Bangladesh is an emerging economy with a population of over 160 million people. It is a land of diversity and opportunities but also one of the challenges. In recent years, the government of Bangladesh has taken initiatives to transform the country into a “Digital Bangladesh” by promoting the use of information and communication technology (ICT) to improve governance, promote economic growth, and enhance the quality of life for its citizens. The result of this vision is “Smart Bangladesh.”
The history of Smart Bangladesh dates back to 2008 when the government launched the “Digital Bangladesh” campaign. The aim of the campaign was to create a digital infrastructure that would allow people to access government services online, promote e-commerce, and encourage innovation. In the years that followed, Bangladesh saw a significant increase in the use of mobile phones, internet connectivity, and the adoption of digital technologies in various sectors.
Smart Bangladesh is a continuation of the Digital Bangladesh campaign with a more comprehensive approach. The initiative focuses on four key areas: connectivity, e-governance, innovation, and human resource development. These areas are interconnected and aim to create a smart ecosystem that will benefit the entire country.
Connectivity is the backbone of Smart Bangladesh. The government has set ambitious targets to provide high-speed internet connectivity across the country. This will create a digital infrastructure that will allow people to access online services and e-commerce platforms and connect with the global market. The government has also launched a number of initiatives to provide free Wi-Fi in public places, including parks, bus stops, and railway stations.
E-governance is another key component of Smart Bangladesh. The government has launched several digital services that allow citizens to access government services online, including applying for passports, paying taxes, and accessing birth certificates. The aim is to make government services more accessible, efficient, and transparent. The government has also launched a number of mobile applications that allow citizens to report grievances, access information, and connect with their local representatives.
Innovation is an essential part of Smart Bangladesh. The government has launched several initiatives to promote innovation in various sectors, including fintech, health tech, and edtech. The aim is to create an ecosystem that will encourage startups and provide funding and mentorship. The government has also launched a number of incubators and accelerators to support the growth of startups.
Human resource development is the final component of Smart Bangladesh. The government has launched several initiatives to enhance the skills of its citizens, including digital literacy programs, vocational training, and online education. The aim is to create a skilled workforce that can meet the demands of the digital economy.
The process and policies of Smart Bangladesh are guided by the government’s vision of a Digital Bangladesh. The government has set ambitious targets to provide high-speed internet connectivity, create a digital infrastructure, and promote e-governance. The government has also launched several initiatives to promote innovation, create a skilled workforce, and support the growth of startups.
The policies of Smart Bangladesh are guided by the principles of inclusivity, transparency, and sustainability. The government is committed to ensuring that the benefits of digital transformation are accessible to all citizens, regardless of their socio-economic background. The government has also launched several initiatives to ensure that the digital infrastructure is sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Smart Bangladesh has the potential to transform Bangladesh into a modern and prosperous country. It will enhance the quality of life for its citizens, promote economic growth, and create a skilled workforce. However, the success of Smart Bangladesh depends on the government’s ability to implement its policies effectively, engage with stakeholders, and address the challenges that come with digital transformation.
Coherence and Difference Between Smart and Digital Bangladesh
Looking at contemporary times, the words ‘Smart’ and ‘Digital’ are used rather interchangeably. But they do not necessarily mean the same thing in the same context. It is true that a Smart Bangladesh will indeed be heavily reliant on digitisation. On the contrary, a Digital Bangladesh merely paves the path for a smarter Bangladesh and is one of many factors.
A concept known as “Digital Bangladesh” seeks to make Bangladesh a technologically developed nation. The underlying idea of the vision is that digital technology may be used to advance socio-economic growth in the nation and improve standards of living by 2021. The idea behind Digital Bangladesh was to use information and communication technologies (ICTs) in a variety of fields, including government, agriculture, health, and education. The main objective of Digital Bangladesh is to use ICTs to improve citizens’ quality of life, promote economic growth, and provide employment opportunities. The goals of Digital Bangladesh include creating digital infrastructure, advancing e-governance, improving human capital skills, and providing all residents with access to the Internet.
