Sherpa Hossainy's Blog

Your perception is your truth, but it’s not “the” truth

Posted in Bangladesh, Celebrity, Dhaka, Gurus, Interviews by Sherpa Hossainy on December 23, 2011

Published in Friday Features in The Independent on 23 December 2011

Read the article in Independent website

Digital print version (Page 25 and Page 31)

When we stumble upon a custom from another culture that does not tally with our proclivity we might indulge ourselves into thinking “What on earth is that?” and simply discard it as nonsense. It’s hard not to judge others and be sanctimonious rather than digging deeper or sparing a moment to understand others’ standpoints. However, while being pejorative and reaching a hasty conclusion appears to solve a dilemma quicker, it leaves a bitter taste in our mouth when it comes to cross-cultural communication.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, renowned expert on cultural awareness and motivation, Pellegrino Riccardi, shared how empathy and understanding holds the key to successful cross-cultural communication. “Your perception is your truth, but it’s not ‘the’ truth. It’s easy to use our own standards to make a conclusion, but being judgmental doesn’t help any communication,” he said. To overcome cultural barriers, start looking for positives in other cultures, he added.

Pellegrino has had his fair share of cross-cultural exposure, as he was born to an Italian family, raised in the UK and lived and worked in Norway for the last 16 years. He recalled how he had to “switch” and “re-programme” to Italian culture after coming from a “British” school. “It was a conflict growing up as a child.  But later in life I learned it was a great advantage.” The cross-cultural communication expert travels around the world providing services for international companies and groups.

Pellegrino Riccardi at a lecture session in Ericsson office (Photo: Arild Klokkerhaug)

It was his first visit to Bangladesh, following an invitation from the Nordic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) in Bangladesh. While here, he shared his experiences and expertise with members of top multinational companies about how culture and nationality affects communication. Pellegrino uses “edutainment”, which he believes is the magic formula for teaching along with a mixture of humor and theory.

According to Pellegrino, we have four basic needs, regardless of nationality: certainty, significance, relationship/connection, and, surprisingly, uncertainty (problems and surprises as life would be tedious if we always knew what’s coming). “While working with other cultures we react when we come across people’s actions and words that we are not prepared for,” he said, adding that people are surprised when they hear his British accent after seeing his “very Italian” name. Pellegrino said, “As humans we like our expectations to be met, we like to know what’s coming — more than we think we do.”

When people work in global companies they come across a lot of surprises, which makes international work exciting but too many surprises stress the body. Pellegrino said, “People who are culturally intelligent are good at tolerating and dealing with uncertainties.” Cultural intelligence consists of cultural knowledge, tolerating uncertainty, behavioural flexibility, being non-judgemental and self-questioning, he added.

Here’s an interesting scenario to understand the difference of interpretation of some core human values. Imagine you are in a car, which your best friend is driving. Suddenly s/he hits a pedestrian. It was purely an accident, but the pedestrian gets killed. Although it was an accident, you knew your friend was driving at 40km in a 30km zone. The case goes to court and the lawyer said that telling the court that your friend was driving at 30kmh would save her/him. The question is (answer in yes or no): Will you ‘lie’ to save your friend?

In this case, a study revealed that the percentage of people saying “no” was highest in Germany, Sweden, Norway, USA and UK; Poland, France, Italy had a lower percentage of “no” and India, Russia and Nigeria had few saying “yes”. After more extensive research Richard Lewis Communications, a communication research center, developed a cultural behaviour model, which categorises cultures in three groups — Blue, Red and Yellow — and found attributes that define a specific culture. However, a culture could also be in between these colours due to the diversity of human personalities. The colours themselves aren’t significant except as a point of reference.

Blue culture was found to be based on individualism, equality, freedom and very much linear and fact-oriented while Red culture was based on emotion, collectivism, hierarchy and more people-oriented. Yellow culture was found to be about obedience, harmony and intuition. Switzerland, Norway, Germany, USA were found to have Blue cultures while Denmark, Ireland and Australia have Blue with a touch of Red. Israel, South Africa, France, Russia were more close to Red while Portugal, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Nigeria were found to be Red. In the spectrum, Bangladesh, Turkey, Iran, India and Pakistan were close to Red with a touch of Yellow. UK, Sweden, Finland and Canada are also close to Blue and Korea, Thailand, China and Vietnam belong to Yellow.

