The country's fast-growing digital commerce industry is gearing up to choose its leaders for 2022-24 in the 18 June election of the E-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (E-cab).
This is the first time the body will hold an election.
The previous four two-year terms were given without any election for the nine seats at the association's board, but this time 31 candidates, including the members of three panels -- 'Agragami', 'The Change Makers', and "Oikko"— are competing.
Those in the running, with their separate manifestos, are campaigning among the voters, comprising 795 out of the 1,700 member entrepreneurs.
The "Agragami" panel that mostly represents the incumbent E-Cab leadership wants to continue with their ongoing efforts to actively build the industry's ecosystem for the next leg of e-commerce growth.
E-Cab President Shomi Kaiser, founder of Dhanshiri Digital, is leading the panel. E-Cab Secretary General Abdul Wahed Tomal, founder of Comjagat Technologies and Vice President Sahab Uddin Shipon, representing the pioneering online pharmacy Diabetes Store, are in the Agragami panel.
Of the existing E-Cab executive committee members, Nasima Akter, who founded the Reverie Corporation and the gigantic f-commerce platform Women and e-commerce (WE), founder and co-founder Breakbite eBusiness Ltd Asif Ahnaf, Digital Hub Solutions Ltd Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Saidur Rahman are also in the panel.
Digital content and photography firm Focus Frame's founder Ruhul Kuddus Chhotan, leading smart logistics firm Paperfly's founder Shahriar Hasan and food delivery giant Foodpanda's founder Ambareen Reza have also joined the panel.
The Change Makers
On the other hand, "The Change Makers" , composed of new faces, is pledging for a more member-oriented E-Cab.
Waseem Alim, co-founder of the pioneering online grocery Chaldal and its pharmacy wing Banglameds, is leading the panel asking for changes focusing on a digital future.
B2B e-commerce Sindabad's co-founder Zeeshan Kingshuk, smart logistics firm e-Courier founder Biplob Ghosh Rahul, Ciproco Computer MD Shafquat Haider, Sheba.xyz co-founder Ilmul Haque, Clean Force Limited founder Tashdik Habib, Keenlay.com founder Mozammel Houqe Mridha, Hur Nusrat founder Nusrat Lopa and Nijol Creative Abu Sufyan Nilove joined hands to make the nine-member panel.
Their manifesto includes changing E-Cab itself towards becoming a more member-oriented association addressing members' "pain-points".
"Oikko" is the third panel being led by Jachai.com chairman Abdul Aziz.
The panel includes iXpress CEO Md Tazul Islam, SCHOPE Infotech Ltd & shodagor.com MD Arif Mohammad Abdus Shakur Chowdhury, Mensen Media CEO Tauhida Haider Reema, Nurtaj Bangladesh CEO Md Salim Shak, craftsmen Solutions partner and bikroy.com director Mohammad Sazzadul Islam, Rapido Ltd CEO Shamdanee Tabriz, Korean mart Bangladesh Founder and CEO Md Sofaeat Mahmud Likhon.
Promises of unity, transparency and equal treatment to all E-Cab members dominate their manifesto.
"Agragami" for taking e-commerce to the next level
Shomi Kaiser, E-Cab president
Panel Leader, Agragami
E-cab, where I started as an advisor during its journey in 2014, and later between 2018-19 when the association made me its second president, is not a small organisation anymore, just like the country's digital commerce industry which has grown to a $2.5 billion market almost from the scratch.
I, along with the E-cab council members, have been actively involved in shaping the industry ecosystem into its present state.
We have been continuously researching on and advocating for the right policies to help grow the entrepreneurs and the e-commerce sector here, alongside developing the e-commerce infrastructure through partnership with the government and supporting industries.
For example, we had the major inputs in each of the policies concerned—the National Digital Commerce Policy-2018, the SOP-2021 and all others.
I remember we advocated for an escrow system in e-commerce transactions in 2018, which is being implemented now, after some firms abused the absence of it during the pandemic.
E-Cab under our leadership has also been negotiating with the government so that our nascent entrepreneurs do not face any adverse tax-VAT regime or other policy hurdles.
