How Can Digital Innovations Improve the Economy of Bangladesh?

digital-bang

In December 2008, the Government of Bangladesh introduced the vision ‘Digital Bangladesh by 2021’ to leverage the Internet to improve the delivery of its services, particularly among the poor people. A quiet revolution in digitizing its health sector is already under way to strengthen the Health Information System (HIS), which enables real-time monitoring of population health.

The Internet could provide solutions to a number of structural problems besetting Bangladesh’s health sector. For example, the use of ICT to provide remote diagnosis, advice, treatment, and health education could address a major part of the health issues of patients in rural clinics, which are typically the most poorly staffed. Online tools and mobile innovations can improve the operational efficiency and productivity of (rural) health system by enabling more effective service delivery.

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The use of ICT in education has a similar potential to deliver rapid gains in access to education, teacher training, and learning outcomes. As pointed above, web-based school management systems that can support standardization and monitoring of school performance could enable the government to achieve more with their education budgets and providing millions of students with the foundation for a better future.

It is clear that the digital age and its associated variables are continuously getting integrated into our economy and society. Due to the limitations of data, only a snapshot of the impact on education and healthcare of Bangladesh is shown in The Economy of Tomorrow Digital Innovations and Their Implications for the Economy of Bangladesh.

All of the available sources show that to make a dramatic shift in these two sectors, incorporation of digitized materials is one of the most important factors of current time. However, there are many questions regarding the impact of the digital age in the socioeconomic conditions of Bangladesh that still remained unsolved.

For example:

  • How do we quantify the impact that the internet and internet driven business have on a country’s GDP?
  • How does a digitized registration process reduce corruption?
  • What will the legal system of the country look like when digitization will take place there? Is the internet creating a divergence among the different groups of people?
  • How much of labor hours are people wasting doing unproductive works on the internet?
  • For every new digital adoption, someone may be getting a new job, whereas someone, somewhere may be losing his/her job. So what if the rate of losing jobs is far greater than the rate of creating employment opportunities?

The answer to these questions require further research, including reviewing the experiences of other countries where these questions have already been addressed. However, one thing is clear that these topics will dominate the research agendas in the upcoming years and their findings will help Bangladesh to transform into a more balanced, robust and sustainable economic growth.

3 Tangible Outcomes from Digital Bangladesh: An Inspiration for South Asia

digital-bangladesh

In 2008, the government of Bangladesh announced a ‘Vision 2021’ pledge is to improve the quality of life and quality of governance, and achieve mid-income country status by the year 2021, on the golden jubilee of the nation.

The vision was widely appreciated because of its intention to ensure inclusive innovation. The government of Bangladesh is in a process of developing a ‘Perspective Plan of Bangladesh 2010-2021’ to operationalize the vision throughout the country.

Digital Bangladesh

One aspect of Vision 2021 is Digital Bangladesh, a pledge to use modern technology to impact every aspect of public and private life by 2021. Digital Bangladesh is being implemented by the Access to Information (A2I) Programme housed in the Prime Minister’s office of the government of Bangladesh, and they have developed ‘the Strategic Priorities of Digital Bangladesh’ in January 2011, three years after the Vision 2021 declaration.

The strategic priorities of Digital Bangladesh are:

  1. Human resource development
  2. Connecting citizens
  3. Digital government for pro-poor service delivery
  4. ICT in business

Now considering where the Bangladesh government is starting from, and potential impeding factors like lack of skills, infrastructure, integration among interventions and political unrest in the country, the Digital Bangladesh goal of a discrimination, corruption, poverty and hunger free happy, prosperous and educated mid-income country driven by ICTs by 2021, is quite ambitious.

There is no quick solution to these issues, and doing anything on a national scale is very complex and depends on many factors, however, we are hopeful because Bangladesh has achieved most of the targets under MDG goals well before the deadline, and Digital Bangladesh has already achieved three major impacts:

New Technologies

To create enabling environment the government has formed several policies like

  1. National ICT policy 2009
  2. Right to Information Act 2009
  3. Information and Communication Technology (Amendment) Act, 2009
  4. Bangladesh Hi-tech Park Authority Act, 2010
  5. International Long Distance Telecommunications Services Policy (ILDTS)
  6. Telecommunications Act, 2010
  7. Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board Act, 2009
  8. Broadband Policy, 2009
  9. Pornography Act, 2011
  10. Rural Connectivity Policy 2010
  11. Format of the Public Private Partnership Policy

The enabling policies made it possible for corporate sector to reach the bottom of the pyramid and as a result mobile subscription, Internet subscription, and use of ICTs in every step of life had a tremendous increase.

In addition, we’ve seen a welcomed increase in new technologies. Previously, WiMAX, VOIP, 3G and Community Radio were illegal in Bangladesh. As a result of Digital Bangladesh, WiMax technology was legalised in 2009. VOIP was legalised in early 2010, and the Government has issued licenses for community radio starting in December 2010.  The 3G technology providers have received licence to start operation from October 2013.

New Programs

To reach the last mile the government has established 4,501 Information Service Centres at each Union Parishad, the smallest rural administrative and local government units in Bangladesh, and e-Service Centres in each office of the 64 Deputy Commissioners, the District level administrative units in Bangladesh.

The e-Service centres provide access to agriculture, health, education, social safety net, legal aid, disaster management and enforcement of law related services. InfoKosh has-been introduced at the national level to make available livelihood content. As many as 220 organisations and about 50,000 information articles have been uploaded on this website by May, 2011.

Digital Bangladesh has resulted the e-services including:

In addition, actions are underway to prepare a National E-Governance Architecture (NEA) to implement ICT projects in public offices.

The government has introduced e-GP (Electronic Government Procurement) system in public procurement to introduce digital system. The digital land management system has been introduced in order to make land administration and management transparent and accountable.

The government is in a process of establishment of multimedia classroom in all educational institutions to sensitise the teachers for developing digital content. To date, 3,172 Computer Labs and 80 Smart Class Rooms have been set up in different educational institutions across the country. As many as 325 textbooks of Primary, Secondary, Madrasa and Technical Education Board have adopted e-Book versions, which can be accessed from www.ebook.gov.bd.

New Mind-set

As you can see, the hype around Digital Bangladesh has already caused several changes in Bangladesh. Most significantly, I would say, is the mind-set of government officials.

As an ICT4D professional, I used to experience difficulties explaining how technology could be used for social and economic development, but now almost everyone have an understanding about ICTs and their impact. Maybe the understanding is not 100% accurate, but the important thing is now the government and social sectors welcome ICTs.

We may have a long way to go, but the process of digital government has started in Bangladesh.