Bangladesh has embarked on a journey to digitize itself and transition to a middle-income country by 2021. This goal is known as Digital Bangladesh. Incorporating digital technology in almost every sector of the country is an ambitious target for Bangladesh, yet it has already made progress with more initiatives on the way.
Information and Communication Technology
By 2021, the government aims to integrate Information & Communication Technology (ICT) as a key tool in eradicating poverty and establishing good governance as well as improving the quality of education, healthcare and law enforcement. The government has already laid out some of the foundation work for realizing Digital Bangladesh, such as preparing the National ICT Policy 2009 and the Right to Information Act 2009.
Some of the strategies being used to implement Digital Bangladesh include increasing the coverage of broadband internet connection and cellphone communication throughout the country in order to exchange information and access different types of services, integrating ICT into the school curriculum and improving the capacity and management of healthcare services. Other important areas Digital Bangladesh will improve are increased efficiency in judicial processes, improved coverage of social safety-net programs, reduced environmental impact as well as increased access to banking and financial services.
The Benefits of Digitizing
With more than 120 million cellphone subscribers and 43 million internet subscribers, the population of Bangladesh has been able to enjoy the benefits of digitizing different services around the country. Some examples of these digital services include admission registration to academic institutions, the publication of exam results online, online submission of tax returns, online banking systems and bill payments and filing complaints to police stations. Even video conferencing and telemedicine services are now available in rural areas of the country.
The Access to Information (a2i) Program, supported by UNDP and USAID since 2007, has been the driving force for Digital Bangladesh with the aim of increasing transparency, improving governance and reducing inefficiency in providing public services around the country. On average, six million e-services are provided per month to rural and remote areas through the 407 City Corporation Digital Centers, 321 Municipality Digital Centers and 4,547 Union Digital Centers.
Digitizing is helping to streamline government affairs. More than 25,000 websites of different unions, sub-districts, districts, departments and ministries are connected through the National Web Portal. This portal contains information for more than 43,000 government offices. Furthermore, activities are much more environmentally friendly now that the Prime Minister’s Office as well as around 20 ministries, 4 departments, 64 Deputy Commissioner’s offices and 7 Divisional Commissioner’s offices are using e-filing system. This created an efficient paper-less environment in offices.
In terms of digital payments, as of December 2015, 18 banks are now operating mobile financial services in Bangladesh. Transactions have risen significantly to 120 percent on average since 2011. This amounts to $1.3 billion on average per month. Although these transactions are a small portion of the entire economy, it is still a notable shift towards digital services, thus a step closer to Digital Bangladesh.
More than one billion transactions in 2015, worth around $20 billion, were done digitally. Furthermore, 70 percent of government payments were also digital. As of 2016, around 38 million people in Bangladesh had utilized mobile money services, reflecting the shift from a cash-dominant economy to a more digital payment economy. The availability of mobile money orders has also been a remarkable stride towards Digital Bangladesh, especially for the rural areas in the country.
Furthermore, around 300 of the Digital Centers have been involved with rural e-Commerce, allowing people to purchase items that are not easily available in remote areas. It has also allowed small-scale women entrepreneurs to participate with 5000 women entrepreneurs who are involved with the e-Commerce platform called “ejoyeeta.com,” which consists of goods produced by these women.
Improvements Still Needed
Bangladesh still has a long way to go in terms of fully digitizing itself. The National Identification System needs to be fully implemented and incorporated with important services in order to improve access to digital financial services. Since human capital is an essential element when it comes to adopting new technology, programs aimed at incorporating ICT-based education from primary to tertiary level schools should be prioritized. Finally, having political stability is a necessity in realizing Digital Bangladesh, given how political turmoil is often a setback when it comes to the development of different sectors in the country, including ICT.
The progress Bangladesh has made so far in realizing its 2021 goal cannot be overlooked despite its lacking in certain areas. However, with the increase in different digital services and activities around the country, Bangladesh is gradually lifting itself up and shifting towards a more ICT based economy, making Digital Bangladesh a potential reality.