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FEATURE STORY March 15, 2018

Economics Students Give Hope to One South Asia


Top economics undergraduates and faculties from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka at the 14th South Asia Economic Students’ Meet (SAESM) in Chittagong, Bangladesh. 

Photo Credit: SANEM Bangladesh


  • While growing rapidly over the last decades, South Asia still accounts for 36% of the world’s poor and nearly 50% of the world’s malnourished children. To realize its development potential, it must bridge remaining gaps which can be accelerated through greater regional cooperation.
  • Emerging economists of South Asia shared their vision of Sustainable One South Asia at the 14th South Asia Economics Student’s Meet. The annual meet brings over 100 students from across South Asia to present their original research, participate in academic competitions, and learn about people and places from neighboring countries.
  • Rising economists from across South Asia not only shared and discussed solutions to bring sustainable prosperity to the 1.7 billion living in South Asia, but also forged lasting friendships and memories.

South Asia is home to a quarter of the world’s population and accounts for 36% of the world’s poor and nearly 50% of the world’s malnourished children. The sub-region remains plagued by major development gaps towards which greater regional integration can help devise joint solutions.  

In light of this, over 100 top economics undergraduates and faculties from seven countries in South Asia convened in Chittagong, Bangladesh for the 14th South Asia Economic Students’ Meet (SAESM) to discuss how regional integration can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in South Asia. 

Launching the meet, Professor Rehman Sobhan, Chairman for the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) of Bangladesh, shared his thoughts on how we need to build the road to re-integrating a once integrated South Asia. “In my lifetime, I stood for 3 national anthems – for India till 1947, Pakistan till 1971 and Bangladesh since then. South Asia has become a permanent casualty of the territorial division and historic conflicts. There is life ahead of you – you can stretch your imagination to build the region or divide it, the choice is yours!”

Stirred up with the spirit of One South Asia, students shared their vision of creating a sustainable integrated region, presenting prospects for realizing the SDG themes of no poverty and zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, and sustainable cities and communities in South Asia. Their papers were judged by eminent academicians, picking a winner in each sub-theme. Students from India and Pakistan jointly won the Sen-Haq award for best overall paper.

With a unique spirit of competition and collaboration, students also participated in debate competitions, quiz contests and the budding economist competition – one of the most intense competitions involving paper submission, a written exam on micro-, macro- and development economics, a visual round where pictures have to be creatively described using economic theories, and finally a publicly held panel interview. Archit Jain from St. Stephen's College, Delhi, won the Budding Economist of South Asia 2018 award. 

Archit Jain, economics student at St. Stephen's College, Delhi, being awarded the Budding Economist of South Asia 2018 award. Photo Credit: SANEM Bangladesh

In all the competitions, students were challenged to apply economics theories learnt in the classroom to real time issues of the region. Eminent economists shared their experiences with students addressing various aspects of promoting regional integration in a South Asian context. Talking about trade, Sanjay Kathuria, Lead Economist at the World Bank said, “today, it’s cheaper for India to trade with Brazil than with Pakistan. Land-locked countries and other pockets of isolation suffer disproportionately from the lack of intra-regional trade. We need to look at win-win possibilities for regional cooperation.”

"Incremental gains are important, take the responsibility of getting the good stories out, be the ambassadors of One South Asia!"
Sanjay Kathuria
Lead Economist at the World Bank


Dr. Syed Turab Hussain (LUMS), Dr. Selim Raihan (Executive Director, SANEM), H.E. Amb. Bishwambher Pyakuryal (Nepal’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives), Dr. Deb Kusum Das (Ramjas College, Delhi University), and Dr. Sanjay Kathuria (The World Bank Group) addressing the students.         

Nikita Singla/World Bank

The panel re-iterated that as ambassadors of One South Asia, students need to strive for continuous improvement and not dwell in the past.

"In 2006, when our team came to Bangladesh, we got visa on arrival. Now in 2018, it took us weeks to arrange the visa. But this should not by any means disappoint you, rather deepen your resolve to bring about a change. Perseverance commands success! As you along with 1000 other SAESM alumni move to positions of power, you will pave the way for an integrated region. "
Turab Hussain
LUMS Professor and Pakistan SAESM Coordinator

Selim Raihan, Executive Director, SANEM, and all Country Coordinators encouraged the students to take the baton in their hands as only they can lay the foundation for lasting relationships that will lead to prosperity in the future.

Competitions amongst the young economists not only stimulated the debate on how to bring sustainable prosperity to the 1.7 billion living in South Asia, but also forged lifelong friendships among the leaders of tomorrow. These friendships stand testimony to all the wisdom shared by the renowned champions of One South Asia and make SAESM unique.

"SAESM is the most unique convening platform I have witnessed in South Asia. Punjabis, Bengalis, Tamils – all are so same yet so different and in the end of the meet, everyone gets dancing to Bollywood songs."
Martin Rama
World Bank South Asia Chief Economist

That’s exactly what happened. In the spirit of breaking barriers and integrating culturally, The World Bank also organized ice-breaking sessions where the budding economists got fully engaged in writing stories using a mix of words from economics and South Asia such as Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium, Cricket, Sufism, Ganga, Nash, and Nudge among others. Competing as Team #KaushikBasu, Team #MalalaYousafzai, Team #MuhammadYunus, Team #SamanKelegama, Team #Mahbub-ul-Haq, Team #SirimavoBandaranaike, Team #JigmeSingyeWangchuck, Team #SushilaKarki and Team #ShamsiaHassani, students paid tribute to these South Asian laureates [Story of the winning team #SamanKelegama below].

The compelling and competitive events were rightfully balanced by a cultural night and a cruise in the Bay of Bengal.  With every passing moment of the meet, the bonds across borders continued to strengthen. One South Asia was in the making!              

Here’s what the students feel about SAESM!



Team Saman Kelegama's Story

Team #SamanKelegama’s story using a mix of words from economics and South Asia such as Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium, Cricket, Sufism, Ganga, Nash, and Nudge among others. Photo Credit: Nikita Singla/ World Bank


When Saman Kelegama was watching a Bollywood movie on Adam Smith, his mother walked into the room and rebuked him, “what’s with cricket, Punjabi songs and this movie? Drink the lemon tea to increase your efficiency and productivity, so that you win the competition with most credit”.

Saman replied, “I don’t need your nudge to study. I ignored Nash and instead calculated the Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium for the pareto-optimum point in the tradeoff between leisure and work”.

Saman’s mother asked him, “What’s your revealed preference? Do you plan to be a free rider like your father? Do you want to be un-employed in the long run?”

Then suddenly, the father Lorenz enters the room and says, “Ganga! What’s up? You are always marginalizing me and Saman. Trust us. If we keep our family integrated, we will maximize our Gross National Happiness. Now, bring us some spicy food and play some Sufi music”.

Then he asks Saman to bring his PS and play the classical game of the war between Harris-Todaro, who lives in the Himalayas and Kuznets, who lives along the Indus. Mother Ganga gets angry and shouts, “You have incurred enough externalities on our son. You better go cross the border and drown in the Bay of Bengal”. The father says let’s swap this for unity. We are all imperfect but that doesn’t mean we cannot be One South Asia.