The digital financial sector saw an unprecedented surge during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the lockdown that nearly ceased all economic activities. Perhaps a blessing in disguise, the situation created a sense of urgency to develop contactless financial services through effective collaboration between the government and financial institutions.
The marginalised population, mostly living in rural Bangladesh, particularly women and poor adults, have significantly benefited from this digital financial transformation that the Bangladesh government has accomplished.
Rural Branchless Banking and Fintech Services were game changers. Mobile Financial Services (MFS) have lowered the cost of transaction and increased the number of mobile money transactions. The govt disbursed TK1.27 billion as a financial incentive to the affected 2.5 million poor people who suffered a financial crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each beneficiary received TK5000 directly to their mobile numbers.
Digital Centre, a2i’s (Aspire to Innovate) signature initiative supervised by the Cabinet Division has played a significant role in this digital financial transformation. The one-stop digital solution shop-like centres are located at the most decentralised level of administration.
A big portion of the financial aid during the pandemic was distributed through this centre. Even before the pandemic, Digital Centres were the go-to place for rural citizens to avail public services that can be done online.
The 8805+ Digital Centres established till now have created more than 16,500 Digital Centre Entrepreneurs, of whom roughly 5,000 are women – who are well versed with modern tech, including laptops, digital cameras, scanners, printers, projectors, modems, IPS, UPS and the photostat machine.
It is a citizen-centric, bottom-up strategy for a one-stop service of reducing time, costs and visits (TCV) for availing public service, citizen information, and e-government web portals, by simplifying the service process (SSP).
Along with helping citizens with all digital public services, Digital Centres provide mobile financial services, agent banking, insurance, computer and vocational training. In the last twelve years, Digital Centres have provided 680+ million services, saved 1.68 billion work hours, saved money worth USD 8 billion of citizens, and the 16500+ entrepreneurs combined have so far earned USD 60 million.
Digital Centres are not restricted to providing government services but run under the Private Public Partnership (PPP) modality, using the micro-enterprise model. Research by Copenhagen Consensus & BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) indicates that each taka spent behind Digital Centre generates a double return to society through the social safety net program (SSNP), online birth registration, and exam registration.
Digital Centres are enhancing socio-economic development in terms of better access to information through efficient public service governance and diversification of economic activities. Opaqueness and obstacles to public service have been eliminated. E-governance and digitalisation of service is being ensured in a more transparent, accountable and inclusive manner to the final tier of administration (Union Parishad).
Socially disadvantaged communities are getting computer training, document printing, internet, and paying utility bills through Digital Centres. Through the utilisation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), marginally unprivileged people are interacting and getting services of Government to Citizens (G2C), Government to Government (G2G) and Government to Business (G2B), as well as the back process of services at a single access point.
Digital Centres have become the hub of agent banking where setting up a bank branch was not economically feasible. It reached the pro-poor community and made the financial and banking service available to the unbanked rural population by improving their quality of life.
Apart from this, Digital Centres flourished potentiality for e-commerce and f-commerce, especially for rural women, who have been inspired to turn their craft into a business. After achieving Vision-2021 of Digital Bangladesh, there should not be any place of complacency.
To achieve the goal of Vision 2041 (Smart Bangladesh) – elimination of extreme poverty, gaining the Upper Middle-Income Country (UMIC) status by 2031 and High-Income Country (HIC) status by 2041; we must set a strategic goal and come up with a development plan, which is inclusive, where no one will be left behind and a large population will be an asset to the nation.