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What Countries Like India Should Learn From Bangladeshi Change-Makers Like Annisul Huq

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In the past year, I heard Mr Annisul Huq’s name three times. The first time was at a SAARC Chamber of Commerce conference in end-2016, when I learnt that this prominent Bangladeshi businessman had been a former President of the apex organisation.

Mohammadi Group, his business conglomerate, was established when Bangladesh was only a decade-and-half old as a new nation. Today, it employs more than 12,000 people across its garment, real estate, power, technology and entertainment businesses. Counted as one of the prominent business houses of this rapidly-emerging economy, it has received accolades from the organisations of USA, Canada, Holland (among many others) since the 1990s.

The second time I met him was at Dhaka University in early 2017, when I learnt of his role in public service and governance as the new mayor of Dhaka City-North. I was visiting Dhaka after a gap of 12 years, and a change in the city’s northern suburbs between 2005 and 2017 was clearly visible – be it in the condition of the streets, hard infrastructure, public areas or civic services. It was while commenting on this transformation that I understood the role of the mayor and his team behind it.

Annisul Huq

The third time was during this week, when I learnt of the demise of this gentleman who died way before his time.

While the people of Bangladesh mourn the loss of one of its foremost change-makers, his example holds a valuable lesson for other developing countries like India too. Very few individuals in countries like ours have donned the role of execution, and not just advising, across both business and governance.

Many prominent business-people are a part of planning bodies which advise on governance matters across sectors. But very few of these people actually get their hands dirty in execution, which has always been the traditional challenge, when it comes to governance. It is one thing to advise – and a completely different thing to be on ground and execute things in challenging countries like ours. Conversely, many involved in governance – civic officials, politicians or bureaucrats – do advise on business issues, but very few have actually done business on-ground.

The reason for harping on execution is not to belittle the role of advising, as that too brings in an ‘outside-in’ view, which is crucial. Rather, the intention is to stress on the fact that people involved in on-ground execution, across both business and governance, bring in a unique mix of practical experience – and very few such individuals exist in our nations. We need more such people, and it is us who now have to rise to become that!

In fact, Annisul’s death has put a responsibility on all Bangladeshis, and indeed, on others too – from the perspective of their respective countries. People have to rise to his calibre, so that the vision can be carried on and executed seamlessly, till the very end. Perhaps, doing this may be a better tribute to Annisul’s memory, than mere mourning.

Moreover, his example shows what is possible in countries like ours. The favourite pastimes – to play blame-game, feign hopelessness and not contribute to change – are all-pervasive. Very few take the spade and dig (metaphorically speaking). Often, the excuse is that the current system cannot change, and that it is useless to try anything new. But this unwillingness to try new solutions costs us dearly.

Very few individuals in our country have taken on the tough task to demonstrate that it is indeed possible to bring changes, despite the prevalent negative rhetoric. The road is never easy, but it is possible. For example, in 2014, Narendra Modi mentioned that despite having the same people, same offices, same files, same regulations etc, it was possible to bring in a level of economic development in Gujarat, which was much higher than in the other states.

Individuals like Annisul Huq not only possess this unique mix of practical experience in matters of business and governance – they also build qualities like persistence, tenacity, taking initiatives, being non-confrontational, and an ability to visualise. Without these, they would never have accomplished what they did.

In societies like ours, where a person’s volume is often regarded as a barometer of truth, very few can debate opposing views quietly, and eke out relevant insights from all the participants. A common trait in successful individuals is their ability to do exactly that – and my discussion about the northern suburbs of Dhaka and its mayor confirmed that.

My discussion also confirmed two leadership traits of such individuals that earns them public respect:

1. They do not gloat with an ‘I won, you lost’ judgement, when they have accomplished their objective.

2. They do not polarise people with an ‘us and them’ strategy.

Not only does it earn such leaders respect, it also makes their project more inclusive by unifying social voices – something countries like ours sorely need.

Critics attack most people – and Annisul’s case was no different. He was criticised for focusing on the development of only certain neighbourhoods. But the ability to answer critics pragmatically is a trait which very few people have – and he showed this with his long-term action plan to develop all neighbourhoods, despite limited funds. Bangladesh needs more citizens to imbibe these qualities to further its own future betterment – as do the citizens of other developing countries like India for their own sake.

As someone said – life is temporary, but lessons are permanent! It is now our duty to show what we learnt from the qualities and work-experiences of such change-makers – and whether we can rise to become one for our countries too!

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Featured image source: NaeemEhsan/Facebook
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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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