All through the pandemic, I have had several friends, colleagues, and acquaintances migrate to Canada. Everytime someone I know migrates to faraway countries; I find myself trying to understand and rationalise their decision-making. After all, I moved back to Bangladesh in 2011, after being away from 2000-2010; having lived in New Hampshire, New York, London, and Delhi during those 11 years. Why migrate when you can bear witness and contribute to a great story of growth?
In fact, I remember that even my move back to Bangladesh was delayed. I was working in India in 2010 for KPMG's Advisory unit in Gurgaon, NCR. When I announced to my mother I had enough of living overseas and I wanted to move back, she, in her well-meaning ways of course, insisted that I stay back. What would I do in Bangladesh? There was no equivalent job in Bangladesh.
When I moved back in 2011, the economy was increasingly resilient. Although the stock market had crashed, the post-crash moment was the perfect learning opportunity for me. My first job was to provide foreign institutional investors in the Dhaka Stock Exchange with research, data, and investment advice across sectors, which eventually turned into a sales leadership role. All in all, it was quite the orientation to Bangladeshi businesses and society.
Meanwhile, the IMF had inked the Extended Credit Facility arrangement with the Bangladesh government. Great infrastructural projects were on the drawing board. The government was looking stable, determined, and there were stirrings of a great journey of growth, development and digital transformation.
Today marks the tenth year of my relocating to Bangladesh. For others, it may be their first day of relocating to a different country. In the last month alone, I have had colleagues move overseas, colleagues I have worked closely with, and very talented individuals.
Beyond my colleagues, many around me are migrating to pursue a PhD or a postgraduate degree in a different country. Their motivations, I appreciate. I also understand if someone would want to move for better healthcare facilities, as one of my friends is reportedly doing. He has several rather critical health complications and would like to take advantage of the facilities and largesse of the Canadian government.
I also know of families wanting to move so that their children can have better schooling than they can afford here, or even so their daughters can walk on the streets unharassed. If you find yourselves in a situation where those things are an issue, of course, I can understand and appreciate.
But I will occasionally meet someone who wants to migrate almost out of a herd mentality disguised as something else. Of course, there is a predictable litany of complaints about Bangladesh. "Arey ekhaney life toh uncertain. Ekhane shobai corrupt. Dhaka University ager moto nai. Khabar e bhejal. Doctor ra too commercial. Dhaka khoob e expensive. Ar Dhanmondir rasta eto kharap."
Instead of questioning the veracity of these statements, I personally find them very reductionist and simplistic. Corruption is not something only Bangladeshis partake in. Other countries and societies have their unique struggles as well. Healthcare is commercialised and profit-driven in several other countries as well. Moreover, for every 'commercial doctor', I know ten others with whom you can build a personal relationship if you take the time, something I find rather difficult overseas.
And about universities, I can say for sure, that the quality is not decreasing in Bangladesh, but only on the up and up, with more Bangladeshi universities competing on the international stage; and many Bangladeshi schools competing at various levels internationally. Of course, there are structural problems and many of those. But we also have so much to be thankful for and look forward to.
Several studies have tried to understand what makes people happy. Some of these are longitudinal studies tracking how people's self-reported happiness has changed with changing financial, emotional and social circumstances. The results of many of these studies underscore the importance of social connections and contributing to a community is integral to happiness.
Of course, you can have a great community in any overseas country of your choice. I know I did. And of course, we are built differently, and not all of us need a cornucopia of social connections to feel happy. But beyond social connections, it is the idea that by contributing, we experience happiness, deeply resonates with me.
When I lived overseas, the fact that the fruits of my labour, education, and experiences, was going to a society and country that had already 'progressed' - and the difference I was making was relatively small compared to the difference I could make in the course of a career in Bangladesh - never settled well with me. In fact, it left a sinking feeling in me; a feeling of discontent. Meanwhile, to continue the marine analogies, Bangladesh was not only not sinking, but riding a wave that had the potential of lifting countless millions.
Of course, ultimately, I think decisions to migrate are highly individual and sometimes driven by more personal, pressing and visceral needs than I can imagine. I also don't include migrant workers in this category because by migrating, they add value to our country.
However, I cannot help but feel that there is a segment out there among the migratory birds that are considering migration because others are, for fear of missing out. Keeping up with the Islams, Ahmeds and Rahmans, if you will. I don't have data on this but have anecdotal evidence aplenty.
Some of my friends, colleagues, and students will also ask me for help in deciding if they should migrate or stay put. Some even ask me why I choose to live in Bangladesh, and whether I miss 'the good life' of bidesh?
I don't miss the good life of bidesh as long as I can travel a few times a year. But why I choose to live in Bangladesh is a more difficult question to answer. What can I say? That I like being around people, whether it is the security guard at my house, or the chauffeur who drives me, or the students I interact with or the colleagues I socialise with and feeling like I can make a difference to their lives?
Or do I tell them that I like seeing new roads being built everyday, expansive projects being undertaken, more investments coming in, and a country gradually undergoing a digital transformation, so much so, that increasingly, parts of desh look like the bidesh we have cherished all our lives?
I have other reasons, probably countless ones to like living here. Starting from memories I have built to networks I like being a part of, that anchors my satisfaction of living in Bangladesh. In any case, my goal here is to not preach on why others should consider staying put in Bangladesh, but offer a rumination perhaps. And suggestions to younger people reading this, on how to enjoy living a life in Bangladesh.
Ultimately, I think, it comes down to the joy, thrill, and satisfaction of contribution. Whether you are contributing by employing people in your business or startup, or mentoring and influencing young minds, or bringing useful products and services to masses, being able to do this in Bangladesh to me, is a unique opportunity and privilege, particularly, at this time in the nation's history.
Sajid Amit is Associate Professor, ULAB, and Director, ULAB EMBA Program. He is a Richard Hofstadter Faculty Fellow at Columbia University, 2005-2007. He can be reached via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter at @sajidamit75
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.