Ever since rice prices went through the roof, a set of numbers have made their way around my head. Price of 1 kg of rice: Tk 28 ->30 ->32 ->35 ->38 ->40 in some places (I am talking about the fattest grain, cheapest rice.) Kgs of rice needed to feed a family of four for a day: 2 kg or more. Price of dal: > Tk 60/kg. Daily cost of rental in a Tong room: 50 Tk. Fuel to cook for one day: Tk 15-20.
The average that a day-laborer makes in a day: Tk 150-200 for men, 100-120 for women. Rickshawallahs make a little more, maybe 220. And this means working every day, come rain or, as in today, blistering hot sun. The working person at the bottom rung of the ladder does not yet starve, but is coming awfully close. Touch and go - if they miss one day of work, there are no safety nets to help them.
Meanwhile... I chatted with Ifty Islam on a couple of occasions. He has recently set up shop in Dhaka - a Private Equity firm called Asian Tiger Capital Partners. Ifty comes with impressive credentials, including Managing Director of Deutsche Bank Securities in London. His goal is to attract Foreign Investment into Bangladesh. AT is thinking large numbers - their writeup on Bangladesh suggests FDI inflow of USD 7Bn by 2015 is possible (FDI inflow in 2007 was USD 450Mn approx.)
So... what is "Private Equity?" Traditionally, private equity refers to private investors pooling funds together and buying out existing, mature businesses and then reshaping or reselling them. I think Ifty's model is more along the lines of getting foreign investors to invest in businesses in Bangladesh that are unable to expand - even though they have good ideas, branding, and opportunities - because of lack of capital. He is also open to venture funds, but that does not appear to be the main thrust of the business.
NRBs play a critical role in Ifty's vision of Bangladesh development. He wants to "brand" Bangladesh as a success story and make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. NRBs can help in every step. Ifty has put his money where his mouth is; one hopes AT Capital succeeds by attracting lots of investment, generating good returns for investors, and, most importantly, contributig towards Bangladesh's development.
It is almost surreal to think of the numbers in these two scenarios. Between them, they capture the dilemmas and frustrations of a developing country that needs to feed its people today, while thinking and building big for tomorrow.