Pellegrino Riccardi at a lecture session (Photo: Arild Klokkerhaug)

Truth or integrity in some cultures may be interpreted in a different way than another, none of which are necessarily bad. It depends on perspective. “About flexible truth you have to get around the cultural aspect and understand there is a positive intention,” Pellegrino said. The perception of Blue culture about the Reds is that you can’t trust them but to think from a Red perspective, Blues can’t be trusted because they’ll not be there for you in a difficult situation like the car accident scenario. But we are programmed to do our best and behind any behaviour there is usually a positive intention, Pellegrino said.

System, institution and rules play an important part in Blue life and there is a policy of “zero tolerance”. Blues believe systems work and they can be perfect, though pragmatically they never are. The important commodity in Red culture is “people” whereas Blues choose personal attachments carefully because it gets harder saying no, if you are too close. In order to make the Blue system work there has to be a distance maintained. “Blues communicate in a straight line, when there is unpredictability they become insecure. The recent financial crisis is all about Blue cultures getting nervous about volatility and that is very infectious,” Pellegrino said.

In cross-cultural communication, body language plays a crucial role. Research has shown that when people communicate, as much as 55 per cent of the message is communicated through body language and 38 per cent through tone of voice. Only 7 per cent is through words. Thus, without tone and body language the chances of misunderstanding and misinterpretation increase dramatically. For reds, it is important to make clear how they feel and for blues it’s about control and composure. “Some things considered normal in Red culture would be regarded as violent outburst in Blue societies. So there could be lot of misinterpretation between the Reds and Blues,” Pellegrino said.

Another important trait of Red culture is collectivism, which the individualist blue culture perceives rather negatively, thinking it makes everyone slow. There was an interesting poster from an anti-Obama campaign when he tried to introduce the welfare system where everybody pays tax and the money goes for the ones who need it. The anti-Obama slogan read: “Collectivism is slavery”.

Nevertheless, the communication skills trainer thinks there’s way for both the cultures to work in cohesion by understanding each other’s strength. Individualists are innovators; they are good at pushing forward, while collectivists are great team workers, which says a lot about having more production in Asia, Pellegrino said. “Blues seem to have forgotten how to be collective, how to work together.” However, Pellegrino thinks “money has a lot to do with individualism” and it is hard to say if Red cultures like India or Bangladesh would lose collectivism if people start earning more. The recent financial crisis, however, has dealt a blow to individualism, he thinks.

Pellegrino Riccardi speaking at a lecture session in Ericsson office (Photo: Arild Klokkerhaug)

Pellegrino also shared his views about the extreme power distance and hierarchical structure that exists in Red culture that he says works as a “fear factor”. “In a Red culture it is very difficult to be honest upwards. It creates friction and an underlying communication problem,” he said. “It’s a basic need for human to be able to say what they think. By that you get to know each other better,” Pellegrino said.

In Red cultures “togetherness” also leads to nepotism but Pellegrino said the Blue cultures should not feel too self-righteous. “It’s everywhere. In Germany two-thirds of all jobs are acquired through personal contact. Reciprocity in Blue culture is ‘corruption’ or ‘networking’ at best. It’s all the same, just different labels.” Pellegrino thinks there is a greater need for multinational companies to find out how corporate values differ around the world. “The values created in Stockholm would not always translate completely in a Red culture — there will always be a local flavour,” he said.

Pellegrino also provides training on motivation and negotiation skills. He said negotiation focuses on understanding others’ perceptions. “We should try to see others’ problems from their point of view. The question is are we willing to go there and take the risk of understanding how others see it?” He said negotiators sometimes think they are right and understanding others would make them weak. “But negotiation is not about winning, it’s about finding a common solution,” he said.