Bangladesh has made great strides in achieving the objectives of Digital Bangladesh over the past ten years. With projects like the installation of high-speed internet services and the building of the nation’s first submarine cable network, the nation has extensively invested in enhancing its digital infrastructure. The National ID Card System and the Digital Birth Registration System are two e-governance projects the government has started that have expedited public service delivery and improved transparency. An increasing number of businesses are sending their software development; IT support, and other services to Bangladesh, which has become a hotspot for the outsourcing sector. Due to this, a sizable pool of knowledgeable IT specialists was employed, aiding in the expansion of the digital economy.
The country’s creativity and entrepreneurship have increased as a result of the Digital Bangladesh project. The Bangladesh Innovation Fund, which offers cash and support for startup enterprises, is one of several initiatives the government has developed to assist entrepreneurs. The Digital Bangladesh programme has aided in raising residents’ standards of living. People received easier access to healthcare, education, and other important services because of the increased availability of information and services. Many individuals in the nation now have better economic possibilities thanks to the expansion of the digital economy, which has also led to the creation of new work opportunities.
On the other hand, an upgraded version of Digital Bangladesh, Smart Bangladesh, focuses on using new technology to raise living standards, boost sustainable development, and strengthen governance. Beyond digitalisation, Smart Bangladesh aims to build a more intelligent, interconnected, and effective society. A smart and sustainable society that benefits all residents is what Smart Bangladesh aims to build. The goals of Smart Bangladesh include building smart cities, advancing smart education, establishing a smart government, and generating a smart economy. The utilisation of technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Big Data Analytics to build a connected and intelligent environment is one of Smart Bangladesh’s core characteristics.
Future Benefits and Possibilities of Technologically Smart Bangladesh
Smart Bangladesh is an initiative that will bring numerous benefits to the country. With the help of smart technology, public services like healthcare, education, and transportation will become easily accessible, thus improving people’s quality of life. Additionally, this technology will encourage innovation, provide employment opportunities, and attract investment, leading to economic development. Smart technology can also aid in sustainable development by promoting renewable energy, reducing energy consumption, and mitigating the effects of climate change. The initiative also aims to improve governance by making government services and procedures more effective, accountable, and transparent. In short, Smart Bangladesh has the potential to bring significant positive changes to the country by utilising the benefits of smart technology.
A technologically smart Bangladesh will make it easier for people to access services like healthcare, education, and transportation. It will also fuel economic development by encouraging innovation, providing employment, and attracting investment. Smart technology can help with sustainable development by boosting renewable energy, lowering energy consumption, and reducing the effects of climate change. Good governance is another focus of Smart Bangladesh. Smart technology can improve the efficiency, accountability, and transparency of government services and procedures.
For instance, Smart cities use ICT to manage their resources efficiently and provide high-quality services to citizens. They use sensors, data analytics, and real-time monitoring to control traffic, reduce energy consumption, improve public safety, and enhance citizen quality of life. Healthcare is another area that can benefit from smart technology. “Smart healthcare” uses ICT to improve treatment standards while reducing expenses. It makes use of electronic health records, telemedicine, and mobile health software to increase access to healthcare services, reduce healthcare inequalities, and promote preventative healthcare. Smart Bangladesh can bring significant advantages for everyone by focusing on even small infrastructural details.
Explaining the 4 Pillars by a2i, Aspire to Innovate
The successful implementation of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ encouraged the government to step up the game and set a new target of building ‘SMART Bangladesh.’ An innovative and knowledge-based ‘Smart Bangladesh’ will pave the path to a developed country. Therefore, the initiative well-coincided with the government’s ‘Vision 2041.’
‘Smart’ refers to the use of cutting-edge technologies. And the purpose of using all the high-tech products in our daily lives is to transform our society from traditional to modern and improve various aspects of it. According to the government, the ‘SMART Bangladesh ecosystem will stand on four pillars- SMART Citizen, SMART Government, SMART Society, and SMART Economy.
With the first pillar, ‘Smart Citizen,’ the government emphasises the role of mass people in driving the initiative. The first and foremost thing is to empower citizens who will then push the country in the direction of ‘smartness.’ The core goal of this section is to ensure citizens implement a ‘digital first’ mindset in solving all their problems. To explain it further, the vision is to provide digital literacy as well as advanced technologies so that citizens can use those resources to bring out innovative solutions.
