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Digital Centres: A Doorway for Development

a2i – Aspire to Innovate started its journey to realise Digital Bangladesh Vision 2021 through the digital transformation of public services to help rural, marginalised people access government services efficiently, bridge the digital divide and bring government closer to citizens.

Directly guided for over a decade by the Hon’ble Prime Minister, her ICT Advisor Sajeeb Wazed Joy and the Hon’ble State Minister for Information and Communication Technology Zunaid Ahmed Palak; and housed within the ICT Ministry (the technological nerve centre of the government) and the Cabinet Division (the administrative nerve centre) – a2i was established as a think-and-do-tank to craft governance solutions to make life better for Bangladesh’s 160 million citizens.

On November 11th 2010, Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and then UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, inaugurated the first Digital Centre of the country in the remote island of Char Kukri-Mukri on the southeast coast, over a video conference. This paved the way for the establishment of over 5,000 more Digital Centres all over the country.

This nationwide network of 6,500 plus Digital Centres combined with a2i’s focus on massively digitising public services and accelerating a culture of citizen-centric innovation in civil service saved poor citizens 8 billion dollars, as of 2019.

A Startup in Every Union

Each of the 6,500+ Digital Centres is a startup. Each operating in a local government institution, a union council office (a union is the lowest administrative tier in Bangladesh). 

1% of the government’s total Annual Development Programme budget is directed through the Union Council Offices towards these startups. Everyday expenses – like utility charges, internet bills, computer maintenance costs, etc. – are borne by entrepreneurs who generate revenues by charging fees for the provision of certain public and private services.

They were established to decentralise the delivery of public services and take them to the doorsteps of millions of underserved citizens right across the country.

Digital Centres ensure that rural women, people with disabilities and the elderly – regardless of their literacy and ICT literacy – can access vital information and services. A typical Digital Centre is about 3 km from the average rural citizen’s home whereas a government sub-district office is about 20 km and a district office over 40 km. 

These one-stop service centres are essentially nano startups run by ‘citizen entrepreneurs’ – 1 male and 1 female, typically high school graduates recruited from the local community, working in tandem with elected local government representatives. They leverage modern technology to provide citizens both free and fee-based access to public services (land records, birth registration, telemedicine, life insurance, passport and overseas job application as well as over 270 other government services) and private services (agent banking, mobile financial services, insurance, various types of computer and vocational training, etc.).

On behalf of the Government of Bangladesh, a2i provides policy support, technology support, connectivity and also business opportunities in the form of nearly 300 digital government services.

Following the success, 6 Special Digital Centres for RMG and fisheries workers were established. Additionally, 5 Expatriate Digital Centres (EDCs) were established to ensure citizens can avail government services from overseas. 

a2i plans to establish 10,000 Digital Centres bringing them within 2 km of every citizen residing across the country. Through the integration of new services from the various governments will provide non-government organisations as well as the private sector on the service list, over 500 public and private services through these centres.

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