Pellegrino hopes that people will understand more about cultural differences after his sessions and they will learn to appreciate different ways of interacting and thinking of different people. You can even disagree but once you start judging people, you cease to communicate, he said. “People find it difficult to change, unless they have to; they still have to adapt to every culture they work around.”

Stressing the need to give significance to others, Pellegrino said: “Sometimes while communicating we forget to give importance to others, which we should do to be better connected. When we stop giving each other significance, relationships fail. We have to learn to coexist and try to understand one another; that’s the only way to grow.”  Pellegrino thinks some become conceited thinking that they are from a supposedly better culture and they have seen it all, but this approach never helps — the onus is always on an individual to learn about other cultures. “Whoever is coming to Bangladesh has to learn about Bangladeshi culture, it is not the other way around,” he said. “Every culture has its ‘good’, ‘bad’ and ‘ugly’ side. End of the day we all have similarities as well, lest we forget that.”


Promoting green technology is the goal

Posted in Bangladesh, Business, Computer, Dhaka, Environment, Internet, IT, Software, Technology by Sherpa Hossainy on December 23, 2011

Published in The Independent on 20 December 2011

Read the article online in Independent website

Digital print version

With the motto “Go green with ICT”, the fifth digital ICT fair is eyeing to endorse the latest environment friendly information and communication technology products, organisers of the fair said.

“This fair aims to promote green ICT products at affordable prices and take part in mitigation of climate change through the use of environment friendly technology,” said Tawfique Ehsan, president of Multiplan Centre Shop Owners Association, organiser of the fair.

Ehsan said, “We want to raise public awareness regarding use of green technology and integrate information and technology in everyday life.” Ehsan, convener of the fair, said this fair will also help increase the penetration of ICT throughout Bangladesh.

Visitors at Digital ICT fair checking out laptops

Leading computer and computer accessories importers will showcase the latest technologies from global brands, organisers said. More than 450 stalls will take part in the fair and some will display the local laptop brand “Doel”. The introduction of recent digital innovations around the world will help achieve the vision of “digital Bangladesh”, they said.

Kazi Obaid Alam, sales executive of Flora Ltd, said, “We are promoting technology, which is environment friendly, and at the same time energy efficient and cost effective. It is imperative to move to low-radiation, low-noise and low-heat emitting energy efficient devices. This fair will promote use of green ICT products.”

Flora Ltd is displaying two new printers from Epson — K100 and L100. The cost of printing a page in the K100 model is only Tk .90, whereas for a laser printer the cost is Tk 2 and for an inkjet Tk 4-4.5. The L100 model is designed for photo studio professionals and it can print 18,500 pages or 1,200 pictures with its “inktank” technology.

Flora Ltd, the leading computer retailer in Bangladesh, is also showcasing second generation laptops and notebooks with core i5 technology, and some environment friendly computer accessories from global brands like Uniross and Sony. The company is mainly targeting bulk buyers, Alam said. The fair is providing customers with a great opportunity as prices at the fair are competitive and they can choose from a range of options, he added.

The fair, which started yesterday, will continue until 26 December at the Multiplan Computer City Centre. Citycell is the platinum sponsor of the fair and Acer, Avira and Fujitsu is among other sponsors. More information can be found on the fair website:

Visitors at Digital ICT fair check products at a stall

Although free for school students, a mandatory Tk 10 ticket to enter the fair has drawn flak from regular customers in the market who were not necessarily coming as a fair visitor. Many of them refused to pay the entry fee saying that they didn’t come to attend the fair. However there seemed to be no way of distinguishing between the fair visitors and others coming for repairing or warranty issues.

Many customers who were obstructed from going up without a ticket were told to get permission from higher authorities. But many didn’t seem to bother to go up and left.

Md Asaduzzaman Khan, a businessperson, who came to fix TV card problems, was not let in without a ticket. “It’s like a forceful sale of tickets. Do they think everyone is coming to join the fair? There are many other customers too,” Khan said. This entry fee might actually backfire by resulting in a waning number of visitors, he said.

Ehsan said with permission from the authority anyone can go up without having to buy a ticket. He stood by the decision of charging an entrance fee and hoped for a major turnout at the eight-day long event. “We are hoping to get 25-30,000 visitors in the fair,” he said.

