I vividly remember one of my most memorable trips I ever made. In the year 1955, I was part of the boy scout group who got the chance to travel to Europe and North America to the 10th World Jamboree of Boy Scouts held in Canada. I was fifteen years old. It was an unforgettable journey full of inspiration that left a lasting imprint on my mind. For instance, it was quite an experience crossing the Atlantic both ways in luxury liner ships, watching the emergence of countries in Europe from the devastation of the second world war, watching the world with eyes of a kid who grew up in the rural environment of a South Asian country. The journey was a phenomenal experience. It was a life-time learning opportunity for a fifteen year old.
Sooner than we would have wished, the last day of jamboree came nearer. Our great adventure seemed to be coming to an end. We were very sad about it, as we felt that there was still so much for us to see. But organizers of our trip had a different idea. They thought, why not make the journey back home also a part of the adventure for the 27 kids. They changed the plan to bring us back overland by micro-buses, through Europe all the way to Karachi, from where our formal journey had begun. They saved the plane-fare and bought three micro-buses with that money. These micro-buses would become an asset for the Pakistan Scout Association.
Of course, there was opposition to the idea.
Some said; “No, it’s too long a distance to cover by micro-bus", some said “No, there are too many borders to cross!”. But finally, the idea had support from all of us. We were young and felt that anything was better than going back home and to school.
We crossed the Atlantic by ship. Arrived in London. Made all preparations and readied the paper works for the long journey. We the arrived at Wolfsburg, Germany and bought three shiny micro-buses from the Volkswagen factory, then launched our long trip right out of the factory.
The trip was nothing but excitement everyday as we travelled from one city to another city, detoured from direct route to visit an interesting city off the main route. We stayed longer in places where we wanted to stay and see more, or we were forced to stay because of unforeseen circumstances. It took us four months to drive all the way from Germany, along the Mediterranean coast, through countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and back to Karachi. Then two more weeks to travel through India to Chittagong, my home-town.
Along the long journey we met so many friendly and hospitable people. It made the whole world feel like home for us.
From this experience I became a firm believer in the need for global mobility to create an environment for people to get to places to explore the world. People throughout the world are eager to travel to see their neighbouring countries, and the world at large.
People need mobility as a daily need too. One cannot survive without mobility. It is essential for our lives no matter where we live. Of course, it is different depending on the level of the economic status of the country,
For example, in Bangladesh, most people do not own personal motor vehicle. This is because most people cannot afford it. But I think it gives Bangladesh an opportunity to plan better, we can start with a clean slate. This gives us the opportunity to think more of mass-transportation than personal cars. Now we can make environment-friendly choices. We may focus on green energy-based vehicles, and put deadline for fossil fuel-based vehicles. We can prioritise mass transport facilities, run on green energy. We can introduce taxi services for self-formed passenger groups who decide the routes, time and fare, for a single trip or on a regular monthly basis. We may discourage single person usage of any vehicle.
Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world, having more than 1000 people per square kilometre. Imagine what will happen if there are personal vehicles for everybody, and worse of it if the vehicles were running on fossil fuel! We are already in the frontline of climate disaster. We should not be the one contributing to the disaster.
Mobility is a major issue in Bangladesh for many reasons. Two main reasons are air pollution and death by traffic accidents. In Dhaka city the traffic is almost unbearable. Dhaka is one of top cities in the world with terrible air quality. Constant traffic jams and honking are normal everyday experience.
During the last one year the world has learnt from Covid-19 pandemic very important and positive lessons on mobility. This is about how to drastically reduce mobility. We got used to doing many things without mobility. When pandemic will be gone, we'll continue with many of these valuable life-style changes that the pandemic forced on us. We like them. We see a great future for them. Now we realise that we can run offices and businesses from our homes. We’ll not do it as an emergency procedure any more, but as our convenience and on environmental considerations. We now know that we can have most of our meetings virtually. They are time-saving (no getting stuck with traffic-jams, which in Dhaka can be for several hours in one spot), and cost saving. Now we can invite in our meetings and conferences as many participants as we wish, from anywhere in the country or in the world, without support from any event planner. Educational institutions got used to operating virtually. We saw how virtual sessions of parliaments, and high-level UN meetings can take place. Conferences became more world-wide with no cost. One virtual global event can save us from tons of carbon emission. Virtual meetings and gatherings will protect us from future transmission of viruses across the globe. Suddenly all varieties of online businesses popped up. Many of these practices were forced on us by the circumstances, but we'll keep them because now we love them. We’ll continue to make them more lovable as we proceed.
We have to rethink mobility in the light of new reality. This was a great learning process. We’ll continue to promote virtual interactions not only to protect ourselves from the pandemic, but to protect our environment, and general health. We should soon come out with policies to encourage virtual, replacing physical, interactions at all possible levels. All boards may start asking the management to submit plans on reducing travel mileages by air and roads, year by year. This will encourage virtual interactions.
Mobility, yes. But mobility must be integrated with social and environmental responsibilities. Mobility is an area where we have to balance personal need with collective need. By balancing these two needs a clear picture will emerge for the future of mobility: it has to be responsible, sustainable, necessity based, easy, facilitating, affordable, and always remembering that we have a ready option whenever we need it, the virtual option.
The future of mobility has to aim at creating less traffic. Two-, and three-wheelers should get the priority, and move away from one car one person type of vision, at least until it becomes green energy driven, and takes up least possible city space.
But in order to achieve these goals we need creative ideas and innovative social businesses. in the mobility sector and its counterpart, the virtual sector to reduce the need for mobility. Social business is a social-consciousness driven business. It is a non-dividend business to solve human problems. Many social businesses have been created around the world to bring solutions to mobility in sustainable ways. We need massive efforts to make it a real force for change. I keep on encouraging businesses, technology specialists, and young people to keep coming up with solutions to mobility problems in creative social business ways. Mission of a social business is to solve problems of the people, and the planet, in an entrepreneurial way. We define social business as a non-dividend business to solve human problems.
Since the social business entrepreneur is not interested in taking any personal profit from the company, he can devote all his creativity in solving the problem in a business way, and not use part of his creativity in making money.
Why anybody should be interested in social business? Very simple-- making money may bring you happiness, but making other people happy brings you super-happiness. Business can be run as a social business because of the fact that human beings are not money-making machines. Human beings are made to pursue two interests -- personal interest, and collective interest. Somehow, we got solely busy with pursuing personal interest by setting the objective of business as maximisation of profit. Social business is the business to open up our other mission, to serve the collective interest. This business has no personal profit-making interest. It is dedicated to bring collective happiness by solving collective problems. When we see mobility from the perspective of collective problem, we have to look for solution through social business. Social business is the appropriate business methodology to address it.
I am convinced that social business initiatives can transform mobility to change the way we live and work.