The year 2021 will mark the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence and the culmination of the government’s “Vision 2021” ambitions. Initiated seven years ago, Vision 2021 encapsulated the country’s development goals. Chief among these are the eradication of poverty and inequality, ensuring effective governance and sound institutions, and promoting innovation in a knowledge-based society.
The government of Bangladesh has had success reducing poverty and corruption. Much has been written about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s innovative approaches to these issues. But the least noticed and perhaps most notable achievement has been in a separate category: widespread digitization in both the public and private sectors.
Bangladesh is determined to transform itself into a technologically advanced society and, in that way, an effective player in an increasingly complicated world. Its “Digital Bangladesh” goals envision accelerated development of information and communications technology in both the public and private spheres. Programs long underway are already making many facets of society more transparent and accountable helping to boost the Bangladesh economy.
When the Digital Bangladesh effort got underway seven years ago only 0.3 percent of Bangladeshis were accessing government services digitally. Today that figure has grown to more than 35 percent and is still climbing.
From the outset, Prime Minister Hasina saw Digital Bangladesh as a way to touch the lives of every Bangladeshi regardless of socio-economic status or place of residence. Her hope was to bring the world to all of her citizens wherever they are through technology. To that end, her government has established more than 5,000 digital centers around the country, one within walking distance of every village. These centers provide 200 distinct services including computer training, mobile banking and job listings on line. Eight thousand post offices are on track to become digital centers as well, which will extend the reach of technology into even the most remote corners of Bangladesh.
Last year the government opened a 60,000-square-foot software technology park, which aims to connect start-up tech businesses with each other. Sixteen companies have moved in and 34 more planning to do so soon. In July, Bangladesh opened its first “IT Incubation Center” in the software technology park to encourage young entrepreneurs to participate in the information technology sector. The center’s innovative products are expected to create more than 100,000 jobs throughout the country in coming years.
Digital Bangladesh has also played a role in the diversification of Bangladesh’s economy that until recently was dependent on the textile industry. Since 2009, total exports of the information and communications technology from Bangladesh has grown from $26 million to more than $300 million annually, a tenfold increase. To become an even more important player in high tech, Bangladesh plans to train 75,000 information technology professionals.
As part of this digital renaissance, the government is constantly bringing new technology to the nation’s schools. The government has set up multimedia and digital classrooms and computer labs in each of the country’s 170,000 educational institutions. Today, there are 23,300 multimedia classrooms. In addition, 24,122 teachers have begun training on the equipment. Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid recently announced that 31,340 institutions will soon be equipped with laptops and internet connections.
Bangladesh also aspires to become a major source of technology outsourcing, following the lead of its neighbor India. Bangladesh graduates 10,000 students from computer science programs each year. These young, highly skilled workers are the lifeblood of Bangladesh’s increasingly diversified economy.
What lies ahead for Bangladesh? By 2021, the government plans to strengthen its technology infrastructure, digitize the judiciary and launch internet-equipped buses, also known as mobile training labs. A new project called “Info Lady” will bring technological training to rural women.
Will Bangladesh achieve its 2021 goals? It certainly looks that way. Digital Bangladesh continues to meet citizens where they live and work. That’s a prescription not only for online success but is a giant step toward achieving Bangladesh’s other ambitious goals.
About the Author: Sajeeb Wazed is Bangladesh’s chief information technology adviser and the son of the prime minister.