Nordic chamber liaises to bring more investments

Posted in Bangladesh, Business, Economy, Export and Import by Sherpa Hossainy on December 18, 2011

Published in The Independent on 17 December 2011

Read the article on Independent website

Digital print version

The Nordic countries are growingly interested in setting up more joint venture operations in Bangladesh if provided with transparent business rules and adequate policy support, a Norwegian business leader said.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Arild Klokkerhaug, president of the Nordic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) in Bangladesh, discussed how the chamber is working as a “positive actor” to bring in more Nordic investments. “The Nordic companies that are doing business here believe that Bangladesh has a tremendous potential. We project Bangladesh as a prospective business destination to the Nordic businesses at home,” Klokkerhaug said.

The NCCI president said Bangladesh comes way down on the list of potential countries when Nordic companies wants to invest in Asia and the chamber is working on to improving the image. “When we meet Nordic companies we try to display the positive sides and potentials of Bangladesh. Being here and operating profitably, the existing Nordic companies are the proof of good business,” he said.

Since its inception one year ago, NCCI is helping Nordic companies, which are interested in investment and establishing operation in Bangladesh, by acting as a knowledge-sharing platform. Klokkerhaug said human resources and skilled workforce is the key strength of Bangladesh. “Bangladesh has a huge market in a compact place. There’s very small distance from anywhere in Bangladesh to the ports,” he said.

Arild Klokkerhaug, president of Nordic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI)

The biggest investments of Nordic countries in Bangladesh are in the telecom sector from the global giants Telenor, Ericsson, Nokia and Nokia-Siemens Network, while big production names like Ikea, H&M, Lindex and Kappahl are also in operation in textile sector. The NCCI has arranged business visits from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland and the focus was on energy sector such as natural gas and power plants. In November, the Danish government also expressed its interest to invest in Bangladesh, particularly in solar power and biogas.

The Norwegian embassy launched in 2010 the Bangladesh Business Matchmaking Programme (BBMP), which establishes business ventures between Norwegian and Bangladeshi companies. “Many of these meetings results in joint partnership or trade,” Klokkerhaug said. He also said there has been increased interest after setting up NCCI. “We are here to stretch out a hand and help a company start. This is like a public-private partnership to build awareness about the high potential in Bangladesh.”

NCCI is a 45 member companies that have Nordic background and operating in Bangladesh. Denmark has more than 20 companies, while Sweden and Norway has 18 and 5 respectively, operating in Bangladesh.

The exports to the Nordic countries — Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland — has seen major a growth in recent years. According to Export Promotion Bureau data, exports to Nordic region in the fiscal year 2010-11 rose 54.75 per cent to $818.6 million than the previous fiscal. Denmark and Sweden is the biggest export destinations for Bangladesh but exports to Norway and Finland also marked a rise of 79.05 and 78.20 per cent in the 2010-11 fiscal than the previous one. The exports in July-November period of 2011-12 fiscal stood at $360.78 million.

However, the NCCI president said more concerted efforts are needed to remove the existing bottlenecks in Bangladesh to bring in more investments. Besides the perennial energy and power crisis, Klokkerhaug pointed out the changing rules of business as a big obstacle. “If you look at the telecom industry, it does not have fully transparent rules of business. If the rules of the game change while you are playing it is somewhat difficult; and that is scaring out new potential big investments,” he said.

Klokkerhaug said many foreign companies struggle to get money out of Bangladesh while it’s not a problem to get money in. “When finally they have a profit and want to take back some of their return many face big hassles. That is also one of the reasons why many companies hesitate to invest in Bangladesh.” He said there is a lack of understanding in certain government organisations such as National Board of Revenue as to how important it is for the companies to take the profit out so that it can be re-invested. “If one company takes profit out five new companies will come in. That’s how you do business,” he said.

The NCCI is also trying to build up a dialogue with the government to make the investment process more easy and smooth, especially with Board of Investment. “The government is doing a lot of good things and has good intentions. To set up a business is quite easy now. But some policy failures are making the good intentions backtrack,” he said, mentioning that Bangladesh has slipped four places in the global index of ease of doing business since last year on the World Bank’s report. “This is related partly to the policy failures and partly to lack of transparency in business dealings,” he said.

