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Monday, May 31, 2010

Musa Mama conquers Everest - Now what?

Certainly a red and green salute to the first Bangladeshi for making us feel literally on top of the world for the first time. Musa Ibrahim is a common and heroic figure in Bangladesh now after his conquest of the Mount Everest as the first Bangladeshi. It goes without saying that we badly need role models for our youth, brand ambassadors to hold our country image high in the global stage. Musa has just done that risking his own life in the treacherous slides of the mighty Himalayas. He has started his descent and have been honoured with accolades in Kathmandu by the Bangladeshi high commission and the expats. Before he continues his return to Bangladesh, I thought to express my hope and fears regarding how this great man could be branded well and bad - by Bangladeshi corporates.

I would sincerely hope that –

If you are a telecom brand of Bangladesh, then please don’t put Musa Mama on top of Keokaradong, making him claim that he can get the network from the highest point of Bangladesh, only and only with your mobile network. Also please don’t make Musa make a roaming call from Kathmandu to his eagerly waiting mother and fellow villagers in Thakurgaon, to break the news of his mountain conquest and the news of his return – by echoing the promise to ‘stay close’ with your near and dear ones. If you are an energy drink producer, then please don’t insist Musa Mama to pose with a can of your energy drink like a shark or a bull or a tiger and claim that it was this great energy drink which gave him the so valuable energy when he was climbing the gigantic Sagarmatha. Similarly if you are in the business of making chanachurs or noodles, please spare him from claiming in a product endorsement that it was your greatly delicious instant noodles or spicy chanachur that kept him going when he paused for a break on his way up to the prestigious mountain top.

Either there is a high possibility that some brands can approach him to endorse their products and services and turn him into a paltry commodity. Or there is a possibility that we will comfortably overlook the tremendous potential this man holds to inspire the youth to aim high against all odds. The most prominent job adverted on should be for a brand ambassador for Bangladesh. Luckily we got Dr. Muhammad Yunus and I am sure even though he possesses a sparkling, wide smile capable enough to have landed him a role in a toothpaste advertisement, he must have declined such offers as he has other priorities and better means to support himself. I am not sure about Musa though. It is to be seen how the young dynamic man who is a journalist by profession, handles this new found fame now.

Bangladeshi brands would be better off if they decide to join hands to host this man and his unique feat to celebrate a common achievement and preach a common message of pride, self-belief, ambition, perseverance – as a Bangladeshi youth. I hope Musa sees the bigger picture, as he must have seen from the top of Mount Everest, that he has a game at hand to inspire those who breathe Bangladesh around the world. Going above and beyond representing any particular business brand, he should rather convert himself to a national brand and set out in a mission to carry the brand of the red and green. Actual business brands who might take part in making this happen for Musa and for us, would be treated as true heroes in the long run.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In the search of young Bangladeshi entrepreneurs

The call to air more business based shows in Bangladeshi TV channels is nothing new for this blog. We have mentioned the need to make programs in TV channels not only to give dry commentary and stale news about recent business events and products but also to give young Bangladeshi entrepreneurs a platform to demonstrate their business ideas and possibly get some mentoring, funding, patronising etc. Its not news anymore that companies like HSBC and BATB regularly arrange business plan competitions every year and award financially the winners. But I have always questioned the outreach of such initiatives. Agreed that its an effort worth appreciation, by the very nature of the potential of that initiative, it calls for increasing its outreach especially outside Dhaka and other cities, where only the priveleged young people, may be belonging to private universities would get the chance to enter into such competitions. It certainly overlooks the vast majority of young entrepreneurs who might be already running small businesses in rural Bangladesh, with or without a well composed business plan and with or without any formal knowledge of how to run a business and how to seek more venture capital beyond 'love money' from friends and family.

Recently BBC has started the Junior Apprentice TV show. The six-week competition has candidates all aged between 16 and 17, battling it out through a series of gruelling tasks in the hope to become the first ever Junior Apprentice. The winner will be awarded access to a fund worth £25,000, which will go towards his or her business career and will be personalised to their individual prospects and development. If you ever get to see these shows, you will realise how practical and challenging doing business can be. But more interestingly you will realise how business skills are honed by 16 and 17 year olds who are yet to finish even their schools and still there is so much to learn beyond classroom based education and business plan competitions. Above all, the encouragement and inspiration such programs and initiatives create is tremendous, enabling likeminded young entrepreneurs to perceive their small business ventures more seriously and give all out effort.

