Bishnodat Persaud Lecture Series.
Bishnodat Persaud, known always as Vishnu, was born in Berbice, British Guiana in 1933, the grandson of an immigrant from India. At the age of 21, he moved to London, working at first in the ticket offices of the Underground. Swapping timetables for reading books, he was awarded a first-class degree in economics at Queen’s University, Belfast. There he met Lakshmi (née Seeteram), his future wife, a Trinidadian. He went on to earn a Ph.D in Agricultural Economics from the University of Reading.
In the decade he served as Director of Economic Affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat (1982-1992), his leadership saw the development of novel economic reforms in member states. During three years of meetings, Prof. Persaud gently coaxed Manmohan Singh into believing that liberalising India from a welter of red tape would bring prosperity to even the poorest.
About 200 million Indians leapt out of poverty thanks to the radical market reforms introduced by Singh when he served India as prime minister from 2004-2014.
An upbringing in British Guiana — now Guyana — sensitised Persaud to the difficulties of former colonies struggling to adapt to a world market and buffeted by geographical hazards including monsoons and ocean storms. The vulnerability index he pioneered took account of such factors, laying the ground for future schemes for third-world debt relief. He also created insurance schemes to help those states regularly threatened by natural hazards.
His favouring of the private sector in a developing world still wedded to state planning roused suspicion in the late Eighties. “He was very able and ahead of his time,” said Sir Vince Cable, who worked as Persaud’s special adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat from 1983 to 1990. “He was thoughtful and didn’t take conventional views. He believed that peasant farmers and entrepreneurs had a lot to contribute towards development.” The pair co-wrote Developing with Foreign Investment (1987), a book to entice investors to consider emerging markets. Persaud put his theory into practice by starting a portfolio fund to invest in the economies of Malaysia, Barbados and Botswana. At the time, investing in such markets was distinctly offbeat. It is now a mainstream practice.
A key thinker and advisor in reports for several UN commissions, Prof. Persaud offered piercing insight into how the rapid industrialisation of the developing world was harming the environment. In 1990 he helped set up the Iwokrama programme to sustain the world’s rainforests. In retirement, he was appointed professor of sustainable development at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
In 2013 he was named a Companion of Honour in the honours list of Barbados.
Professor the Honourable Bishnodat Persaud CHB, economist, was born on August 22, 1933. He died of cancer on July 24, 2016, aged 82.
His memory is cherished by his wife Lakshmi Persaud, and his children, Dr Raj Persaud, Prof. Avinash Persaud and Sharda Dean among many others.
The Warwick Economics Summit thanks the Persaud family for their generous contribution towards making WES2023 a conference that is more accessible to students around the world.