Arild Klokkerhaug

Klokkerhaug believes Bangladesh is yet to utilise the potential of its female population and it is hard for women entrepreneurs to set up a business in Bangladesh due to lack of transparency and hassles while setting up a venture. He thinks Bangladesh would do better in the business world by empowering local women entrepreneurs which would lead to much stronger value addition.

Recently, the Nordic chamber has started networking with local women chambers and women bodies to motivate them to build confidence, and encourage and make them more visible. The NCCI is also trying to implement strong business ethics that Nordic countries follow in carrying out business deals and operations and trying to implement better employment environment and work policies. He said companies like IKEA and H&M contributed a lot for improving work situation in the factory because they have strict rules to live up to in terms of child labour, health safety and environment guidelines.

“We encourage people to train and educate themselves more, have a life so that they don’t get exploited and burned out. We also invest in talents and the employees that will hopefully inspire local businesses to focus more on their human resources,” Klokkerhaug said.

Victory Day observed in Bangladesh — Demotix photos

Posted in Bangladesh, Dhaka by Sherpa Hossainy on December 16, 2011

Published in The Demotix website on 16 December 2010

I remember I got up quite late on that Victory Day. A few days ago I had joined The Demotix website after Jess had told me about it — a step into becoming a more professional journalist perhaps. On 14 December I got an email from Demotix saying if I’d be interested to cover the Victory Day celebration and send them some pictures. I was really excited about the project, plotting how would I come up with cool pictures. Sadly, as I got up late, the luxury of finding suitable subjects were scanty as Jess and I rushed out to nearby streets and roundabouts. But as the celebration had almost died out at that time, there was not that many subjects to click. We kept wandering around. Luckily, around Banani, in Jess’s old apartment, in Gulshan-1 park and in front of Gulshan KFC we got some subject.

The deadline to submit all the photos was midnight the same day. I was stressed, rushing and a grump. Jess helped me with everything, and with a very brief and inadequate description attached to every photos and the story, I uploaded it on time. So, here’s the link to Demotix:

(The Demotix website story link)

A few days ago I found out that Bill-Gates-owned Corbis Images somehow have one of those photos on their website. Didn’t really understand the whole licensing thing. Here’s the link:

(Photo on Corbis)

Miru, 48, security guard, witnessed the killing of Hindus during the liberation war.

Jessica Muddit, an Australian tourist in Bangladesh, observed the victory day.

Malaysian tourists joining the celebration.

It took me a whole year to upload this on my blog — probably professionalism is out of the table now. I also had been wishing to edit the photo captions and summary of the photo story since last year on Demotix; that hadn’t happen either. I wish to edit this specific blogpost too — so wish me luck!

Global expert calls for effective cross cultural communication

Posted in Bangladesh, Business, Celebrity, Dhaka, Gurus by Sherpa Hossainy on December 6, 2011

Published in The Independent on 6 December 2011

Read the article on Independent website

Digital print version

Multinational companies has to nurture their employees and work on overcoming cross cultural barriers in a bid to perform better, a renowned cross cultural communication expert said.

“Communication is so important nowadays, so many business deals don’t see the light of day because of failed communications,” said Pellegrino Riccardi, an expert on cultural awareness and motivation.

Pellegrino Riccardi in a workshop in Ericsson office in Dhaka

Riccardi said that rather than judging what’s wrong with people, companies should try to make cross cultural relationships work. “We have to learn to coexist and try to understand one another; that’s the only way to grow.”

The Norway-based communication skills trainer said that multi national companies’ staffs have already got the competency and the strength; the companies have to nurture them and give them “significance”.  “Find out what they have to offer, boost their confidence. They want certainty, significance and reward,” Riccardi urged.

Pellegrino Riccardi is visiting Dhaka following an invitation from Nordic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) in Bangladesh. Currently there are many Nordic business ventures in Bangladesh such as Telenor (Grameenphone), Ericsson and Novo Nordisk.

