across Lake Gulshan from the well-guarded villas and high-rises of Dhaka's most expensive and fashionable neighborhood, and near a large, elaborate mosque donated by Saddam Hussein. An estimated 100,000 squatters live in Karail, the city's largest shantytown. Their shacks are without ovens; cooking is done over common scrap-wood fires. Toilets empty into the lake, where children swim. Water and electricity are bought from thieves who divert public sources.

Here, I found Noor Alam, a slight, earnest 28-year-old who operates a sewing machine in a garment factory. Although he earns only $1.20 a day, he had managed to save $45 to buy a Nokia cell phone a month earlier, because, he said, the economics were so compelling. Rather than signing on as subscribers for a specific period of time, most Bangladeshis engage in any number of programs that allow them simply to pay before phoning, spending an average of just 16 cents a day on calls.

Alam thinks of home as the village he came from, and he used to return frequently to visit his mother, father, and nephew--a trip that took two days by bus and cost $4.35 in fares, plus lost wages. To save money, he sent the new phone to his mother. He now calls her every other day by renting airtime at one of several phone shops in the slum. For calls his mother needs to make, Alam pays a phone-shop operator, who then credits his mother's account.

"Now," he says, "I can be a good son and save money, too."

In the taxonomy of business, the Village Phone Program is a shared access model--a term that in the history of consumer technologies has included party lines, pay phones, Internet kiosks, radio receivers, television sets, and video-game consoles. Like those earlier products and services, its evolution has been, in hindsight, predictable: As innovations diffuse, ownership displaces rental.

In the 1980s, the government of India established "public call offices," small businesses that rented wired telephones to customers, call by call. "For about a decade, it was highly profitable," says Ashok Jhunjhunwala, a professor of electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras in Chennai, who has long studied the effects of computer and communications technologies on poverty. "But as more people got phones the profits disappeared."

Likewise, in the face of cheaper phones, accessible calling plans, and low-cost infrastructure, the phone ladies didn't stand a chance. Dawn Hartley, who manages the economic development fund of the GSM Association in London, a trade group that includes most wireless carriers, observes, "The outcome [for the Village Phone Program] was always inevitable. The shared access model is a halfway house between no one owning a mobile phone and everyone owning a mobile phone. Shared access models are a great bridge, and in some areas they will last a very long time, but by and large, they have a shelf life."

Not that the Village Phone Program is being abandoned. Indeed, it continues to recruit more operators. Although the program has become a marginal business for the typical phone lady, it may still contribute to GrameenPhone's corporate net income--which is already robust. Despite peak rates that are among the world's lowest, less than two cents a minute, it earns operating margins of 42%.

The Village Phone Program no longer sustains its entrepreneurs -- yet Grameen continues to recruit operators.

That success reflects a radically different way of doing business, geared to the poor: efficient and low-cost carrier networking, billing, and customer-service systems and methods. "The efficiency involved in this makes or breaks a mobile service," Paul Budde, an authority on the telecommunications industry in South Asia, explained in an email. But it goes deeper than that. Grameen, for example, signs up most new customers these days without even supplying handsets. Vendors need only provide SIM cards, the small, plastic memory circuitry that enables the network to identify a handset; where a customer gets the phone is his affair. And Grameen saves itself the cost of carrying all that phone inventory.

In much the same way, the Village Phone Program has served as a lever to efficiently expand GrameenPhone's very lucrative market. GrameenPhone's employees and managers also seem genuinely convinced of their duty to reduce poverty in Bangladesh. It is encouraging Village Phone operator-enterpreneurs to supplement incomes by selling SIM cards and over-the-air calling credits. In pilot projects, customers are paying utility bills over the phone and buying and selling goods via text messages. The company has provided more than 70,000 street beggars with interest-free loans, handsets, and wireless accounts, encouraging them to earn money by reselling airtime.

For now, GrameenPhone is pinning most of its follow-on hopes on what it calls Community Information Centers, small kiosks--561 established already--in outlying villages that, for fees of 42 cents an hour, will offer such services as online browsing, agricultural and health-care information, digital photography, video telephony via Web cams, and electronic access to government reports and forms.

Such kiosks have met with little success in other countries, and GrameenPhone concedes its plan is ambitious. "The business is similar to renting phones, but more difficult," said Mohammed Shafiqul Islam Sikdar, a deputy manager in the program. "With voice, the need was obvious; people want to talk to each other. With computer kiosks, it's not as clear what villagers will pay for and whether they will pay enough. Also, our entrepreneurs in this case have to be literate and have some technical skills. The capital requirements are greater, and as the sponsor, we're going to have to spend much more time and effort in marketing, support, and training. But we are in no hurry. We will make it work."

Meantime, GrameenPhone is cooperating with nonprofits and other companies to expand the Village Phone Program beyond the borders of Bangladesh. Pilot programs are under way or being considered in Cambodia, Cameroon, Senegal, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Grameen Foundation, on whose board Muhammad Yunus sits, has reproduced the program in Uganda and Rwanda, and is encouraging microfinance institutions elsewhere to clone more.

The effort is noble--and surely, the Village Phone Program has helped create a telecommunications infrastructure that supports economic development and greater prosperity for folks like Taiyeb Ali and Noor Alam. But the expansion effort is also disingenuous. In Grameen's promotional material for such programs, Yunus proclaims, "If a poor woman gets hold of one mobile phone in the village, then this is a sure bet that her entire family can move out of poverty in two or three years." In some indigent backwaters, that may still be true. But it's misleading, at best, to pretend that Bangladesh is among them.

Richard Shaffer writes about technology and economics from New York.


Copyright © 2007 Mansueto Ventures LLC. All rights reserved.
Fast Company, 7 World Trade Center, New York, NY 10007-2195

Have your brand dressed up in the occasion

Brand can make people laugh or it can make people sad. We like to shake our hands with good brands and we like to say goodbye to the bad brands. So we can say, brand is like a human being.

As we people have characters which reflect us, so the brands have the same thing which reflect the brands as well. If we can change our clothes then the brands can do the same. If we look at the Google, we would find that in the various occasions Google modify their logo to let the people feel the taste of that occasion. So the MTV do. They even go for a project which is called MTV Hats (Header Art Treatments).

So, in Bangladesh we should do such activity to make our brands more visible and more cultural.