Digital Bangladesh on its WayBangladesh 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.

Digital Banking

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 “,” 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. 

Farihah Tasneem

Photo: Flickr

EtisalatEtisalat contributed 30 desktop computers in an attempt to improve Information Communication Technology (ICT) education at the Nuhu Bamali Primary School in Kano State. Etisalat hopes the computer donations will raise ICT literacy at the primary school.

The computers were presented to the school during a commissioning of facilities ceremony where Etisalat also unveiled school renovations, according to It News Africa.

The Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs for Etisalat, Ibrahim Dikko, said the donation was in line with their commitment to improving education in Nigeria through partnerships with the government.

ICT education has become a basic component of learning and will provide a greater benefit if students in primary and secondary schools are exposed to it early on. The company is dedicated to creating an improved and conducive learning environment for Nigerian children, according to Dikko.

Headmistress of Nuhu Bamali Primary School, Hajia Asmau Mohammed Lawan, hopes the computers will go a long way in giving pupils the cutting edge education to prepare them for their individual career paths according to It News Africa.

In October 2015, Etisalat donated desktop computers to the ICT center of Girls’ Government College in Nigeria, which is also located in Kano State.

According to Etisalat’s Head of Government and Community Relations, Mohammed Suley-Yusuf, “Etisalat is proud to be able to contribute positively to achieving the government’s objective of improving Kano State, especially in the area of education.”

Etisalat Group is a telecommunications provider who offers services to 18 countries throughout the Middle East, Asia and Africa. It is one of the world’s leading telecom groups and ranks among the most profitable telecom groups in the world. They work with the British Council to provide a Pan-Nigerian teacher training program and they continue to focus on improving education through their Adopt-a-School program.

The company is currently working on an initiative to create an Etisalat Telecommunications Engineering Postgraduate Program within the education sector.

Jordan Connell

Sources: Etisalat, It News Africa, Prompt News Online
Photo: Manic

Transforming Arab Economies

A new report recently released will aid in the effort to inspire Arab economies to implement concrete actions, which in turn will spur economic growth and competition. The report, titled “Transforming Arab Economies: Travelling the Knowledge and Innovation Road,” is joint collaboration between the World Bank, CMI (Marseille Center for Mediterranean Integration), EIB (European Investment Bank) and ISESCO (the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Together, these organizations promote greater investment in a knowledge-based economy model, which is needed to meet the job creation challenge in the Middle East. Inger Andersen, Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank, said, “We hope this report can help countries of the Arab world imagine a new kind of development strategy with a knowledge and innovation-driven model at its very heart.” Through innovation and diversification of their economies, Arab countries will be able to create new enterprises and jobs.

By tapping into the field of technological knowledge, these countries will be able to continue improving their level of access to education and to information communication technologies (ICT). To achieve this, countries in the region need to implement a series of reforms, including more open and entrepreneurial economies, a more skilled labor force, improved innovation and research capabilities, and the expansion of ICT.

In addition to these structural reforms, the report suggests that governments should provide more hospitable conditions in which promising sectors can generate new activities and jobs. Governments should also establish channels through which knowledge can be transferred and disseminated, for example through foreign direct investments and international trade in goods and services.

The finance and economy minister of Morocco highlighted efforts made by the Moroccan government to create a new economic model with its foundations in knowledge and innovation. He also stressed the importance of redesigning current economy structures in the Middle East, as well as improving youth employment and maintaining a global economic presence.

However, in order to successfully create stronger economies in the Middle East, it will take a strong and focused effort. Abdulaziz Othman Al-Twaijri, Director General of ISESCO, said, “The implementation of a knowledge and innovation-based development strategy requires a vision, strong coordination at the top level of government, and a participatory approach to mobilize the population to back the needed reforms.” The approach of the report is intended to reflect the huge differences and challenges across the Middle East, and recognizes that each county must be approached with policies that are customized to their individual needs.

– Chloe Isacke
Source: World Bank, ISESCO
Source: World Economic Forum