Arild Klokkerhaug, president of NCCI in Bangladesh, said, “NCCI is trying to serve its members by providing insight into cross cultural communication and help them work better in Bangladesh.” Riccardi’s workshops will harness effective cross cultural communication in companies, he added.

Riccardi discussed different aspects of cross cultural communication to give a better understanding of how to work in a cross cultural atmosphere and learn to respect others’ views and opinions without judging them, at his first workshop in Ericsson on Monday.

He said, “Sometimes while communicating we forget to give importance to others. That’s what we should do to be more connected. Different cultures teach you to be more open and communicative. When we stop giving each other significance the relationship fails.”

Pellegrino Riccardi speaking in a workshop at Ericsson office in Dhaka

Pellegrino observed that Bangladesh holds better prospect than China in terms of becoming an economic giant. Better communication ability of the workforce and superior product quality will give Bangladesh an edge over China, he said. “Quality is very important to Europeans and China hasn’t been able to produce quality products to that extent.”

“Whether you are in India, Bangladesh, Egypt or Norway the only way to change people’s perception is by being good at what you do,” he added.

Pellegrino Riccardi, one of Scandinavia’s leading cross-cultural experts, was born and raised in the UK in an Italian family and has lived and worked in Norway for the past 16 years. His clients include some of Norway’s largest international organisations including Statoil, Telenor, Aker Solutions, Nycomed, The Norwegian School of Management BI, Statkraft, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Det Norske Veritas. Pellegrino is a published author in Norway and also a co-presenter of a new prime-time television program on NRK1 channel.

German firm comes up with export finance offer

Posted in Bangladesh, Business, Dhaka by Sherpa Hossainy on December 5, 2011

Published in The Independent on 5 December 2011

Read the article on Independent website

Digital print version

While booming export is becoming Bangladesh’s bedrock for a strong economy, it comes with an irksome catch for exporters — getting the pay for shipped goods. Several international payment methods are in practice, but in most cases, cash is hard to come straightaway. In case of deferred payments, the wait could be as long as 180 days.

To give exporters a respite, a German-based trade financing company, DS-Concept Factoring (DSCF) has introduced a new concept in Bangladesh — factoring, which helps exporters get paid in a quick, secured and hassle-free way.

Factoring is a financial transaction where a business job sells its accounts receivable (invoices) to a third party (factor) at a discount. The factor provides financing to the seller of the accounts in cash, often 70-85 per cent of the purchase price of the accounts, with the balance paid upon collection. Factoring differs from a bank loan — the emphasis is on the value of the receivables, whereas a bank focuses more on the value of any borrower’s total asset.

Alexander Pinkas, managing director of DS Concept Factoring (DSCF)

“Our core business is to buy receivables. We buy deferred letters of credit (LCs) and change them into sight LCs,” said Alexander Pinkas, managing director of DSCF.

In a deferred LC, payment is done after a fixed number of days after shipment or presentation of prescribed documents, whereas a sight LC is payable immediately once it is presented along with necessary documents.
“A lot of export businesses are also made in contracts nowadays in Bangladesh. Importers are providing a 20 per cent down payment in advance and want to close the invoice while it’s matured, which could take 30 to 120 days,” Pinkas said.

Pinkas said small and medium companies face problems because banks don’t allow them to have back-to-back (two LCs used together to help a seller finance the purchase of equipment or services from a subcontractor) facilities. “We take 20 per cent down payment, open a sight LC to the exporter and the remaining 80 per cent is paid from the importer after maturity.”

Describing factoring’s advantages, Pinkas said this trade tool eliminates nagging negotiations about credit periods with suppliers, the administrative efforts to open LCs and carrying out documentary collections. “Exporters immediately receive 80 per cent of the invoice value after shipment has been made and the remaining 20 per cent balance on maturity of the invoice. This enables exporters to receive discounts from suppliers as they have sufficient liquidity,” he said.

