Entrepreneurship education in Bangladesh: a beginning – by Lee C. Nehrt

Students in Bangladesh - Source: iDebate

Publication: Journal of Small Business Management
Date: Thursday, January 1 1987

During the 1970s the population of Bangladesh grew at an annual rate of nearly 3 percent while its food supply grew at an annual rate of only 1 to 2 percent. The country kept getting poorer and poorer as a result. By 1980, as the population approached 90 million, it was one of the poorest countries–and the largest recipient of foreign aid–in the world. The World Bank was the largest donor of this aid. By 1980, however, the Bank concluded that its $200 million per year or more of aid to Bangladesh was being very inefficiently used, and that all economic units in the country had very low productivity–to a large extent because of a lack of sound management. The Bank further decided that the expenditure of several million dollars to improve management education would have a very high ROI.

The author had worked in Bangladesh (then known as East Pakistan) from 1969 to 1971 on a Ford Foundation project to create an Institute of Business Administration within the University of Dhaka. That university, along with two others, offered a three-year Bachelor of Commerce (B-Comm) degree and a one-year Master of Commerce (M-Comm) degree. The new Institute was to offer an American-style, two-year MBA. Believing that one of the critical needs of developing countries is the fostering of both entrepreneurs and an environment within which entrepreneurship can flourish, the author designed and introduced a course in entrepreneurship. He was able to teach this course only once, however, for in the middle of the second year the revolution started and he and his family were evacuated from the country.

In 1980, the author was asked by the World Bank to return to Bangladesh to design a project to improve management education in the three universities mentioned above and in a Management Development Center (a subdivision of the Ministry of Industry) which ran management seminars and offered non-degree courses. The result was a five-year, $8 million project which would bring 80 Bangladeshi professors to the U.S. for additional degrees, and bring 12 to 15 U.S. professors to Bangladesh as short-term advisors. (The project also contained a number of other components.)

As part of the project, the author again returned to Bangladesh in 1983 as an advisor to curriculum revision and, in the ensuing discussions, the three Faculties of Commerce agreed (as one of many changes) that they should introduce two courses in entrepreneurship: a required course for all undergraduates and an elective course for all master’s degree students. The idea was that all of the undergraduate students should be exposed to the theories of entrepreneurship, the role of the entrepreneur in history, and the role of the entrepreneur in the industrial development of Bangladesh; and then study some cases of successful Bangladeshi entrepreneurs who might serve as role models for the students. It was hoped that, as a result of exposure to such a course, the potential entrepreneurs in the senior class would identify themselves and take the elective entreprenurship course during their M-Comm program. (It should be noted that over 90 percent of those who complete the B-Comm go on to study for the M-Comm.)

A year later, the author was asked to return for one month to Bangladesh as the Advisor on Entrepreneurship. The question in his mind at this point was, “What can be done in such a short period of time that will be of lasting value?”

Until independence, classes in most elementary schools, and in all secondary schools and universities in Bangladesh were taught in English. Since 1971 all of these schools have switched to the Bengali language. Consequently, the students have not been able to read U.S. texts, which most of them would be unable to afford in any event. The author felt that suitable textbooks should be developed for these courses and that these should be published locally and in paperback, so that the students could afford them. (The estimated appropriate price was $3.) It was also believed essential that the textbooks be written in Bengali by the professors who would be teaching the courses and that they be based on the realities of the political, economic, social, and administrative climate in Bangladesh.

The first three weeks of the author’s visit were devoted, a week at each university, to identifying the professors who would probably teach the entrepreneurship courses which were to become part of a revised curriculum, and to include these professors, the department chairmen and the deans in a series of discussions on the importance of entreprenurship for the development of Bangladesh and the importance of having this subject taught at their institutions. Meanwhile, arrangements were made for the organization of a workshop in Dhaka, during the fourth week, to be attended by the five or six professors from each university who might eventually teach the course.

The workshop had four objectives. First, all of the future professors of entrepreneurship were to become acquainted with the literature in this field, including textbooks which had been developed in the U.S. Second, all were to participate in designing the two courses to be offered in Bangladesh. Third, all were to be involved in designing the textbooks which would form the basis of their two courses. Fourth, all were to be involved eventually in writing these textbooks, and hence be committed to using them in their classes.

To help achieve the first objective, the author brought to Bangladesh a suitcase filled with relevant books and articles. HE lectured about these writings at the workshop and made them available for perusal by the participants.

To aid in achieving the second objective, a guided discussion was held which included all workshop participants and resulted in general agreement concerning the objectives, content, and teaching approach for the two courses. The participants were then divided into smaller, working groups to design the syllabi. Drafts were assembled and distributed, and further discussion resulted in a meeting of minds on this score as well.

For the third objective, another general discussion resulted in a consensus as to the broad outlines for the two textbooks. The participants were again divided into working groups, with each group assigned to draft a detailed outline of a section of a text, indicating possible source material. These segments were later assembled, reproduced, and distributed for additional group discussion, during which agreement was reached concerning the textbook outlines.

Topics covered in the undergraduate text include entrepreneurship theory and history, development programs and sources of assistance, and case studies. The graduate text covers some of these same topics, but also includes discussions of the business environment, planning and creating an enterprise, developint a comprehensive business plan, and capital budgeting.

To make a start toward achieving the fourth objective, the participants were asked to indicate which chapters they could best write, given their special areas of expertise. This procedure resulted in specific chapters being assigned to specific professors.

It was recognized that a follow-up organization was needed. As part of this structure, a campus coordinator was selected for each university, the role of whom was to assure completion of each co-author’s task and to provide for quality control. An editorial board was also selected, consisting of the three campus coordinators plus a senior editor. It was agreed that the texts would be drafted in English and, after being assembled and reviewed by the editorial board, would be sent to the present author in the U.S. for review. Upon completion of this review and any necessary revision, the manuscripts would be translated into Bengali by the chapter co-authors, reassembled and reviewed by the editorial board, and published in Dhaka.

All participants at the workshop agreed on a time schedule. All that was now lacking was a budget to provide financial incentive for the co-authors and editorial board, and to pay expenses for typing, reproduction, travel, etc. The editorial board agreed on a budget, which totaled only about five thousand dollars per book for the final draft in Bengali, ready for printing. These present writer was able to get the government and the World Bank to revise the project budget to finance the preparation of these two texts.

At the time of the writing of this article, the English language drafts of the two textbooks are enroute to the U.S. to be reviewed. The chapter authors and editorial board have kept to their schedule and budget. (It appears that the entire process just might work! In any case, the workshop organized in Dhaka by this author may be thought of as educational entrepreneurship.)

In the opinion of the author, courses in entrepreneurship are important, but not critical offerings, for U.S. business schools. In less developed countries (LDCs), however, they are critical elements of the curriculum because of the pressing need to foster entrepreneurship as a motor for economic development. Yet such courses are rarely found in LDC business schools because such schools were modeled after U.S. business schools where, until quite recently, one rarely found entrepreneurship courses. Not only have LDC business schools designed their curricula after those of U.S. business schools, they also use American textbooks–usually in English, but sometimes in direct translation. All of this has usually been done on the advice of American business professors–who apparently have known very little about LDCs.

It is vital that we recognized that the culture, the economic infrastructute, the business climate and the role of government in LDCs are far different from what is found in the U.S. The educational curricula of these countries should be tailor-made to their needs. Their textbooks can be based on U.S. texts, but should be significantly adapted to fit the national environments of particular LDCs.

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