Technology is everywhere these days. You fire up your smartphone and pretend to be busy to avoid otherwise awkward moments with strangers. Your seven-year-old daughter is more attached to her tablet than ever; gone are the days of Barbies. Clash of Clans is all the rage.
With more than 60 million people having access to internet and around 120 million mobile users, technology is literally in people’s palms.
The current government was properly ridiculed after it came to power in its previous term back in 2008 for coining the term Digital Bangladesh in their election manifesto. People knew the difference between a digital watch and analogue one, but how on Earth can a country become digital?
To make matters worse, when the government was initially struggling to cope with the electricity shortage in town centres, most of our go-to dialogue during a power outage was: “This is how digital Bangladesh works!”
The line became so popular that it was the most definitive comment whenever someone was unhappy with the government’s work -- be it remotely connected to the actual vision of a digitised Bangladesh or not.
We have come a long way from that. We now have more than 4,000 union information centres across the country that are providing access to computers and internet and, more importantly, to government services which are readily becoming more and more digitised.
While the UNDP-backed Access to Information (A2I) project has shown wonders over the last eight years, the private sector and mostly young entrepreneurs have taken up the challenge with gusto.
Bangladesh has seen a large number of technology start-ups over the last decade, and although entrepreneurship is now the go-to ambition for young people, we are actually seeing a lot of changes in the overall technology eco-system.
Although the World Bank data projects a much lower number than the government-provided estimation of 60 million internet users, we are seeing a nascent internet and technology-based service industry slowly making its mark in the country’s economy.
As a result, people are getting access to services more easily and in the process having a better say in the way they communicate with each other.
In the renewed zeal to leverage technology as a service delivery platform, basic needs like education and health have been digitised up to a certain point.
The government recently launched the entire primary school curriculum in an interactive multimedia digital version where students can not only learn from their teachers but can actually interact with the content if they have a touch-friendly device, which can be taken anywhere with them.
The fact that the government did this with technical support from BRAC and Save the Children -- two development organisations -- show that a partnership approach in making technology mainstream in delivering services is not only taking off, but is very much necessary to achieve scale and be effective at the same time.
One thing which has always been a constant reminder for the innovators is their innovations might have a very brief shelf life if they cannot get investors excited about their projects. How many times have we seen potentially great ideas not coming to fruition because the founder was not savvy in selling her idea?
The world is ripe with examples of innovators nearly making it, but not quite taking the final step.
We need to bring those people out in the front so that they can take that step forward on their own.
BRAC has recently brought to Bangladesh the Manthan Award, the prestigious ICT innovation award which started in India, in the form of BRAC Manthan Digital Innovation Award.
The purpose of the award is simple: Recognising the best use of ICT tools in Bangladesh and creating a space for them in front of a local and international audience to showcase their projects.
The winners of the Bangladesh awards will compete in the Indian Manthan Awards with applicants arriving from more than 30 countries of the Asia Pacific region.
Technology is changing the way we work and interact with our environment. It has changed the way we talk to our dear ones, express our feelings over great distances, and the way we organise our lives.
You can see older people and school-going kids getting hooked on technology with the same fervour.
By virtue of its usefulness, the pace of technological development will only increase with time. With that will arrive new ways to manage our information and newer ways to reach the people with governance solutions.
The time is now to strengthen our efforts in making technology work, not just for people living in luxury but for that person who doesn’t have access to basic information in the first place.
It is time to break the knowledge barrier and help that young kid who is considering taking off to Malaysia on a broken trawler with strangers. It is time to help that poor farmer who can easily receive weather updates on his mobile phone.
It is time to make people understand that technology can be power and not just for the people rolling up their wind-shields in air-conditioned cars, but for the countless thousands as well who we generally discount when we are talking about technology.
Technology can be a potent solution for development -- all it needs is a few champions to drive the point home.