After making a contract with the exporter, DSCF makes a credit worthiness check of the importer through Euler Hermes, one of the biggest backup insurance companies worldwide, who has access to profit and loss statements as well as yearly bank statements of the companies. “We provide transparency and security for the exporters as they know if they are exposed to risk or not. We guarantee 100 per cent payment even if the importer goes bankrupt,” Pinkas said. He said DSCF clients are also connected to its legal department in case there is any dispute. “When we buy the receivables the exporter is released from the deferred payment as we pay at sight. Whenever the importer goes bankrupt we will not collect the money from the exporter as payment is covered through Euler Hermes.”

DSCF, headquartered in Mönchengladbach in Germany, was founded in 2000 and presence in the USA, Turkey, Bulgaria, Egypt, Pakistan and the UAE. The Bangladesh operation started in 2008 and DSCF is now doing business with sixteen companies. “Our real operations started two years ago, and up till now we have provided $15 million in credit,” he said.

Pinkas said DSCF has chosen Bangladesh because it is an emerging market, where exports are booming and more exporters need intelligent cash solutions. Currently DSCF is financing shrimp and garments sector as two stalwarts of exports in Bangladesh. Besides the company is financing bicycle export (German-Bangla bike) and some other buying houses such as ZXY Ltd. Recently DSCF also signed a contract with a German importer who delivers goods to Karstadt, a big chain store in Germany.

However, Pinkas said DSCF doesn’t have any priority while financing exports. “Every export is possible to finance. It could be porcelain, tableware or food, wherever there is deferred payment, we can take care of it.” DSCF starts providing service from $50,000 up to $40-50 million, which means besides small and medium exporters big corporations can also avail credit from us, he said.

Factoring is still a new concept in international trade and very new in Bangladesh, Pinkas said. “Factoring as a trade finance tool immerged in the USA and it is very common there. But in Bangladesh we are the only factoring company.” Pinkas believes there is a great chance for factoring business to flourish in Bangladesh but the unfamiliarity with the concept poses a big hurdle. Bangladesh has a lot of potential for this business but sometimes we face a lack of knowledge about international trade, he said.

Despite being a fairly new concept, factoring has been in existence for a long time in some other shape or form in the world of trade.

The DSCF managing director opined that some export finance policies and practices are holding back exports from Bangladesh in a certain way. “Bangladesh is still one of the last countries where payment of exports is requested through letter of credit. Some policies have to be eased for exports to register more growth,” he said.

The cow conundrum

Posted in Bangladesh, Dhaka, Humor by Sherpa Hossainy on December 3, 2011

Published in the Weekend Independent on 2 December 2011

Read the article on Independent website

Digital print version

Perhaps most of us endured the agony of writing small paragraphs in English classes throughout our school education. I remember, while in first grade, especially the paragraph on “Cows”, always essentially started with this very sentence, irrespective of any writer – “The cow is a very gentle domestic animal.” It went on further with the obvious lines, with a few exceptions maybe – “It has four legs, two eyes, two ears and a tail. It feeds on grass and gives us milk” or something like that. Unfortunately, after all these years, I have to admit that reality suggests otherwise about the iconic first line referring the cow as a humble animal.

Every year the makeshift cattle markets of Dhaka teem with cows and other sacrificial animals for the joyous (not for the animals!) occasion of Eid-ul-Azha, the Eid of sacrifice in Islam. Religious Muslims rush to cattle markets to buy the animals even in the last hours. Most Dhakaiates had the misfortune of being stuck in a mile long traffic jam caused by the temporary cattle markets scattered everywhere in the city. To make things worse, the incoming cattle supply on big trucks from around the country cause a standstill in every cattle market entrance. Despite the volunteers’ almost tearful request on the mike to free up the parking space and roads, the atmosphere is always enormously messy.

A common scene observed in the chaos is proud cow owners chasing the big beasts in the middle of the road. Even with two extra men guiding the owner’s precious possession safely back home, they struggle with the sticks and long ropes to keep the cow from running frantically in the road. Sometimes the cows crash into some ill-fated rickshaw on its way and breaks it into pieces. Rather unfortunate car owners also have to go through the painful experience of staring helplessly at their scratched and smashed cars. Maybe the mental discomfort of a raging bull who is about to be sacrificed and overwhelmed by the big city traffic, is quite easily comprehended by the otherwise sensitive car owners.

