As the nation strives with resilience and pride to continue its journey towards sustainable development amid the pandemic, Bangladesh has been laurelled with LDC graduation. The recommendation came from the United Nation’s Committee for Development Policy (UN CDP) on February 26, 2021. The news has undoubtedly glorified the development efforts made by the people of Bangladesh, as this year we are celebrating the golden jubilee of our independence.
To exit the LDC group, Bangladesh progressively fulfilled all three criteria, demonstrating its improvement in per capita gross national income (GNI), human assets index (HAI) and economic vulnerability (EVI) index. The exit is expected to be final by the next five years, that is, up to 2026. For now, Bangladesh has been lauded by the global community for the addition of another feather in its cap.Although the LDC graduation reflects substantial socio-economic advancement of Bangladesh, however experts and specialists perceive that the LDC exit will affect the nation in varying ways, both in scope and scale. These possible implications are connected to the specific trade agreements with World Trade Organization (WTO), diminishing market access privileges in international trade and development support measures. However, with the enhanced national image, better investment climate and creditworthiness, these constraints can be turned into opportunities.
Keeping this in mind, we should underline the need for inclusive development by ensuring investment growth, employment generation and reducing income inequality. Above all, considering the current situation of the country, we need to enhance the productive capacity of our people, which should be the focal point of all development endeavours. Gradually, building a skilled workforce, capable to meet the national and global market demand, will aid in transforming the labour-intensive economy of Bangladesh into a "knowledge economy" (Powell & Snellman, 2004).
Knowledge-based economy recognizes the importance of human capital and skills that develops and promotes the service economy. Additionally, the knowledge economy is connected to (i) an information economy, that emphasizes the significance of information as non-physical capital, and (ii) a digital economy, that represents the extent to which the proliferation of information technology facilitates trade and investments (Houghton & Sheehan, 2000).
The rise of emerging Asian nations in the global landscape reminds us that the most distinctive feature of an economic system is the growth in human capital (Schultz, 1961). Higher education is one of the most significant tools for providing opportunities for human asset development and furthering the economic progress of a nation. Nevertheless, it should be assured that our promising youth are developed as productive human resources by getting proper access to education. The country has demonstrated remarkable progress in the tertiary education sector, by reaching up to a gross enrolment ratio of 24% in 2020 from a 5.6% in 2000 (World Bank, 2020). However, a holistic transformation in the education sector must take place to cope up with the competitive environment and market dynamics arising from the fourth industrial revolution.
According to the estimates by United Nations and other relevant sources, out of a population of 160 million in Bangladesh, around 48 per cent are below the age of 24. This indicates a stunning picture of our potential human resources that are of great significance to uphold and sustain the rapid growth in the national and international context. Thus, on the way to LDC graduation and beyond, the wealth and strength of our country lie in its youth community. With the 'Digital Bangladesh' vision, this is high time to train the flourishing youth of Bangladesh with the right opportunities to pursue productive digital ventures.
Therefore, finding a balance between technology integration and investments in human capital will be critical to improving national productivity. At present, Bangladesh Government’s expenditure on education remains less than 2 per cent of the GDP (UNESCO, 2020). Against this backdrop, much has to be done to upgrade the education policy and practices towards building a knowledge economy. Besides, we need to revitalize the promotion of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) alongside mainstream tertiary education to nurture and sustain our human assets.As the nation embarks on the LDC transition journey, it is high time for the policymakers to strategize the action plans towards developing Bangladesh as a knowledge economy.
l Investment in innovative initiatives to sustain economic growth – Investment in innovation and infrastructure are critical drivers of economic growth. Nevertheless, the public sector must consider citizens’ needs at the core of innovative initiatives. During the years of transition for Bangladesh’s LDC graduation, dynamic and diversified investment options should be encouraged to deal with the constrained trade preferences and privileges. In this regard, we need to adopt vigilantly crafted strategies to avail appropriate international support and technical assistance required to overcome the challenges posed by the graduation.
l Upholding Strategic interests, inclusive of socio-economic and environmental welfare - The policy frameworks and directives initiated by the government should be devised in coherence with the national, regional and global connectivity plans. In this regard, our strategic and socio-economic policy directives for the upcoming years must be aligned with the forthcoming Eighth Five Year Plan (2021-25), the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) and the Perspective Plan (2021-41). Additionally, Bangladesh has to maintain a vigilant role in regional interventions, such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). Therefore, a holistic approach is indispensable for the LDC graduation of Bangladesh to be consolidated and sustained.
l ICT & institutional capacity development - Digital governance and institutional capacity building need to be prioritized to make the economic advancement meaningful for the people of Bangladesh. The world economic forum reveals that by 2030, Bangladesh is projected to become the 24th largest economy in the world. The key factor behind this growth lies in the utilization of ICT to accelerate growth in all sectors. Indeed, infrastructure and digitization, both are crucial for growing economies like us, as part of our development efforts. In this regard, the public and private sectors have already initiated the needed measures to adopt smart technology usage for driving a digital transformation.
With LDC graduation, Bangladesh needs to sustain the development endeavours and for that, a proactive and resilient plan of action should be employed. Here the commitment and engagement of multilateral stakeholders including policymakers, international development partners, private sector actors, knowledge community and academia need to be ensured, to make the best out of the LDC exit process and digital transformation opportunities.
It is worth mentioning that although the power of technology is overwhelming, indeed it is human intelligence, which will be one of the most valuable assets for emerging economies like Bangladesh. That is why, we need to realize the potential of knowledge management to support and uphold Bangladesh’s transformation to a digital economy by 2021, and thereafter a knowledge economy by 2041. The stakes are high, challenges lie ahead in this journey, but we, the people of Bangladesh are committed, resilient and ambitious to reach the summit of our potential.
The writer is a Deputy Director (Research), Centre for Higher Studies and Research, Bangladesh University of Professionals. Email: [email protected]