The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as we know it by exposing the vulnerabilities of the existing global infrastructures. While economic and social disruption affected all aspects of people’s daily lives and livelihood alongside growing concerns that COVID-19 is here to stay, Bangladesh took the challenges posed by this global pandemic as an opportunity to reflect on its approach towards the economy, governance, society, and prosperity.
The achievements of Digital Bangladesh from the last 10 years allowed the nation to mitigate through some of the obstacles posed by COVID-19. The nation utilized digital channels and innovations as solutions, amidst lockdown measures that were brought into effect to restrict mobility in order to prevent spread of the virus. As various sectors across the country continue to adapt Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) based solutions, the adverse situation became an opportunity for taking Bangladesh to the next level of digitalization and its streamlining into all aspects of people’s lives.
Therefore, the ICT Division of the Government of Bangladesh initiated a roadmap for the FY2021-2025 titled, “Post-COVID-19 National ICT Roadmap: Overcoming the Challenges and Leveraging New Opportunities for ICT Industry”. The roadmap was developed in association with the Access to Information (a2i) Program, Startup Bangladesh Limited, IDEA Project, Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority, LICT (Leveraging ICT), and Dhaka University. LightCastle Partners, Innovision Consulting, and DataSense – iSocial were the thematic partners of the project, convened by Windmill Advertising Limited. The roadmap was developed to learn from local and global best practices in order to fight the pandemic and its resulting crisis, as well as tackle the existing systemic and regulatory shortcomings of the ICT sector to find innovative ways towards prosperity in this ‘new normal’.
LightCastle, as one of the thematic partners of the project, contributed to the roadmap by investigating and forming Covid impact-mitigation strategies using ICT as a leverage tool in 5 key sectors – Startups, Digital Commerce, Education, Financial Inclusion, and Supply Chain.
In order to investigate the current impact in the chosen sectors as well as provide recommendations, LightCastle conducted 300+ Surveys, and 20+ Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and Key Informant Interviews (KIIs), with 200+ participants. Moreover, consultation workshops were held with relevant stakeholders, encompassing entrepreneurs, policymakers, and private and public sector leaders.
ICT sector is a cross cutting issue, staying relevant to all aspects of a nation’s development due to its ability to provide assistance across numerous sectors including, agriculture, education, healthcare, Digital Finance Services (DFS), MSMEs, as well as contribute towards women empowerment, and assist people with disabilities and inhabitants of remote areas. The pandemic witnessed numerous ICT based solutions and innovations, that were implemented to tackle the ensuing crisis. Tele-medicine provided access to healthcare services under lockdown measures for patients who were unable to reach doctors, while similarly, ICT based solutions such ‘Truck Lagbe’ assisted farmers, unable to take their produce to the market, to directly connect with consumers. Therefore, in total 5 thematic areas/sectors and 8 cross-cutting themes were identified, which can benefit from ICT based solutions and interventions to help create new business opportunities, offer alternative solution for the industries to move on and build a self-reliant Bangladesh in line with the vision of Digital Bangladesh.
The Post-COVID-19 National ICT Roadmap utilizes 2 unique approaches termed “whole of the government” and “whole of the society” to ensure a co-ordinated approach among all the stakeholders, which is required to overcome the challenges of a pandemic.
The “whole of the government” (WOGA) approach ensures ownership of every relevant government entities, delegate authority, and allocate resources. It encompasses government agencies, coordinating government agencies, facilitating agencies, and other relevant agencies associated with the government. The implementation resources will be prepared from national budget, development partners, national and foreign investment, and through public-private partnerships.
On the other hand, the “whole of the society” approach is built upon 5 stakeholder’s partnership, whose participation and contribution will make the action agendas achievable. They include the private sector, NGO/CSO, development partners, academia, and the community or citizens.
The roadmap undertook activities such as development of COVID-19 impact-mitigation strategy, opportunity leveraging strategy, and post COVID-19 market readiness strategies to identify action agendas that should be undertaken by the government in segments of the ICT sector. Furthermore, the subsequent policy recommendations were drafted and delegated to respective government authorities to be implemented in the next 5 years.
Besides mitigating COVID-19 related impacts and helping to leverage opportunities, the roadmap will ensure further investment in the ICT sector, development of human resources, policy formulation and create the need for research and development resulting in the desired impact of reaching the ICT readiness goal by 2025.