What is Smart Bangladesh really?
When “Digital” Bangladesh was first coined in 2007, there were debates and discussions leading to both believers and naysayers. While that may not be happening yet with “Smart” Bangladesh, let this piece be a starting point for those discussions.
So we come to the question: What do we mean when we speak of a “Smart Bangladesh” by 2041?
The one line answer is that Smart Bangladesh will be a high-income, poverty-free, developed nation, grounded in innovation, powered by technology that we are only beginning to understand such as AI and IoT, that will have a per capita GDP of $12500.
OK, but is that all that determines a “smart” nation?
There is so much that will change when we achieve Smart Bangladesh. And as our lives are changed more than ever before, we must approach each step of the way with determination of course, but also curiosity and wonder—after all, our future is looking very bright!
For that future to manifest, and at the heart of Smart Bangladesh are four core pillars that will determine its success.
Let me try and tell you stories of 4 Bangladeshis from 2041 to illustrate what that would be.
1. Smart Citizen: I am the solution
Sharbani 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 digital centre (which have replaced post offices). Due to the construction of a new terminal along the route, that route has become inefficient to take.
Sharbani takes it upon herself to fix this issue. She modifies the routing map the bus takes by putting in different coordinates. This initiative shrinks the route time taken by this bus 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. Instead, much like Sharbani, they are the first to be the solution.
2. Smart Government: The govpreneur
There is a strange illness that is sweeping through the country, specifically affecting pregnant women. While telehealth is the norm now, the customer care is quickly overwhelmed with concerned citizens’ questions.
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—much like an entrepreneur. She reaches out to the private sector, to the top AI companies in the country, and connects them with the Upazila health and family planning officer.
The government’s Inclusive Digital Transformation Architecture is already in place, but she realizes that a collaboration with the private sector is necessary to calm the sense of panic that may be settling among the citizens. The collaboration between the private companies and the government leads to a system that has AI monitor and answer the calls automatically, quelling the most immediate fears of the citizens.
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.
3. Smart Society: Leave no one behind
Sheema is a middle-aged widow from Pabna with visual impairments. Thanks to mobile financial services, she receives allowances at home through the government’s social safety net initiatives. She has an active social circle whom she meets and discusses mutual interests. She goes shopping for groceries, and also orders them home, drone-delivered. She enjoys stories, and using digital books, she reads stories of Humayun Ahmed.
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 Sheema 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. It 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.
4. Smart Economy: My village my town
Kajira Begum runs a one-woman fabric shop in Bhanga, Faridpur. Every day, she takes risks, makes decisions, fends off threats, considers her inventory, looks at her checks and balances. She is a mother who provides support to her children, her elderly parents, and the community.
What she also does is use AI to monitor her business, write copies, and post ads. She uses the 3D printing facility at the local UDC to print accessories for her fabrics. Her website uses a chatbot to answer customer questions.
If a smart society is an inclusive society that leaves no one behind, then a smart economy does the same for business. 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.
The four people above do not exist, but they will. Achieving Smart Bangladesh will not be simple; indeed it will be extremely difficult. But much like Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had a singular goal in mind, the will to achieve it, and the plans to succeed, that is what we must learn from. We have achieved Digital Bangladesh despite all the naysayers. Let us start building Smart Bangladesh, our “Shonar Bangla” and leave no room for naysayers ever again.