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Dhaka Tribune

Empowering Bangladesh: A journey to zero digital divide

Bangladesh is moving forward as a nation that wants to create an example for other developing nations that aspire to digitize

Update : 14 Nov 2023, 04:22 PM

The digital revolution is currently reshaping economies, and nations that adopt these technologies the best also observe substantial increases in productivity and efficiency. Recognizing this, Bangladesh has also looked to initiate initiatives to enhance the digital literacy of its citizens.

Recent evidence has left little doubt regarding Bangladesh's remarkable economic progress, with many economic experts suggesting that it is poised to be a “tiger economy.” A study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) reinforces this perspective, indicating that Bangladesh, now the 34th largest economy, is set to ascend to the 20th spot by 2037. 

This swift progression, while laudatory, is only the start and compels a more profound understanding. By now, we have seen and heard that by 2041, we want to take the progress Bangladesh is already achieving to an even greater height. 

Digitization at the core of progress

And at the core of this paradigm shift lies Bangladesh's calculated prioritization of digital expansion. This expansion has been as a result of the government’s emphasis on simplifying public service delivery and overall ICT in general, whether that be training the ever-increasing number of freelancers and giving them adequate opportunities or providing public services to all people through national portals, thereby saving the people time, cost, and the number of visits required to avail services. 

Bangladesh has also initiated an unprecedented transition towards building a cashless society in recent times, adopting mobile banking and digital payment systems as the primary means of conducting financial transactions. In addition to improving the economic climate of the country, this revolutionary shift has also enhanced the quality of life for millions of its inhabitants. 

Despite initial challenges regarding digital literacy, the country has made significant progress; now, FinLab and other initiatives are helping more than 18 million people benefit from the digital revolution.

A mere 100,000 individuals were beneficiaries of FinLab and its affiliated services in 2017. Presently, that figure has exponentially increased to 18 million, serving as evidence of the Bangladeshi populace's swift embrace of mobile banking and digital payment systems. 

The remarkable expansion observed can be attributed to the effective cooperation of over 20 government agencies, which operated in sync to facilitate and expedite the transition process.

Since the fiscal year 2022–23, transactions involving these digital channels have totaled nearly Tk 1.3 crore, resulting in an astounding 80% decrease in physical visits to government offices and a remarkable 58% reduction in processing time. 

This significant transition has mitigated the hardships experienced by individuals who were previously required to make daily trips to government offices to obtain financial incentives from a variety of social safety net programs. At present, this digital initiative is benefiting individuals of all religions and ethnicities, marginalized communities, and those with disabilities.

The dedication of Bangladesh to promote financial inclusion transcends governmental assistance. Additionally, the nation offers freelancers the chance to earn a livelihood according to their own conditions. According to Zunaid Ahmed Palak, the state minister for information and communication technology (ICT), the present number of freelancers in Bangladesh stands at 650,000. Their combined annual revenue amounts to an $ 1 billion.

The “Learning and Earning Development Project” initiative has provided 53,000 young people with various IT-related training programs since 2014, enabling them to seize the opportunities presented by the digital world. 

This endeavour represents a substantial deviation from the notion that digital literacy is superfluous, thereby demonstrating the progress that Bangladesh has made in its efforts to foster digital inclusion.

Around 30,000 freelancers have been provided with smart credentials, which facilitate their access to bank loan facilities, in addition to receiving training. In addition, smart card holders are eligible for a 4% incentive on foreign currency transfers through the domestic financial system. This phenomenon not only stimulates the influx of remittances into Bangladesh but also fosters freelancers' financial stability.

The process by which Bangladesh has made significant progress in digital inclusion and is on its way towards building a cashless society is an illuminating model for nations across the globe. Notwithstanding early obstacles, the country has effectively utilized digital technology to enhance the quality of life for its populace. 

The collaboration of government organizations, the emergence of freelancers, and the prioritization of digital literacy have all had a significant impact on this transformation process.

Government services evolving

Prominent examples of the government's dedication to modernizing the nation and improving its technological efficacy include the implementation of the myGov application, which provides access to over 2000 public services from a variety of government agencies; this unified platform streamlines operations and shortens processing times.

Moreover, the national portal has expanded its reach to more than 50,000+ government offices, furnishing policymakers with an indispensable instrument to facilitate better-informed decision-making. 

All of this represents a significant advancement in the continuous pursuit to improve the availability and effectiveness of public services in Bangladesh. And the numbers tell the story; till now, 2.3 million myGov mobile apps have been downloaded, 30 million visits per month to the national web portal have been generated, and 7–10 million services per month have been provided by digital centres to all the people across the country, where often, it is those in remote and rural parts of Bangladesh that are most benefited. These numbers speak to the volume of advancement that Bangladesh has made so far in recent years.

This journey and its changes did not come in a day. The journey started in 2010 with the introduction of the Digital Centre's facilities to citizens. From offering just 10 services in 2007, these centres now provide over 200+ services, challenging norms and promoting digital acceptance. 

The increase in digital literacy empowers individuals, while a rural digital access ecosystem proved crucial during the Covid-19 pandemic. The commitment to digital integration has enabled effective adaptation, setting the path for Bangladesh's digital future.

Going global with digitization

Bangladesh is working in the global context as well. With the inclusion of the e-quality Centre, Bangladesh wants to make sure that there is zero digital divide all around the world and help other countries in the Global South adapt to the digitization process, especially those who have not matured in their own journey of digitization. 

Because in this era of globalization, it is essential that we all function as one to achieve something bigger. Currently, Bangladesh is working with countries like São Tomé and Príncipe, Uganda, Somalia, etc with this initiative and has proposed International ICT Innovation (i3) funds to support least developed countries (LDCs) in piloting digital solutions and bridge the gap of digitalization.

Bangladesh's commitment to driving financial inclusion and technological advancement will produce even more remarkable results in the years to come. The country's ability to adapt in the digital age highlights how crucial it is to embrace technology to raise everyone's standard of living. Bangladesh's history serves as an example of the limitless possibilities presented by the digital revolution.

Through training, bank funding, and digital payment methods, the country is promoting opportunities for all. This includes disabled people who are actively engaged in the economy and overcoming barriers to become self-sufficient, as well as female entrepreneurs. 

Together with its commitment towards building a Smart Bangladesh, as well as being a role model for other LDCs looking to digitize by leaving no one behind, the next two decades promise to be exciting and challenging for Bangladesh, where it can finally become a prosperous, innovative, and equitable Bangladesh. 

 

Purabi Matin is the Head of Culture & Communications, a2i. Basudev Paul is HD Media Coordinator, a2i. Rawnak Zarin is a Young Professional (Culture & Communications Team), a2i.

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