In this regard, I would also like to relate an incident that happened to me this year. As I was waiting in a long trail of traffic, understandably caused by the cattle markets, an ominous black bull caught my attention. It was rushing in the middle of the street and heading towards my rickshaw. Three helpless men were chasing the rampant bull like Spanish matadors, only quite unsophisticatedly. I had been taking pictures just moments ago, but when I saw the disturbed cow running towards my rickshaw, no fancy idea of taking pictures of a lunatic cow came into my head. My instant impulse was just to jump out of the rickshaw but I failed on that attempt as my whole body froze by the thought of the impending disaster. I could only manage to pray to the “God of cows” desperately hoping that the mighty beast would change its course and miss the tyre of my rickshaw.

The raging bull

Nevertheless, that was not the order of the day as the cow hit the side of my rickshaw to make my worst nightmare come true. To my delight, the impact was not that menacing as the three matadors somehow managed to pull it back in the final seconds. The rickshaw was only semi-airborne for a few seconds while I was still pondering my special Spiderman move to jump out of the rickshaw with one leg stretched out and another hanging in the air. After the nice landing from the one-second flight in a rickshaw, I was relieved to find the rickshaw in one piece. I thanked the “God of cows” as my rickshaw driver started driving again. After moving 100 metres or so, we saw a completely ravaged rickshaw lying beside the road bearing testimony of the massacre of the raging bull. I am confused about what emotion was exactly going through my mind – empathy, grief or a feeling of respite. As we went on, another incident of mad-bull-racing happened, luckily on the other side of the road – and this time I did take some photos.

So, why this madness – this lunacy from an allegedly humble and gentle animal? I wanted to find out what others were thinking. Tenth grade student Juthi admitted her fear of cows by saying, “They are nothing like I’ve read in books. They are crazy!” Actually, most of my female interviewees echoed the same statement about the cows being really unsophisticated and impolite towards them. I have no idea whether cows and women actually share some vendetta that is going on for ages. Although university student Sabrina seemed to have a good rapport with cows, “Cows are really friendly. They look so cute with their big black eyes and soft nose.” Although she suggested ‘something mysterious is happening’ when asked about the disturbing madness of them. The male counterparts, on the other hand, seemed pretty chilled about the violent bulls. Tashfique, a college student, said rather indifferently, “There’s nothing to blame them for. They are just being themselves. I guess that’s what we would all do if we had to put our head under the sword.”

Baridhara cattle market, 15th November, 2010

It is quite understandable why the sacrificial cows act that way if we put ourselves in the same position. Nevertheless, the unanswered question that still haunts me is – Can the cows actually tell the imminent danger? Do they have some sort of sixth sense or are they actually violent? Retired government employee Mr Mahmud told me, “Cows can sense that they are going to be killed. Azrael (the angel of death in Islam) comes in their dreams with a sword and tells them about their fate. You’ll see cows crying on the morning of the sacrifice.” I was not quite sure about the angel of death’s appearance in the cows’ dreams so I kept on searching for the answer. Sadly enough, I could not discuss the whole subject with any animal scientist or researcher who could have at least given me a satisfying answer – hence my last resort was Google. Although nothing concrete came up from the search, there were some articles claiming cows having sixth sense, concluded from Google Earth satelite image studies.

We have seen cows raising terror in the streets, causing all sorts of casualties and many of us even have been the victim of it. I have also had the experience of watching cows running with their head dangling from their shoulder after they break free in the midway of a sacrifice! All the crazy stuff regarding cows that I’ve mentioned makes me question the assumption about the gentle nature of cows.  The statement might hold its ground, because if unprovoked, almost every animal is unobtrusive and peace loving. Certainly, there lie obvious reasons why cows act like raving lunatics during the sacrificial season, as that is what we would surely be doing under the same circumstances. Mr Hamid, who has been in the cattle trading business for over 20 years, echoed this sentiment, “Cows – they are just like humans. Some are bad, some are good, some are gentle and some are just rude!”

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