It was not too long ago when Bangladesh—a South Asian country with a population over 160 million was ridiculed on the world stage. However, that is now history as Bangladesh has made remarkable socio-economic progress—a fact acknowledged by Amartya Sen. Bangladesh’s development model has managed to gain respect on the world stage.

While much credit was given to non-government organizations for socio-economic progress by Western scholars, it is a fact that socio-economic progress of any developing southern country like Bangladesh is heavily dependent upon progressive government policies as successful application of non-government programs are dependent upon a non-despotic government vision for development.

Despite Bangladesh’s progress, the country was stifled by political violence, terrorist attacks and climate change-for which the country is paying the price as a result of the luxurious lifestyles and development of other nation-states.

 Bangladesh is Aiming to Lead South Asian Government Innovation

South Asian Government Innovation

However, these challenges have not been able to hold Bangladesh back. Rather the country had turned challenges into opportunity. Under the visionary leadership of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister the country now is being held as a model for climate change in the world and the United Nations has awarded the Prime Minister a UN Environment Prize of Leadership on climate change.

Once at the receiving end of the Western model of development, the country is now aiming to assert leadership by fostering new ideas of government innovation and has taken steps to transfer its knowledge to other Southern countries.

There are few aspects of government innovation in Bangladesh that deserve wider attention. Firstly, the country has undertaken an empathy driven public service reform. This empathy-driven methodology arranges training for mid-level civil servants working in the field and dealing with citizens on a daily basis. The participants act as ‘secret shoppers’ and visit citizens’ access points for services outside their agency or area of expertise. This truly places them in citizens’ shoes since they are forced to navigate the public systems without an official nor privileges. This experience helps participants develop both a critical eye that they use to scrutinize their own agency’s delivery systems and a sense that it is indeed possible to make the necessary changes because rules don’t forbid them, their fears do.

Secondly, Bangladeshi public service is simplifying its methods of service delivery under the model of ‘Service Process Simplification,’ or SPS. SPS helped government officials analyze and redesign workflows within and between ministries in order to optimize end-to-end processes and automate non-value-added tasks. It empowered them to fundamentally rethink how they do their work in order to dramatically improve the quality of services, cut operational costs and reduce time cost and enhance value for their citizen clients. A true testament of the effectiveness of the SPS methodology is the fact that more than half of the 600 innovation pilots launched by civil servants in Bangladesh don’t use ICTs at all! But all of them simplify service delivery processes. On an average, time to receive services has been reduced by 85%, cost by 63% and the number of visits by 40%. A study of 23 services over a period of 6 years reveals that simplification and digitization saved citizens over half a billion dollars

Thirdly, the government of Bangladesh is enabling the whole-of-society to innovate through a Public Service Innovation Fund which helps innovators in Bangladesh who face a few common challenges such as, lack of funds to develop complete prototypes and testing the efficacy of prototypes with real users or beneficiaries.

The Service Innovation Fund (SIF) was designed to address these challenges. It provides seed funds and incubates cost-effective, user-centric, home-grown innovations to solve some of the most important problems affecting underserved communities. To date, SIF has attracted 3,000+ innovative proposals, using an online platform called ‘Idea Bank’ and granted over a quarter million dollars to government agencies, development organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academic institutions, private companies and even individuals.

*Anir Chowdhury is a Policy Adviser at the Prime Minister’s office

Originally published in the US based International Policy Digest