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The Public’s Proxy?

Antonio Lambino's picture

I recently attended a brown bag on the Bangladesh Investment Climate Fund (BICF), an advisory facility that seeks to help improve the country’s investment climate.  The International Finance Corporation’s Advisory Services team runs the initiative, generously supported by the UK’s Department for International Development and the European Commission.

Core program areas include regulatory reforms, economic zones, and capacity building and institutional strengthening.  According to Syer Akhtar Mahmood, BICF’s Senior Program Manager, results include the following: a 50% reduction in property registration fees; an online system for business registration; effective consultation mechanisms to identify regulatory issues and recommend reforms; platforms for broad-based public-private dialogue on policy formulation and implementation; and a core group of mid-level government officials who have, among other things, generated notes on reform options and authored 10 articles/op-eds which, according to Mr. Mahmood, rarely happens in Bangladesh.

Most noteworthy about the BICF is its innovative approach to multi-stakeholder engagement.  The program applies a political economy approach to the reform process, which results in an effective engagement strategy.  The BICF team works hard to understand the relevant characteristics of the country context, including where key stakeholders are and where they need to be, if reforms are to be successful.  They also delve into why things work or do not work, how what doesn’t work might be addressed, with whom, and in what sequence.  All of this feeds into multi-stakeholder engagement efforts informed by a keen appreciation of on-the-ground realities.  The result is the BICF providing targeted support toward collaboration with the following stakeholders:

• Coalitions of reform champions
• Chambers and business associations
• Universities and academia
• Think-tanks
• Government policy-makers
• Media

While impressed with the BICF’s approach and accomplishments, I kept asking myself: “Where’s the public?”  Aren’t these reforms ultimately about poverty reduction in a developing country through an improved investment climate?  And although public opinion data were presented, suggesting increasing support for reforms among both opinion leaders and the general public, why wasn’t the public mentioned as a stakeholder? 
In retrospect, I think the answer is embedded in various parts of the BICF presentation.  In several graphs and charts shown during the brown bag, the media are repeatedly identified as an influential force in reform processes.  Perhaps the media serve as a stand-in, a proxy of sorts, for public opinion?  The charts denote that the media influence government actors and are linked to other influential societal sectors.  Is it indeed the case that in contested reform contexts, the media are perceived to be the public’s proxy?  In the BICF reform story, I get a sense that this is true in some ways and not so true in others.  More on this in my next post.

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Submitted by Laura from Dhaka on
Thanks for the insightful post, and its true that BICF has been successful at working multiple stakeholders. One of the strategies that we have adopted, touched on by Tom Davenport, is the BICF inside approach. This is a strategy to work with the Government and Private Sector, behind the scenes, to build ownership and support 'inside'. It also means the discussion and debate go on privately and not in full public view. So, we do not reach out directly to the general public but work through intermediaries, particularily chambers and media, so public are informed and engaged in the process. Yes the public are a key stakeholder, and we measure their support for and awareness of the issues, but not of BICF or IFC. And of course the public are our ultimate beneficiaries - our goal is poverty alleviation through the creation of jobs and the growth of business.

Submitted by Shyamadas Banerji on

I appreciate that the political environment in Bangladesh is very tough. So one might expect an institution such as BICF working with financial support of international agencies would proceed very carefully and lobby support of politicians and reformers through inside connections. But it is very important to establish broad public ownership of the reform process and spread the message through the media. What BICF is engaged in is to promote private investment and create jobs through reducing red tape and facilitating private investment and private public partnerships to improve the overall efficiency of investments in public goods.
I am not clear about the legal mandate of BICF. I can understand their role in improving the regulatory and administrative framework to facilitate private investment. But there are other institutions in Bangladesh which are engaged in facilitating private investment such as BOI and agencies which support economic free zones. How do these agencies cooperate /work towards the goal of increasing productive investment in sectors where Bangladesh has a comparative advantage?

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