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Out Of The Box: The Idea of Smart Bangladesh

  • Dr. Rashid Askari
  • 25th December, 2022 09:17:45 AM
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Out Of The Box: The Idea of Smart Bangladesh

Sheikh Hasina never ceases to amaze. Our smart Prime Minister is a true visionary. She has established a legacy of political innovation unmatched by any other politician of the country. She has raised Bangladesh from the abyss of basket case to the dizzy heights of a digital nation by her smart leadership skill and effective planning which worked wonders. And on the road to development she has lots of feathers in her cap. Her government has their own development roadmap that begins with outlining a vision and realising it through a carefully crafted plan of action. This has been exemplified in the successful completion of Vision 2021—Digital Bangladesh.

December is the month of victory for us, the Bengali. We won the decisive victory on December 16, 1971 that changed the course of our history. On December 12, 2008, Sheikh Hasina set forth her journey towards Digital Bangladesh-Vision 2021. After14 years, again on December 12, 2022, she announced her government’s vision to create a ‘Smart Bangladesh’. Smart Bangladesh! It sounds infinitely seductive and rings true to the people. While celebrating the Digital Bangladesh Day 2022 and unveiling an ICT and incubation centre, a high-tech park and a digital museum she declared, “We will make Bangladesh a developed one by 2041, and that will be Smart Bangladesh.” What she means by ‘Smart Bangladesh’ is all too obvious. She also briefly elaborates on this. In this era of the fastest growing technology, everything should be involved with emerging technologies and we need to exploit existing technologies more fully. This is not however a new vision different from the ongoing Vision 2041. It is rather an advanced-technology-inclusive development mantra which gives fresh momentum to the campaign of implementing ‘Vision 2041’. A journey to Smart Bangladesh is the herald of a knowledge-based economy and innovative society. A transformation from Digital Bangladesh to Smart Bangladesh—from Vision 2021 to Vision 2041—from digital economy to knowledge economy. Hasina wants to attribute the success of her plans to the continued support of the people of Bangladesh and refers to the youth of Bangladesh as the ‘soldiers of 2041’ who, she hopes, will prepare themselves as smart citizens and will turn the country into ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by 2041.

As a leader Sheikh Hasina is socially, politically, culturally and environmentally conscious. She is well aware of the mind-blowing miracles to be performed by the unprecedentedly high technological advancement in this day and age in the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), Autonomous Vehicles, 3-D Printing, Nanotechnology, and Quantum Computing which have revolutionized our lives on this planet. In the circumstances, a country must be getting smart about how to make use of the most modern technologies. In this era of new technology only a technologically advanced country deserves chance of survival.

The idea of ‘Smart Bangladesh’ is an advanced stage of development of ‘Digital Bangladesh’, a march of progress in our national development. This is in fact the brainchild of Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the premier’s son and ICT advisor. While Bangabandhu created Independent Bangladesh and put it on the map and Sheikh Hasina became its Development Queen, Joy is envisioning a technology-based society to survive the impending digital disruptions caused by 4IR which has been at the top of the global agenda over the last decade. Joy has brought to Bangladesh the Silicon Valley spirit—high technology, innovation, venture capital and social media and successfully applied them to the implementation of the vision of Digital Bangladesh.

The idea of ‘Smart Bangladesh’ is premised upon four pillars i.e. making smart citizens, ensuring a smart government, running a smart economy, and creating a smart society. A smart citizen means ICT-enabled citizens and developed human resources. With a view to creating smart citizens Bangladesh is committed to ensuring one hundred percent internet connectivity. At a conservative estimate, about 50 million social media users and 165 million mobile subscribers have made the country the fifth largest mobile market in Asia and Pacific and the ninth largest in the world. Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Ltd (BSCCL) has been able to connect the people of Bangladesh to the ‘Information Super Highway’ by providing high capacity fibre optic submarine cable bandwidth and the most advanced internet transit facilities. It is exciting to know that Bangladesh is on the verge of linking up with the third submarine cable by which we will be able to use 12 terabytes of internet bandwidth and turn ourselves into smart citizens.

We have also achieved a significant breakthrough in E-governance which has been recognised by World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).  About 6,000 digital centres have been established across the country to provide more than 600 digital services to citizens and the issue of the digital divide is being properly addressed. The practice of e-governance can be further improved by effective application of communication and information technology for providing government services, exchange of information, transactions, integration of previously existing services and information portals. It will make the whole administrative process convenient, efficient, transparent, and accountable and thereby help make a smart government.

Bangladesh has taken numerous initiatives to build a smart economy by creating skilled and digital-ready workforce and technology-supported  trade and commerce. More than five lakh graduates are being produced every year out of which about seventy-five thousand are trained as Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) professionals. According to the Oxford Internet Institute, Bangladesh has the second largest pool of online workers in the world. Nearly 650,000 freelancers are earning about 500 million US dollars from the outsourcing sector. With profits at healthy levels, our ICT industry is sitting pretty. 166 local and foreign companies have launched business activities in 9 of the 39 hi-tech or IT parks built across the country with an investment of one thousand and five hundred crore BDT.  More than twenty thousand people have been in paid employment while thirty-two thousand skilled workers have been included in the pool of manpower. Besides, twenty lakh new jobs have been created in the ICT sector and eleven thousand women have received training through the women empowerment project. The fastest growing ICT industry is providing people with financial, telecommunication and healthcare services.

Mention may be made here that Sajeeb Wazed Joy contributes a great deal to our smart economy. Our ICT industry is thriving under his leadership. Over the last decade Bangladesh has made a major breakthrough in technological advancement which includes the increasing number of mobile phone and internet users, digital access to public services, mobile banking and ICT exports. Currently, more than 120 companies in Bangladesh are exporting ICT products worth nearly $1.3 billion to 35 countries and it is expected to rise to $5 billion by 2025. The government is committed to offering large-scale ICT-based employment (3 million), ensuring a hundred percent of online services, establishing 300 more Schools of Future, 190,000 Wi-Fi connections, and 25,000 digital labs. The sustained growth of the ICT Industry will make a substantial contribution to Bangladesh’s transformation into a smart economy by 2041.

The fourth pillar of Smart Bangladesh is the creation of a smart society which means a transformation from the information society to a knowledge society. We have achieved the basic attributes of an information society through our pursuit of the vision of Digital Bangladesh. Now it is time to acquire capabilities through a life-long learning process, to identify, produce, process, transform, disseminate and use information to create and apply knowledge for human development. This calls for a powerful social vision that includes cultural pluralism, social and political integrity and civil partnership. This well defines a smart society and Bangladesh is after it.

With a view to implementing Smart Bangladesh 2041, the government has adopted 14 action plans. As the vision of Digital Bangladesh has ensured digital education, digital healthcare, digital agriculture and the like, similarly the essential ingredients of Smart Bangladesh will be smart education, smart healthcare, smart agriculture, smart trade, smart transportation and smart management policies. The enduring legacy of technology-based development bequeathed by the successful completion of Digital Bangladesh should be the guiding force of Smart Bangladesh which marks a quantum leap forward in the development of Bangladesh. If we want to meet the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and make the best use of our demographic dividend, we have to go by Sheikh Hasina’s recipe for ‘Smart Bangladesh’ and her far-reaching plans to shape and reshape the future of Bangladesh.

Dr. Rashid Askari is a Freethinking writer, academic and translator. Email: [email protected]

Source: Sun Editorial