A Beacon of Hope

Tina Jabeen, Investment Advisor, Startup Bangladesh ICT Division, Ministry of Post, Telecommunications and Information Technology

Her name today is synonymous with success, self-confidence and empowerment. But what did it take Tina Jabeen to go from being a young girl living and dreaming in Dhaka, to becoming the woman she is today, excelling in a field less trodden by women? Sumaiya Kabir finds out.

Unlike many of the generation of Bangladeshis that she belonged to, who left some thirty years ago to settle abroad in hopes of better education and livelihood, Tina Jabeen returned to give back to her country. Perhaps that is what defines her best – a woman with a purpose, the purpose of making an impact wherever she goes. After over twenty-five years of Silicon Valley experience, Tina Jabeen is currently serving as Investment Advisor at the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Ministry of the Government of Bangladesh.

“At the end of the day the core of my being is to serve, and to serve you have to have means,” Tina explains why she had planned to wait until fifty to leave her corporate career as a senior director at a venture capital firm that she found extremely satisfying, to do something more philanthropic in nature. Upon her return, she was given the responsibility to come up with the investment guidelines and begin leading Startup Bangladesh, by the Honorable Minister of State for ICT Division, Zunaid Ahmed Palak. Additionally, she has been involved with Youth Co: Lab, Asia’s largest social entrepreneurship development movement co-created by UNDP and the Citi Foundation, to make sure the youth have the tools to empower themselves and prepare for the coming decades.

She is also currently working on a project of the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) to financially empower women, as part of a bigger umbrella of financial inclusion to end poverty and gender disparity. “I see opportunities everywhere, but I need to focus on areas where I can actually accomplish a meaningful result, and when you focus on youth entrepreneurship and women empowerment in a country like Bangladesh, you automatically end up covering most of the other areas of development as well.”

In all the years of dividing her time between San Francisco and Dhaka, Tina Jabeen has kept herself well informed of Bangladesh’s progression. “When I was five or six years old, I saw the birth of this country. That was the first thing that planted the seed of what I am today. The seed was my pride for this country, its history, how it came into being and the people who were involved in bringing the country to where it is now.” She claims to have never felt as if the country had no hope, and remains a true fan of its growth, no matter the pace.

But her optimism does not come blindly; she confidently backs it up with statistics. For example, SMEs led by women now have an almost negligible loan defaulting rate unlike that of the entire industry which is roughly above 10%! According to her, with proper financing, guidance on bookkeeping and credit records, and a technological platform, these large numbers of micro-entrepreneurs can bring a lot more development for the economy.

From fibre optic cables, network connectivity and its cheaper rates, to our bridges and the metro rail, Tina Jabeen strongly praises the role our government has played in enabling its people. “The success of our garments industry has long been established, but not without the support of the government, who made sure the businesses got the correct policy, costing, price negotiations – all of it. And today this sector continues to successfully fuel our economy through billions of dollars of export money!” she says proudly. She goes on to add how our migrant workers are our second-largest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and it could increase further if we properly send skilled labour over.
What she identifies as probably the only major fault with this country, is that there’s not enough promotion. “ Bangladesh needs to brand itself more aggressively; we are often too humble and shy away from beating our own drum — locals and ex-pats should both communicate and amplify the remarkable success of the Country, especially in the areas of poverty alleviation and socio-economic progress. Together we need to overcome the challenges as well as highlight the positive accomplishments of the Nation to the global community,” suggests Tina Jabeen.

In line with her thoughts, when asked to talk about any recent initiatives she appreciates, she mentions Kalyani. Our local stores selling Fast-moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) have one of the greatest records of revenue turnovers, and they could benefit by moving from manual practices to a technological platform that helps them track their credit records, orders, etc. Kalyani is slowly working towards making such a thing happen. “When buying merchandise in bulk, I also want these stores to enjoy the same cash-back features and discount offers as the customers. I think some of these initiatives can be revolutionizing and more people need to know about these!” adds a hopeful Tina Jabeen.

Which is why she gladly informs us about the MOU that BGMEA and ICT Ministry have recently signed to launch a wage digitization platform. Most of our garments factory workers have no bank account and their hard-earned income is often left vulnerable and insecure. Creating a mobile wallet app for all their transactions, at lower rates that are more convenient for them, will provide for them a higher quality of life.

