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1st March 2015

British Council SE Policy Dialogue

25th and 26th February saw the British Council Policy Dialogue on Social Enterprise in Dhaka.   With delegates from many countries in the region as well as from the UK and of course lots of interest from Bangladesh, it was great to have a forum for Social Enterprise where we could all learn and share.    I’ve been a social entrepreneur in Bangladesh for 10 years now and for much of that time its been a lonely road.   In fact, when I first became a social entrepreneur, there was no such term and I would try to explain to people what I was doing and be met with many blank faces and glazed eyes.    Of course, with global leaders like Anita Roddick from the Body Shop being my inspiration, social enterprise has existed for many years, but it is only really recently that it has found a name and a voice and a movement.  In the past few years particularly its been great to see such a surge of interest in social enterprise.

The British Council did a great job in bringing together practitioners and facilitators from the whole field where we could learn what other countries were doing and start to think about how to shape and facilitate this space in Bangladesh.    There was of course, a lot of discussion around definition.   For me the definition that makes most sense for Bangladesh is the one from Shujog – mission driven for profit companies and market driven non profit organisations.

It was exciting to see so much interest from the Government of Bangladesh in this field and also their understanding of how social enterprise and impact investing could really move forward the development situation in Bangladesh.   In particular it was exciting to hear the Securities and Exchange Commissioner, Dr Arif Khan, talk about their plans for a new SME Exchange in the country.   It was also great to hear Anir Chowdhury, Adviser to the Prime Minister, from the Access 2 Information office, talking about the investments that they were making in startups.

Durreen Shahnaz, founder of the Asian Impact Investment Exchange, gave a keynote speech on impact investing as well as chairing a panel on the same subject.   There is clearly interest in impact investing in Bangladesh from investors around the world as well as a whole new ecosystem of social enterprise startups all solving problems that desperately need to be solved in this country.   So what’s the delay?   Well, there is still work that needs to be done around bringing those startups to investor readiness, around financing impact assessments to catalyse growth of this space, around a general lack of awareness and understanding about impact investing particularly within the development community.


Image:   Durreen Shahnaz gave the keynote speech on impact investing

In particular I was delighted to see that the British Council had included a panel on Higher Education in the policy dialogue.   It is so important that the universities embrace this field and start to run courses on social enterprise and social entrepreneurship as well as funding research into this space to foster innovation and new developments.

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Image:  panel on impact investing with Durreen Shahnaz, Dr Arif Khan, Commissioner SEC,  Dr Birupakhsa Paul, Chief Economist Bangladesh Bank, Fahim Ahem, SEAF, Adrien Denis Couton, Dalberg, Shawkat Hossain, BD Ventures

I was delighted to be invited to chair the panel on women’s empowerment and social enterprise and without a doubt social enterprise was seen as a win-win situation for women’s empowerment, both from the angle of social enterprises working for women’s empowerment particularly within the poor communities in Bangladesh, but also from the angle of the educated middle class women becoming social entrepreneurs.

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Image:   Samantha Morshed, Selyna Peiris, Selyn Handlooms Sri Lanka, Tamara Abed, BRAC, Medhavi Gandhi, Happy Hands Foundation India, Chan Yee Hon, VP Magic Malaysia,

All in all it was great to have so many key people in the field all come together and I very much hope that this is the first of many policy dialogues organised by the British Council in Bangladesh.

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Image: Samantha Morshed, Samira Himika, Durreen Shahnaz, Shaveena Anam



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