When we are so fond of and quick in copying foreign TV serials and reality shows, I wonder why don't we copy the good things first. Also if the world of copying TV programs is open for all, why do we have to wait until an Indian version is aired through Bangladeshi TV space whereas the BBC programs are open for all to view and 'copy' the idea if needed. Lord Sugar is one self-made business icon in the UK, to compare someone with him in Bangladesh might be a step too far. But its obvious that we have too many speakers in presentations and trainers in workshops but very few business leaders in the true sense. A successful business leader is not only supposed to make more money for him/herself but also to educate, inspire especially the young in the society. How many of our business celebrities are doing something worthwhile to nourish the business talent and potential of the young entrepreneurs? How many of them have reached out to those who live outside cities?

There is no denial of the fact that reality TV programs for young business entrepreneurs of Bangladesh can never be the only resort to ensuring classy business cadres. But what is the problem in starting with it? Atleast it would bring back some viewers back to watching television which is so full of mundane drama serials and political dog and pony shows. A business show involving young entrepreneurs would give some much needed respite from the plagued drama serials and singing competitions. What do you think?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Chandni Chawk offers training on bargaining skills

Have you ever thought of that one skill almost everyone in Bangladesh applies in their day to day lives? It starts from the hour you step out of your house to go to work or to school. It takes place the moment you get into doing some shopping centers or for your kitchen shopping. Places like Bongobazar, Gawsia or Chandni Chawk are perhaps the centers for excellence for applying and seeing this unique skill in action. This skill is not yet offered through the skills development workshops by or Prothom Alo jobs and I will have to ask training gurus like Quazi Bhai or Parveen Apa if they have ever provided trainings on this skill. Interestingly, the learning and application of this skill is not limited to blue collar executives or salaried employees. Infact this skill is practiced and perfected in some cases by those unemployed women who have been involved in the most demanding yet unpaid job one can ever imagine - housekeeping, or lets put it as domestic project managers. From dawn to dusk, the invisible skill in action in a typical Bangladeshi life is that of - bargaining.

How many times it happened to you that the rickshaw-wala agreed to your asking price to ferry you to your destination? Did you ever have any luck in trying the same with stubborn and egoist CNG-walas or the cabbies? May be you must have had some success while shopping in Bongobazar or in Kacha bazars around your city. I remember experiencing shock and awe while discovering myself unwillingly accompanying my spouse in the great battle field of Chandni Chawk near New Market in Dhaka. This is one place where its acceptable to ridicule the vendor's asking price and reduce it to near dust and dirt in the form of the proposed bidding price. Same applies for Bongobazar may be. Do you think what takes place during these transactions apply in any situations in your business life in Bangladesh? Or for the sake of sounding good, we call it 'negotiation skills' in board rooms? Do we agree or disagree to the fact that there is a difference between bargaining and negotiating and both might as well apply depending on the circumstances in day to day business situations?

It seems negotiation skills focus more on problem solving where the promise is for a win-win situation for all or both the parties involved. There is little or no manipulation and the spirit is that of cooperation. On the other hand it seems that bargaining involves, to some degree, manipulative tactics even to end up in a win-lose or lose-win situation. There is no incentive for a buyer out in Bongobazar to negotiate in a win-win situation so that the seller and buyer both are happy and the transaction takes place. Rather the seller would be hell bent to maximise his profit margin as much as possible and would come up with undeniable excuses to defend his asking price. This can have special effect depending on the buyer's skin color and appearance so that foreigners or 'those who look well-off' are asked exhorbitant prices in the first cut. Personally speaking I score very low in the bargaining skills and always prefer fixed price venues to do all my shopping. Sometimes I regret however for not having practiced enough bargaining skills in business situations, something I used to do as a Dhakabashi any ways - as that is the need of the hour there. Interestingly, there is no explicit focus on this ability to bargain effectively in training courses or business discussions. I think that in our search for civility, the desire to approach every problem with the idea of attaining a happy resolution, makes us forget the importance of bargaining. Some problems demand street-wise bargaining skills. Not everyone comes to the table with the epistemology of negotiations. Sometimes, people come to the table like they are shopping in a bazaar.

Its interesting to make an inventory of khati deshi skills we possess in Bangladesh and how we can translate and apply the same to further our business objectives both within and outside the country.