Australia Awards alumna Dr Nazneen Kawshar Chowdhury is a senior Bangladesh Government official who achieved a number of firsts as an Australia Awards scholar studying at the Australian National University in the early 2000s. For example, Nanzeen was the first Bangladeshi student to chair the university’s Postgraduate Research Council.
Now a Deputy Secretary in the Government of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh, Nazneen used her 2001 Australian Development Scholarship (now known as an Australia Awards Scholarship) to complete a Graduate Diploma in Economics of Development at the Australian National University in 2002, followed by a Master of Economics of Development in 2003.
Then, as an Australia Awards Leadership scholar, Nazneen undertook a PhD in Economics at the Australian National University between 2007 and 2011.
Nazneen was very active in Australian National University life, and made a significant contribution as an international student. In 2009, she was elected Vice President of the Australian National University Postgraduate and Research Student Association. In 2010, she was elected as President of the Association, and was also elected to the national Council of Australian Post Graduate Associations.
She was the first Bangladeshi student take up each of these positions, and the first to Chair the Australian National University’s Postgraduate Research Council.
Nanzeen was recognised for her contributions to the Australian National University, receiving a Vice Chancellor’s Award in 2003 and the Australian National University Crawford School’s Student Ambassador Award in 2008. She was also recognised by Canberra’s Australian Capital Territory Government for her contribution to the National Multicultural Festival in 2008.
Nazneen said she’d always wanted to study in Australia after watching documentaries and movies as a child and being struck by it being a neat and peaceful place. When she began looking for development opportunities she was married and had two toddlers – Australia ticked all the boxes,
“Not only did the Australian Government approve my Scholarship, but it also allowed me to take my children there with me, which was consequently the deciding factor,” she said.
Nazneen acknowledges that her time in Australia provided her with opportunities and skills that she used to the fullest for herself and her country. On her return to Bangladesh in February 2011, she was directly involved with macro-economic and budget reform of Bangladesh, while working in Macro-economic Wing of the government’s Ministry of Finance.
She served also as First Secretary (Economic) and Head of Economic Wing during 2012-14 at the Embassy of Bangladesh to the European Union in Belgium and Luxembourg, where she coordinated and implemented all works related to the economic and development cooperation between Bangladesh and its European partners including the European Union.
While Bangladesh has a long way to go in terms of becoming a developed country, Nazneen says it has achieved accelerated economic growth, progress in social and human development indicators and a significant decline in poverty that should see it graduate into a middle income country by 2021. She believes future economic development is deeply intertwined with the advancement of women who constitute 50 per cent of the total population.
“Sustainable long-term development is possible by eliminating gender based disparity and discrimination and ensuring women’s development,” she said.
As a Government official with an economics background she looks forward to being involved with the reform and development processes needed to achieve these goals.
Nazneen says her Australian experience was not without challenges. While her children accompanied her for the entire time, her husband, Dr Zia Ul Answar Chowdhury, wasn’t able to stay for the full time as he too is with the Bangladesh Civil Service.
“So, I learned how to survive and contribute in different ways in and out of my comfort zone with two children,” she said. “The experiences in Australia made me a strong person in terms of raising two children, managing study, doing all domestic work and social activities.”
She also learnt to swim.
“Before coming to Australia I had a fear of swimming”, she said. “I never got the opportunity as a child to learn to swim because I was born and raised in an urban area. In my country, people who are born and brought up in the rural area are often the ones who have the opportunity to learn swimming because they have small ponds in every village. For the first time in my life, I got one-to-one swimming lessons in the Canberra Olympic Pool and received a Swim and Survive Award.”