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.
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!