Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and Chair Emeritus of BRAC was named the recipient of the ‘Outstanding Member of the South Asian Diaspora Award (OMSAD)’ at the Fourth South Asian Diaspora Convention held at the National University of Singapore from 15th to 17th November. As he was unwell and unable to travel, the award was received on his behalf by Barrister Manzoor Hasan, Executive Director of the BRAC Centre for Peace and Justice, from Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam of Singapore at a very well attended gala function on Friday the 15th of November. Earlier, all the distinguished guests to the colourful ceremony were welcomed by Ambassador Gopinath Pillai, the Chairman of the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), a very prestigious and globally renowned think- tank located in Singapore.
The citation for the award recognized Sir Fazle Hasan Abed as “a social worker with a humane heart who was also a colossus of humanity” who transformed BRAC “with meticulous care and dedication” into “the world’s largest non-governmental organization , which remained steadfast to its mission to empower communities in situations of poverty , illiteracy , disease , healthcare and social injustice”, not just in Bangladesh , but also “operating across 11 countries in Asia and Africa, including Afghanistan”.
The formal citation recognized contemporary Bangladesh as “a country on the rise, with its phenomenal progress being viewed as a remarkable achievement in all quarters”. It praised BRAC for “holding the government’s hand through this fascinating process of development”. The citation was read out on behalf of the organizers by the Principal Research Fellow of ISAS, Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury.
Mr Enayetullah Khan, the Chairman of COSMOS Foundation, Dhaka, addressed a very large gathering of a cross section of the Singaporean community at a plenary session of the Convention, entitled” “Business in South Asia: Opportunities and Challenges”. Mr Khan laid out the manner in which the economy of Bangladesh had grown steadily and in a sustained fashion to become one of the fastest in the region and, even the world, through and mix of intense private initiatives and appropriate public policies. He recognized that issues of governance and climate change are often identified as “challenges, and stated measures are constantly being taken to address and surmount such problems. The session which was chaired by Ambassador S Chandra Das, the non-resident High Commissioner of Singapore to Sri Lanka also had as speakers, Jonathan Yap, President Capital and Financial Group in Singapore and Pang Yee Yan, Director General Asian and Infrastructure Investment bank in China, among others.
At another session on ‘Women Empowerment in South Asia’, which followed a keynote address by Minister Indranee Rajah from the Singapore Prime Minister’s office, Rasheda K Choudhury, Executive Director of the Campaign for Popular Education in Bangladesh. She spoke of constraints such as the Rohingya refugee influx from Myanmar into Bangladesh, and a regional rise of “obscurantism”, but those notwithstanding, women’s participation in all spheres of life in Bangladesh had not only become visible but also has gained wide recognition. She, however, argued that ‘participation’ did not always mean ‘empowerment’, and in South Asia despite its increase “from grassroots to the Himalayan peak”, there was still a long way to go! Other participants at the session were Aisha Khan, a prominent environmentalist from Pakistan and Karuna Gopal, an empowerment activist from Pakistan.
The Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mohammed Shahidul Haque participated in the final interactive session with Professor C Raja Mohan, the Director of ISAS. The subject was “The South Asian Diaspora: A Strategic Asset?”, and the moderator of the discussion was Professor Kishore Mahbubani, a senior diplomat turned academic of Singapore. Haque, who was earlier a ranking official of the International Organization of Migration (IOM), traced the evolution of the global migratory process and analysed how the Bangladeshi experience fitted into the process. He analysed the altering nature of the definition of the term “diaspora’’, and noted how it had changed over time, He specially referred to the circulatory process of contemporary migration, and noted that this was of benefit to both the sending and receiving communities. Following the discussion between the session participants and their interaction with the audience, it was agreed that the diaspora was indeed an asset!
The three-day event, whose theme was “Vibrant South Asia: Innovative Diaspora” concluded on Sunday the 17th November with a friendly and festive cricket match between two teams comprised of senior players from the subcontinent. The cricketers from Bangladesh were Mohammed Ashraful, a former Test skipper, and Abdur Razzak, the left-arm spinner. The point was aptly made that despite some differences between these countries, cricket continues to remain the glue, keeping the South Asian nations and peoples fastened together.
The Diaspora Convention is a flagship event of ISAS that takes place every two years in Singapore, drawing participants focussed on the region from its diaspora from all over the world. Each year the theme is different, and the topics cover a wide spectrum including, politics, economics, culture, and this year, for the first time, sports. A prominent feature of this year was a recognition of the across the board role of Bangladesh and the Bangladeshis.
Masud Jamil Khan, Cosmos Foundation