In my early days as the E-Cab president, the revenue office was about to impose a big VAT on e-commerce topline, which could have nipped the industry in the bud.
Thanks to the government we successfully managed to let its officials understand the risks of the unfriendly move and now the government is collecting a much smaller amount.
We need to keep working with the government so that high VAT-tax cannot drag digital commerce in Bangladesh behind.
India granted a 15-year VAT-tax waiver for its e-commerce sector which is about to end now after helping their digital commerce revolution progress and getting giants like FlipKart, Amazon.
Also Bangladesh, under the government's Digital Bangladesh vision, has progressed a lot, while e-commerce showed its strength during the pandemic helping producers and consumers stay afloat despite lockdowns.
With full support of the relevant government offices, e-commerce helped save thousands of mango farmers during their peak harvests amid lockdowns. Over four lakh sacrificial cows were sold online in the last Eid-ul-Adha when people were under threat of Covid-19 infection at crowded traditional marketplaces.
You can order almost anything online and receive it from any end of the country as logistics firms are delivering products everywhere. With the engagement of the government's postal department in e-commerce deliveries, Bangladesh is awaiting a logistics revolution as the post offices already have the last mile reach.
The piloting of an e-post office that digitally tracks every parcel has been successful and we are working with the government to make it nationwide.
Securing an 80%-100% annual growth last year, the digital commerce industry grew to an estimated annual market of $2.5 billion.
This is just the beginning of the revolution as e-commerce turnover is still 1% of the retail turnover in the economy, and it is very possible to grow it to 3% in a few years.
The e-commerce sector has been hurt by scams by a few firms amidst the nascent sector's lack of preparedness to prevent those.
However, the government in collaboration with E-Cab and other supporting industries, has addressed the weaknesses and initiated projects like an escrow system in e-commerce transactions, bringing online businesses under a non-cumbersome registration process to make all the entrepreneurs accountable, and a central complaint management system.
E-commerce in Bangladesh has lots of hurdles to remove, in the area of digital payment ecosystem and in cross border online trade.
We, the Agragami Panel, want to accomplish the tasks we initiated to make the e-commerce industry grow to $5 billion by 2024 and create a million jobs.
And in the E-Cab election this year we have got some new talents in our panel who are ready to contribute to the industry after their remarkable success in their own businesses, such as the top food delivery platform Foodpanda and smart logistics firm Paperfly. The industry has lots of things to learn from their experience.
Our panel has identified seven focus areas for E-Cab – a smart secretariat, enhanced member services, members' capacity development, to develop and promote scalable startups to help them attract investment, advocate for win-win entrepreneur-friendly policies, increase women entrepreneurs, and [complete] the massive tasks under our Rural to Global Readiness.
The panel members, if elected, will lead the relevant programs based on their expertise.
Our manifesto is a well-researched master plan to take Bangladesh's e-commerce to the next level.
Here to remove the pain-points of E-Cab members
Waseem Alim, Panel Leader, The Change Makers
co-founder Chaldal and Banglameds
We are happy because E-Cab is going to have an election for the first time in its seven-year history.
Previously, for the nine seats there had been only 12-13 candidates and the association selected only nine, encouraging the remaining ones to withdraw their candidacy.
We have been observing that over half of the members do not feel it important to even renew their membership in the association to exercise their voting right as perhaps they were not finding E-Cab relevant or helpful enough for their businesses.
This is the core point of change our panel The Change Makers want to make. E-Cab should be an organisation firstly for its members.
Of the 1,000 oldest members, not even 35% renewed their memberships at the E-Cab, either because they are not in the trade anymore, or because they have difficulties in paying the annual fee of Tk2,000.
We heard about their pains and announced our manifesto based on what they need.
The nine-member panel is backed by a manifold number of e-commerce and startup entrepreneurs who want to see the changes in the association and the industry environment.
We have presented our manifesto that includes a detailed plan to transform E-Cab itself to serve its members best and work with stakeholders to build the e-commerce ecosystem.
Having first hand experiences in venture capital financing and fundraising, I, myself, shall work for an improved startup environment, and to attract investments in the sector.