When you think about a smart country, places like Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Germany and Dubai pop-up in your head. Words like seamlessness, paperless, efficiency, disruption, futuristic, new-tech, powerful and intelligence get associated with smart policymaking. In 2022, Bangladesh declared that it wants to join the ‘smart countries’ club in a 20-year span. The country’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina took charge of the decision and unveiled her vision with a teaser of the development path till 2041.
Hasina’s ‘Smart Bangladesh’ didn’t come out of thin air. Her administration basically tweaked her previously announced ‘Vision 2041’ (a socio-economic plan to make Bangladesh an advanced economy) and an injected the smart-agenda into it. A forward-thinking nudge in policymaking never hurt anyone.
Digital to Smart
Hasina administration’s smart country plan will be based on the previously successfully implemented ‘Digital Bangladesh’ plan. Digital Bangladesh was initiated in policy agenda in 2009 to digitalise Bangladesh, which was previously running largely manual. First, they digitalized most public services and they swiftly implemented a plan to touch every person’s life with digital tools, especially in the hard-to-reach rural areas. This contributed to a massive change in quality of life in a span of 14 years.
Interestingly, today, many naysayers of the ‘digitalisation’ policy find it tough to deny the benefits of Digital Bangladesh scheme. The country made immense strides in a number of sectors such as telecommunication, internet connectivity, digital services, digital finance and e-commerce. Riding on the successes of the first phase of digitization, Hasina now inspires Bangladeshis to embark on a new journey to smartness. Her call is set to be challenging.
Throughout 2010s, Hasina’s administration fulfilled most of the promises of its Digital Bangladesh policy agenda. The government has digitized most services. Out of 170 million people, 130 have a stable internet connection. There are more than 188 million subscribers of mobile financial services (MFS). During the covid-19 pandemic, the digitalization-success played a key role in ensuring service continuity in healthcare, education, commerce, and social safety net payments. Now the smart-agenda promises greater opportunities to create an open, inclusive and knowledge-technology-driven society.
Key features of Smart Bangladesh
- In Smart Bangladesh:
- The per capita income will be at least $12,500,
- Less than 3% of people will be below the poverty line and
- Extreme poverty will be reduced to 0.
Smart Bangladesh has four core elements
- Smart Citizen,
- Smart Government,
- Smart Society, and
- Smart Economy.
Being in Smart Bangladesh
- Smart Bangladesh will focus on four key areas: connectivity, e-governance, innovation and human resource development.
- Smart Bangladesh will foster equitable progress where technology will play the role of key enabler. The use of Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics and Big Data Analytics will transform the tech ecosystem.
- Smart Bangladesh also emphasizes the use of renewable energy, waste management, and efficient transportation to create a sustainable environment.
- Smart Bangladesh aims to provide affordable, accessible, customer-centric, paperless and cashless public services.
Small population pockets in Bangladesh still remain outside the digital coverage. The country wants to bridge the digital divide in all sectors. In the move towards Smart Bangladesh, the government will lead from the front. It will launch a last-mile campaign to deliver the benefits of a tech-enabled smart economy and society. A policy of developing the country’s villages with city-like modern facilities is already underway.
The new vision is to create smart citizens for a smart nation. Technology as well as human skills will empower the citizens. They will grow up as problem solvers who would not rely on any superior authority for solutions. It envisions a progressive society where all the members will reap the benefit of inclusivity. The society will encourage its members to be innovators. “No one behind” mantra will guide policymaking.
Bangladesh has a youth bulge. Today’s youth will be groomed as smart citizens to advance the country in the future. Smart Bangladesh will create opportunities for the young generations to be the driving force. 4IR is already underway where Artificial Intelligence has started reshaping the landscape. The youth have to be prepared to adopt advanced skills and an entrepreneurial mindset. Bangladesh’s smart-agenda is being shaped by the dynamism of its youth.