Lessons From a 3rd World Country

Bangladesh Travel Lessons

My recent trip to a 3rd world country was quiet fascinating. It gave me a chance to compare some socio-economic issues between two worlds (1st world and 3rd world). A 3rd world country is obviously not in the same situation to be compared with a 1st world country. But from time to time, I analyze the similarities and differences between countries just to reenergize my thinking capability. That’s exactly what I was doing when I was visiting Bangladesh last month. It did not take me long to discover two stunning improvements this small country was able to achieve. Many developed countries have not yet been able to match these accomplishments.

Bangladesh entered the era of modern telecommunications at the speed of light. I have not seen this many people using cell phones in America and Canada. SIMcards, phone sets and service plans have become unbelievably affordable. I did not meet a single person without a cell phone. I find it expensive to have a cell phone in North America due to phone company regulations and the high price ceiling. In Bangladesh the picture is different. Subscribers in Bangladesh reached 10.8 million at the end of January, up by 180% from 3.8 million at the end of 2004. It is expected that this number will double to over 20 million by 2007. In Bangladesh, cell phones have added $650 million to gross domestic product (GDP) and created 240,000 jobs. When I drove more than an hour from cities in America or Canada, I often lost the signals. This did not happen in Bangladesh. I traveled North to South on trains and always had strong signal. The whole country is covered and subscribers are able to make and receive calls without being charged roaming and long distance fees. There are malls in Bangladesh which sell only cell phones. When I mentioned this to my Canadian friend, he looked at me in disbelief.

Environment friendly and biodegradable shopping bags
I was in a shopping centre and was expecting my items would be put in a nice looking plastic bag as I am used to it in Canada. Instead, I was given a shopping bag made of some kind of fibre. Later I found out that it was made of jute (cotton like natural fibre).  Jute grows abundantly in Bangladesh and is totally environment friendly and biodegradable. The reason I was never given plastic bags is  Bangladesh has banned the manufacture and use of plastic bags, which many industrialized countries have not been able to do. Department of the Environment  has taken the plastic bag situation seriously, due to billions of bags being dumped into rivers, canals, drains  and other water bodies, over the years, creating a serious environmental threat.

Lessons we take
Theses are just two observations I came across. I am sure a lot more like these can be found in other 3rd world countries. Industrialized countries are hundreds or even thousands of years ahead of poor 3rd world countries. But sometimes it is hard or even impossible for rich countries to take steps to protect their environment and provide technological benefits to their populations. Whenever I notice steps taken by poor countries – which are miles away from ordinary and beyond expectations, it makes me pause to think. Rather than teach the developing world, perhaps it is time for developed countries to take lessons from them.

November 16, 2008. Originally published on www.adawn.net. I will be transferring all my articles from Canada’s Personal Finance Website to Ahmed Dawn Dot Com. Thanks.