‘Smart Government’ indicates the potential of digitising every activity in all the priority areas. A hundred percent of paperless offices and service platforms that are hyper-personalised can ensure this shift. Only digitising sectors that are relevant to information, communication, and data is not enough to establish a ‘SMART’ government. Areas like health, education, agriculture, public security, etc., must also have digital government services that will enable the use of advanced technologies.
Creating a ‘Smart Society’ is the third pillar because society needs to be welcoming to the technologies to adapt itself accordingly. A society with resistance to accepting the transformation or a society that is underprepared for the changes that may come along with digital transformation can never be sustainable. Therefore, to ensure a civilisation that uses technology and innovation to raise the standards of living, a society must adopt digital ethics, values, and tolerance. Moreover, the reason to include a separate pillar that specifically talks about the whole society instead of individual growth is to promote inclusivity. No one shall be left behind in a ‘Smart Society.’
Finally, the ‘Smart Economy’ signifies Bangladesh’s plan of growing its ICT sector. Bangladesh wants ICT to become one of its revenue-generating pillars by 2041. Moreover, it also includes the stakeholders who will have digitisation at the core of their business cycle. Overall, it is the digital upgrading around which Bangladesh’s economy will revolve in the upcoming years.
The task of attaining these four goals has been trusted on the Aspire to Innovate, a2i program. And a2i is working towards it by making necessary digital interventions.
The Key Factors and Initiatives to Achieve the Vision
To achieve the goals set by the government, it is important to understand the role of mass people and key stakeholders. There is a critical need to simplify the process for wider and general consideration. Moreover, there should also be clarification on how the four pillars overlap and are interconnected with each other. It is a matter of relief that a2i is working towards attaining the goals while keeping all the previously mentioned factors in mind.
The Civil Service 2041 was launched this year with the support of a2i. This project formulates plans to simplify government services and assist in building ‘SMART Cities’ and ‘SMART Villages.’ Already Bangladesh’s governance process has reached a new level of digital. According to the World Bank GovTech Maturity Index (GTMI) 2022, Bangladesh has secured a place in the World Bank’s ‘GovTech Leaders’ list. The honour has been given to Bangladesh for implementing new projects to provide various government services using digital technologies and creating an ecosystem to involve citizens in receiving these services. One such service can be availed through national helplines 333 and 16122 which have started working together to provide emergency land-related services. Now, anyone can receive Khatian and land maps via post simply by calling the number 333-2. Online cause list, Judiciary Monitoring Dashboard, and MyCourt app have been launched to simplify the judicial process.
Moreover, 39 government initiatives have been designed using advanced technologies related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And about 650,000 youths have been included in the National Intelligence, Skills, Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship (NISE) platform. Through this platform, along with the joint collaboration from other organisations as well, over two lakh job opportunities have been created. E-learning platform Muktopaath has provided over 3 lacks 15 thousand online orientation training to secondary level teachers.
A2i, Aspire to Innovate also launched a network called ‘Sathi’ in collaboration with Bangladesh Bank, Financial Institutions Division, and various commercial banks. The network helps to accelerate the government’s financial inclusion program. Moreover, it has increased women’s participation in the financial sector. Another innovative project that has been launched recently is the ekShop Global project. EkShop Global is a digital haat that connects all farmers and helps to spread the products of domestic entrepreneurs across the world. Initiatives have also been taken to launch a one-stop service point that will provide emigration preparation documents and services to all Bangladeshi citizens across the country.
The National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) has taken the initiative to make the education sector more inclusive. And with that aim, it will develop and implement multimedia talking books developed by a2i. Moreover, a2i also held a seminar titled ‘Smart Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities to Build Smart Bangladesh.’ This seminar aimed at designing and formulating a master plan to make ‘Smart Bangladesh’ accessible for the country’s differently-abled citizens.
Lastly, a2i has also collaborated with relevant stakeholders to accelerate the vision of SMART Bangladesh. For instance, GrameenPhone has signed an agreement with a2i regarding the inclusion of Direct Operator Billing (DOB) as a payment method for 33 public services. This will enable convenient, fast and secured payment through mobile balance by people currently underserved by the formal banking system. A2i has also signed an MoU with Banglalink to accelerate the materialisation of the government’s Smart Bangladesh vision.
Author- Shiddhartho Zaman and Nayeema Nusrat Arora