Shape South Asia 2018

World Economic Forum Global Shapers South Asian regional conference was organized by the Dhaka Hub to showcase the best of Bangladesh to the world.

It is 2am and I just got back from Shape South Asia. Between April 11 -15, one hundred World Economic Forum Global Shapers from 30 countries and 50 cities assembled in Dhaka to learn about “Shaping Inclusive Societies”. Last year Dhaka Hub won a competitive bid to host the event and spend almost a year preparing.

We kicked off on the evening of April 11 with a screening of ‘Finding Bangladesh’ — a documentary by Dhaka Shaper Adnan Fakir. Next, Sohara Mehroze, the Curator of the Dhaka Hub, welcomed the100+ participants to the event. Next, the South Asia Community Manager of Global Shapers, James Forsyth, addressed the audience. The special guest for the ceremony, Dr. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhary, Honorable Speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament, officially inaugurated Shape South Asia 2018.

Honorable Speaker, Dr. Shirin Shamin Chaudhary addressing the audience

From the very beginning, I wanted to know what people from all around the world thought of Bangladesh. I found most people, unfortunately, had low expectations of what Dhaka would be like; but once here were struck by the development, urbanization and community they had found here. It made me proud to call Dhaka home.

On 12th April, Dr. Rashed Uz Zaman, Professor of International Relations, Dhaka University, gave an overview of the history of 400 years of Dhaka City. Next up, we had panels on Financial Inclusion and Sustainable Manufacturing with industry experts, both local and international, who shared their thoughts and commented on the future of each sector in light of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Panel on Financial Inclusion

Next came the much anticipated ‘Meet the Leaders’ session, which featured Zunaid Ahmed Palak (State Minister for ICT), Tamara Abed (Senior Director, BRAC), Rubana Huq (Managing Director, Mohammadi Group) and Faisal Ahmed (Chief Economist, Bangladesh Bank), Arif Khan (Managing Director of IDLC), and Sonia Bashir Kabir (Managing Director of Microsoft Bangladesh). This was a breakout session where the leaders openly shared about their life and work with small groups of Shapers.

Meet the Leader Session with State Minister for ICT Zunaid Palak
Meet the Leader Session with Managing Director of IDLC, Arif Khan

I personally attended the session by Faisal Ahmed, where I learned about his childhood and journey to Bangladesh Bank. It was a very personal insight into a leader which one doesn’t commonly find on the internet. The participants asked about topics like blockchain and future of banking in Bangladesh.

The Rapid Talks session featured Ahmed Fahad (myself) (Pathao, Dhaka Shaper), Samia Huq (Associate Professor, BRAC University) and Harsh Songra (CEO and Founder, My Child App and CEO, We, Included).

Presenting the journey of Pathao

This was an opportunity for the Shapers to learn about Pathao and its impact on Dhaka. I later got feedback from a few Shapers that this was interesting because Pathao’s story paints a hopeful picture of the startup ecosystem in Bangladesh.

We then divided into groups to go explore Dhaka in person. One group of Shapers went to Clay Station (the group made an inclusive city by sculpting pottery). Another group made robots with our Shaper Shams Jaber; and the third group experienced a musical performance at Jatra.

Shapers at Claystation Dhaka
Shapers at Claystation Dhaka where they made clay figures to represent Inclusion
Moved by the soulful voice of Anusheh at Jatra

A group of Shapers went on a tour to see Korail with BRAC. Most people found this tour particularly moving because it exposed them to the reality of inequality, housing, and healthcare problems of the city.

Korail tour with BRAC

That night, the Shapers found out how the locals party in Dhaka — they experienced a deshi holud! This was one of the highlights of the entire conference!

The Shapers we given local sari and panjabi as part of their welcome goody bags
No holud is compete without a dala!
Did we say there was dancing?

The next day started early, with parallel guided tours to Liberation War Museum, Mirpur Sher-e-Bangla Stadium and Samdani Art Foundation. Shapers got to meet Cricketers Masrafe Bin Mortuza and Tamim Iqbal of the national team.

Meeting the Captain of the Bangladesh Cricket Team, Mashrafe Mortaza

Another big highlight was the talk of Kamal Quadir (CEO, bKash) at bKash headquarters. I personally liked his openness and his vision for the future of financial inclusion. Most of the Shapers told me they enjoyed the Q/A session, where Kamal Quadir answered a wide range of questions from the audience.

Kamal Quadir, CEO, bKash addressing taking questions from the Shapers

The trouble of having a jam-packed agenda is that it’s hard to pick a favorite: for me, it was the inside tour of the National Parliament — a national treasure with such fine architecture, history and significance to the country.

A rare look inside the parliament building

The third night ended with a panel discussion on public service innovation and governance in the light of Fourth Industrial Revolution with governance experts and policymakers Radwan Siddiq and Anir Chowdhury. I enjoyed this session particularly because it was highly interactive, the audience asked good questions and the panelists were thoughtful in their responses.

Left to right: Sohara Mehroze , Anir Chowdhury, Radwan Siddiq
Shapers engaging with Radwan Siddiq, Governance Expert, UNDP after the panel

The final day, was on the Bengali New Year. It started with the experience tour of Mongol Shobhajatra, where the Shapers enjoyed the colors of Pahela Baishakh. We then walked to the State Guest House where we had been invited for lunch by the Foreign Secretary, Shahidul Haque. Little did we know there was full blown mela waiting for us there!

There was lots of drums and dancing at the Jamuna Guest House
Colorful masks for Pahela Baishak

At the guest house, we had a Shaper Talks session where Sarah Doherty, Martha B Mwizi , Shiroi Shaiza, and Rohit Nayak presented their work. Their talk was followed by a townhall session with the Foreign Secretary and closing Remarks by Lutfey Siddiqi (YGL, WEF)

We ended the day by bidding farewell to the outgoing Shaper, Saif Kamal. The farewell was heartfelt and the every attendee took part in bidding goodbye to someone who has been a friend to almost everyone there and is a vital part of the Global Shapers Community. We will miss the support, insights and hard work that Saif Kamal has provided the Hub over the years.

Goodbyes were said and tears were shed as Saif Kamal (right) delivers his farewell speech

Take aways:

  • Local context: I always thought “Committed to improving the state of the world” is a very vague mission statement for the Global Shapers Community. Talking to many Shapers and the Community Manager for our region helped make sense of this. Committed to improving the state of the world can and should mean different things to different people and communities. It’s about local context, believing in your causes, getting buy-in within your hub and going out and kicking butt to solve problems.
  • Policy and governance: We had a lot of interaction with government officials throughout this event. Some of the best sessions featured candid conversations with policy makers and government officials — all of which gave me better insight into how government functions. When trying to enact change, it’s important to understand the rules before you try to change them.
  • Cross pollination: Having over 100 Shapers under a single roof at really helps cross pollination of ideas and worldviews. So often we get trapped inside our own bubbles. This Shape brought people together from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh which are often politically at odds — thus it was interesting to hear human perspectives from our friends from these countries.
  • Shapers are amazing! When at Shape, say hi! The person next to you is probably working on something interesting. It’s a good idea to get to know them.
This is an accurate representation of how I fee right now!

Ahmed Fahad is Head of Product at Pathao, the fastest growing ride-sharing start-up in Bangladesh. He is a Global Shaper of the Dhaka Hub.

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Ahmed Fahad

Ahmed Fahad

Founding team / VP of Product @ Pathao (pathao.com); Global Shaper @ World Economic Forum. (ahmedfahad.com)