Smart Bangladesh: The next transformative leap


Published on April 3, 2024
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People place their trust in leaders who inspire them with a vision of a promising future. Garry Wills, a renowned US professor who has conducted extensive research on leadership, aptly stated, "Leaders have a vision, followers respond to it."

If we analyse the political history of Bangladesh, we find that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, following in the footsteps of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, embodies visionary leadership. She has articulated a compelling vision for a Digital Bangladesh, captivating the aspirations of the nation.

This vision served as a profound source of inspiration for the populace, especially the youngsters, igniting their trust in her leadership. With her exceptional expertise, unwavering efficiency, and magical charisma she has guided the people towards the goal of achieving the vision of Digital Bangladesh in just a single era.

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Through her leadership, she set a glorious example of how dedication and visionary thinking can transform a nation's landscape in a short span of time.

It is also undeniable that Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the honourable Prime Minister's ICT Affairs Adviser, played an indispensable role in achieving remarkable success in building Digital Bangladesh through his insightful instructions, invaluable guidance, and meticulous supervision.

After the successful implementation of Digital Bangladesh, the honourable Prime Minister has unveiled another visionary initiative, Smart Bangladesh, with the aim of creating an innovative, intelligent, and knowledge-based society.

It goes without saying that the achievements and capabilities demonstrated in building Digital Bangladesh have served as a powerful source of inspiration for the announcement of this ambitious Smart Bangladesh.

Before I describe the Smart Bangladesh 2041 vision, I would like to briefly mention how Digital Bangladesh has become a shining example of success, by efficiently delivering services to its citizens. It has already been demonstrated that Digital Bangladesh is a tremendous boon for the nation.

ICT has been seamlessly integrated into the daily lives of its citizens. While numerous countries, both developed and developing, witnessed a slowdown in activities related to livelihood due to Covid-19 pandemic starting in early 2020, Bangladesh managed to sustain its crucial operations through the effective utilisation of ICT.

Just think about the situation fourteen years ago. In a remote village, a resident had to make frequent trips to the town to access both public and private services, enduring long queues and contending with the looming presence of brokers or middlemen. The villagers with relatives abroad also made arduous trips to the town to connect with their loved ones via telephone.

Attempting to bridge the gap with more technologically advanced countries during a time when most people had yet to embrace mobile phones or grasp the concept of the internet appeared to be a luxury.

It was during this period that the journey towards the realisation of Digital Bangladesh commenced, driven by the pressing need to bridge these divides and bring the benefits of technology to every corner of the nation.

The Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who dreamt of building a prosperous Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal), continues to inspire us on this transformative journey.

The far-sighted leader, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is known for prudent decision-making, unveiled the Smart Bangladesh 2041 vision on December 12, 2022, coinciding with the same day she announced the Digital Bangladesh vision back in 2008.

While addressing a press conference at Ganabhban on 15 May 2023, she explicitly conveyed to the media that the concept of Smart Bangladesh would be embedded as a political commitment in the Awami League's election manifesto.

Furthermore, she outlined that Smart Bangladesh would be constructed upon four fundamental pillars - Smart Citizen, Smart Economy, Smart Government, and Smart Society. The announcement of building Smart Bangladesh made by the prime minister has ignited a similar level of enthusiasm among the people, as was seen during the announcement of Digital Bangladesh.

Following the unveiling of the Smart Bangladesh vision, the government, under the leadership and oversight of Sajeeb Wazed Joy, promptly initiated the process of crafting a comprehensive master plan. Concurrently, they began executing various programmes aligned with the four core pillars of Smart Bangladesh.

A question may arise regarding the significance of Smart Bangladesh. In a nutshell, Smart Bangladesh aims to enhance the efficiency of activities across all sectors, including economy, agriculture, healthcare, education, and transportation, through the utilisation of cutting-edge technologies.

The citizen will be equipped with digital literacy skills to adeptly utilise digital devices and access services with greater efficiency. As you are aware, the journey towards realising Digital Bangladesh commenced 14 years back with a bottom-up approach.

Consequently, even rural residents have been getting services through the Union Digital Centers (UDCs) and have embraced technological devices. In the context of Smart Bangladesh, the government is strategising to digitise all government services, aiming to achieve a 100% service accessibility rate.

The dream of a Smart Bangladesh will be realised based on four core pillars: `Smart Citizen,' `Smart Economy, ' ' Smart Government,' and `Smart Society'.

Smart Bangladesh is about being inclusive—about the people, the citizens of Bangladesh. It is also about bridging the digital divide, by innovating and scaling sustainable digital solutions that all citizens, regardless of their socio-economic background, and all businesses, regardless of their size, can benefit from.

The implementation plan is being designed for a short-, mid-, and long-term timeframes. What do we want to achieve by implementing the four pillars?

In the case of smart citizen, every citizen would be smart and skilled in Smart Bangladesh. He/she would be empowered with intelligence, innovation, creativity, and a forward-thinking mindset.

Citizens' access to public services will be provided using a universal ID. In a smart economy, the main characteristic is to build a knowledge-based economy where productivity is increased through innovation.

This approach aims to raise per capita income to $12,500 and reduce the poverty rate to zero. The economy would be characterised as cashless, circular, research- and innovation-oriented, and knowledge-based. The goal is to develop 50 unicorn startups (each worth $1 billion) by 2041.

Frontier technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, big data, and drones, would be employed in sectors like agriculture, health, and education, with the objective of ensuring that ICT contributes 20% to the GDP.

In smart government, the focus is on a citizen-centric approach, emphasising transparency and accountability. Paperless communication and services, data-driven decision-making, and seamless interoperability of services by government agencies are the pillars of this transformation. Through these changes, government processes become more efficient and accessible to the public, ensuring a better governance experience.

The synergy of smart citizen, smart economy and smart government paves the way for a smart society. This society thrives on a combination of inclusivity, sustainability, equity, and justice. It embodies tolerance and cultural enrichment, ensuring the safety and well-being of its citizens.

Digital Bangladesh has created a strong foundation for moving forward towards Smart Bangladesh. In the enriched Smart Bangladesh vision, Bangladesh is not only smart in terms of technology, but also smart in terms of the empowerment and well-being of its citizens, fostering a brighter future.

The government has already implemented various programmes in line with its Smart Bangladesh vision, which will be the next major step towards realising Bangabandhu's dream of Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal) by 2041.

Writer: Zunaid Ahmed Palak; State Minister for Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology.

Courtesy: The Business Standard