It goes without mentioning that Tina Jabeen loves the thriving scene of startups in Bangladesh. In fact, she calls it a movement. People have come out of fear the risks that startups bring with it, and where there used to be hundreds, any call for submission would now bring over two thousand new ideas! “This indicates that people are giving themselves permission to dream. They have ideas and they want to do something about it because they know they can. It took ten to fifteen years to see results of such a movement in the Silicon Valley, and Bangladesh already has names like Pathao, Shohoz and Sheba.xyz in just these couple of years!” says Tina.

Because Bangladesh is so densely populated, the distribution costs are low and it’s cheaper for big multinational companies to operate here. More than half our population is under 35 years old, which means we have the talent pool that will come into the workforce or business industry and contribute for a longer time. Bangladesh is also very homogeneous – it has one language and one culture, which makes the people here better at accepting things. “We really need to bank on all these positivities,” concludes the optimistic Tina Jabeen.

From all the positive vibes that Tina Jabeen comes with despite all her stress and responsibilities, one can’t help but wonder how she must’ve grown up and lived her life now, to be able to maintain such a calm and encouraging demeanour.

“I was ambitious from a very young age, and I knew I’d be a professional woman because I grew up in a matriarchal surrounding. My mother was a very successful physician and my grandmother had achieved her Bachelors of Science in the 1920s. I always wanted to be a very successful person, so that I could have the resources to serve people,” Tina talks again about her life’s primary philosophy.

She also reads a lot of books, sometimes all at the same time. Her favourites include The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. She reads Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitabitan like poetry and finds inspiration in reading about artists and museums, and the Roman and Greek civilizations.

“My first exposure to the arts and Renaissance was in my grandmother’s library. She used to paint, and from her, I discovered Michelangelo, who I really look up to. When you are eleven years old in a world with no internet, books like these give you hope, and the sky to dream. You promise yourself to visit these places someday. And I did! I made it to the Sistine Chapel.”

When talking of inspiration, she mentions all her teachers from Agrani School to Holy Cross College and afterwards in the US as well. She recalls with admiration her Biology teacher, Chowdhury Anwar Hossain, who used to be a Boy Scout leader and a big name in the development area at the time, and whose tales of travel she lived vicariously through. She was also quite influenced by her aunt Rehana Banu, who was the National Commissioner of Bangladesh Girl Guides Association and a very successful woman. Tina discovered The Beatles through her!

During her time at the US, Tina mentions a Neil Rosenberg, her partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers who had been a fantastic guide to her and coached her through many career and life issues.

“But mentorship doesn’t end. I still have mentors here since I started working in Bangladesh three years ago. You just always have to have a thirst for learning. Remember that you have something to learn from everyone you meet. You need to be curious, open, and humble,” Tina believes.

It may seem unlikely, but frustrations and impatience can sometimes take over Tina Jabeen’s day as well. For her a bad day is not a deadline missed, but rather a day she disappoints herself. Like many of us, she has always wanted to be like Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, and on the bad days, she reminds herself that letting little things in life get the better of her temper will never help her be the larger than life person he was. “We should all want to be like him,” she comments on the late visionary leader.

Tina Jabeen is known for advocating a fit life. ‘Treat your body like a temple’ is the motto she goes by and advises on mindful eating and healthy living through physical activity. “Mindfulness in your lifestyle includes what you speak about as well. Our lives are so short – we barely get a few decades to make an impact on this planet. Do you really want to waste away those precious words by saying wrong and terrible things? Treat what comes out of your mouth as things of value,” she says.

In addition to all that, her love for reading and poetry, practising communication skills and learning people’s body language, remembering to maintain her professional image even beyond the office, and going the extra mile with every work she did – these are some of the things she mentions has helped her reach as far as she has.

“I think as a woman the first thing you have to do is respect yourself. You have to tell yourself that you are worth it. Do not think people will speak up for you, and be in unity with other women. If you have a dream now, go for it. Because when you are on your deathbed, the worse thing would be to die with regrets,” Tina Jabeen leaves our readers with a few things to think about.