Smart Bangladesh has received a lot of attention recently. But what should the policy framework look like for the smart country we aspire to create?
What was a dream on March 7, 1971—Independent Bangladesh—became a reality on December 16, 1971. What was a dream on December 12, 2008—Digital Bangladesh—became a reality on December 16, 2021.
The newly announced dream on December 12, 2022 – Smart Bangladesh – will also be a reality on December 16, 2041. So, officially, we are now in the era of Smart Bangladesh.
But what does this term mean?
A “smart nation” is defined as “harnessing emerging technologies, networks, and data to create tech-enabled solutions that contribute to nation-building.”
Too vague? Very techno-centric? Much detached from citizens’ benefits? Yes!
- Smart Bangladesh 2041 is a vision of a poverty-free, high income, equitable and sustainable nation taken by Awami League government just after Bangladesh got digitalized.
- It focuses on a tech-savy solution focusing on Smart Citizen, Smart Government, Smart Society and Smart Economy.
- The smart citizen pillar is about empowering the confluence towards nation-building whereas the smart government involves a gov-preneur approach by public-private partnership.
- However, the smart society aims to create an equal and empowered society. Smart Economy promotes a sustainable economic growth approach.
The big picture answer is that Smart Bangladesh 2041 will be defined by a number of characteristics. These are:
- High-income: GDP per capita of at least $12,500;
- Poverty-free: 0% extreme poverty and under 3% poverty
- Macroeconomically stable: Low inflation (4-5%), low deficits (5% of GDP), increased investment (40% of GDP), and increased tax revenue (20% of GDP)
- High human development: 100% high-school education including digital literacy, and 100% health financing for everyone while making the best use of our demographic dividend
- Sustainable urbanization: 80% urban nation with 100% electrification, majority from renewable sources
- Service at fingertips: 100% public services paperless and cashless, and at the fingertips of 100% citizens in the way they desire
Most importantly, Smart Bangladesh is all about establishing an equitable nation—equal rights, equal opportunities, with no marginalized groups.
In order to explain the four core pillars of Smart Bangladesh – Smart Citizen, Smart Government, Smart Society, Smart Economy – let me try and tell you stories of 4 Bangladeshis from 2041.
Smart Citizen: I am the solution
Sharbani Dutta is an 18-year old high-school student from Barisal. On her way to school, she is picked up in an electric, self-driven school bus, which uses a route provided by the local Smart Centre (which are an amalgamated form of Post Office 4.0 along with Union Digital Centre 5.0, and Private Sector 6.0). Due to the construction of a new flying car terminal along the route, that route has become very time consuming for the students.
Sharbani takes it upon herself to find a solution to this problem. She works with the school authority to modify the bus route by putting in different coordinates for student pickup locations, thereby shortening the bus route by an average of 12 minutes.
That is the smart youth of Smart Bangladesh. Each citizen is empowered to make positive changes and contribute to nation-building. They will no longer be looking for a solution from those in “power”, be it in the government or the private sector. Instead, much like Sharbani, they are the first to be the solution.
Smart Government: The govpreneur
Bangladesh successfully reached its goal of reducing its maternal mortality rate to 70 per 100,000 live births in 2030. But the target of reducing it to 50 per 100,000 continues to elude. Moreover, there is a strange illness that is sweeping through the country, specifically affecting pregnant women.
Sahera Banu, the DC of Tangail, does not panic. She has built up a career as someone not afraid to experiment and take bold steps with calculated risks—much like an entrepreneur. She reaches out to the top AI and IoT companies in the country, and connects them with the Upazila Health and Family Planning Officer (UHFPO).
Through an appropriate design thinking approach, high-risk pregnancies are quickly identified with low-cost, low-power, 10G-enabled wearable health bands that transmit vital diagnostic information to the clinics real-time on a 3D dashboard. Within days, the selected companies integrate their solution into the government’s Inclusive Digital Transformation Architecture, ensuring privacy protection for the pregnant women and re-prioritization of the UHFPO’s interventions to the women with the highest health risk, saving precious lives.
In this instance, Sahera Banu is what we call a govpreneur; while a government officer, she has entrepreneurial space and freedom to experiment, and being the facilitator for public-private partnerships that lead to not only solutions for citizens, but ultimately, trust in the government.
Smart Society: Leave no one behind
Ruma Chakma is a middle-aged widow from Bandarban with visual impairments. Thanks to digital currency services, she receives allowances at home through the government’s social safety net initiatives.
She also has an active social circle with whom she meets and discusses mutual interests. Ruma goes shopping for groceries, and also orders them home, drone-delivered. She enjoys stories, and interacts with her favorite Humayun Ahmed characters in the Bdverse.
Digital Bangladesh was all about being citizen-centric. Smart Bangladesh goes further—the government is completely of, for, and by the people. All people. Citizens like Ruma are an active member of society, just like you and me. She leads an everyday life, and is able to do everything you and I could.
This change will be what we call an ultimate demand side response. The concept of “leave no one behind” is often misunderstood. It isn’t providing relief to those in need—the disabled, the marginalized, the minority. The idea is empowering them with a life where they no longer identify as such. It is a society that does not need tolerance, because everyone truly is equal.
Smart Economy: My village my town
Kajira Begum runs a small fabric shop in Moulvibazar, and employs four other women. Every day, she takes risks, makes decisions, fends off threats, monitors her business. She provides support to her children, her elderly parents, her employees, and her community.
What she also does is use AI to write copies and post ads. She uses voice-assisted software to calculate her inventory and do her accounting—in her local dialect. She uses the 3D printing facility at her local Smart Centre to print accessories for her fabrics. Her website uses an AI supported voice-bot to answer customer questions, one shared by a million CMSMEs like herself, provided by Smart SME Foundation.
If a smart society is an inclusive society that leaves no one behind, then a smart economy does the same for businesses. Small business owners like Kajira Begum are no longer deprived of facilities associated with big cities. She has no reason to leave her village to seek greener pastures. Everything she requires to operate a business is within reach.
Smart Bangladesh: The Ultimate Goal
The four stories will happen in 2041. While 18 years seems far away now, much like 2021, 2041 will arrive in the blink of an eye—and we must be ready for it, all hands on deck.
Achieving Smart Bangladesh will not be simple—but much like the birth of our nation and achievement of Digital Bangladesh, it must be done. And perhaps it must be done against ridicule of naysayers, negative forces of the vested interest groups who benefit from the status quo. This will not happen overnight—it is a step by step, daily process that will take us there, beyond having that singular goal and the will to achieve it.
In that process are four core tenets:
- Alignment (of aspirations and ambitions): Each and every Bangladeshi has aspirations and ambitions for the country. We must align all of that into a cohesive, national target for Smart Bangladesh.
- Preparation (across all stakeholders): Each and every stakeholder–the government, private sector, civil society, academia, media, and most importantly, each and every individual–must have appropriate capacity development and be prepared to take our nation to the next level.
- Coordination (to break silos): There can be no silos across stakeholder groups. Preparation must be seamlessly connected overcoming bottlenecks.
- Execution (that is measured): We cannot stop at the planning stage. Measured, identifiable execution must happen at the end of every year.
Four pillars that form the foundation. Four tenets to support those pillars. Let’s create Smart Bangladesh, our Shonar Bangla.
Image by vectorpouch on Freepik