Statement by H.E. Ambassador Rabab Fatima, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UNat the HLPF virtual side event on “Digital with Purpose: Accelerating action and transformative pathways for delivering on the sustainable development goals and recovery from COVID-19 Pandemic”, 8 July 2020, 12 pm, New York

Thank you, Madam Moderator.

Ambassador Milica Pejanović Đurišić,

Mr. Malcolm Johnson, Deputy Secretary-General of ITU

Mr. Jorge Chediek, Envoy of the Secretary General on South-South Cooperation

James Gowen, Chairman, Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative

Excellencies,Distinguished Panelists,Distinguished Delegates,

A very good afternoon to you all.

I thank ITU, UNOSSC and GESI for organizing this event. This comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging the global progress towards realizing the SDGs. We recognize the enhanced importance of digital technology to tackle the pandemic and build back better and stronger.

Our national journey on digitalization is led by the vision of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to create a ‘ Digital Bangladesh’ by 2021. It stimulated the development of our telecom networks, expanded internet connectivity and fuelled the growth of applications that have helped our country to be more inclusive and prosperous. As we continued to bridge the digital divide, with one of the fastest growing internet penetration and mobile phone subsbribers network globally, we saw tangible progress in socio-economic development, that has had transformative impact on women’s empowerment, development of the rural economy, education, disaster risk reduction and so on. And that is now playing a critical role in our Covid response and recovery efforts.

To transform to a Smart Nation, we have prioritized on creating the critical foundations of a sustainable digital economy – digital inclusion, digital finance, digital information systems, and advanced data. Many home-grown initiatives have been undertaken, including the landmark project: Access to Information (A2I) – which received this year the UN public service award – all aimed at reaching basic public services to the people, in areas such as employment, marketing, registration, agriculture, etc.

The SDG Tracker is yet another such tool that we have put in place to track our progress in attaining the SDGs and other national development goals through a web-based information repository. This has enabled a more hands-on and stakeholder ownership approach to pursuing our SDGs.

Let me now share some areas where our digital digital development is supporting our fight against COVID-19 pandemic:

First, the government launched an aggressive awareness campaign through national mobile phone operators from the onset of the pandemic. The private sector, supported the Government’s efforts by launching nationwide telephone hotlines and texting services. Our investment and advances made in the digital infrastructure, especially making digital services more accessible and affordable, is proving to be very effective in delivering much needed health and education services, and social safety assistance, during the pandemic, especially in reaching out to the marginalized section of our society.

Second, during the COVID- 19 crisis, there has been a surge in e-commerce and e-services that helped our economy to stay afloat. In recent years, with the development of ICT capacity, consumer behaviour has also shifted to e-commerce and the e-services leading to further development of e-banking, penetration of mobile and smart phones, and digitalization of other services. Essentially, investment in further digitalization of the basic services, especially in the retail sector, and in the health and education would remain central in our post covid recovery efforts.

Third, due to the pandemic situation and lock-downs, we have experienced a sudden upsurge of demand for home internet services. We tend to see this development in a positive light in our efforts towards building back in a digitally stronger way. We have plans to include in our recovery plan necessary policy measures to support this enhanced demand and to sustain it.

Fourth, our Government is looking at initiatives and programmes to enhance the foundations for a digital economy leading to creation of more, and better jobs, and more private investment. In collaboration with our development partners, we are going to implement the Private Investment and Digital Entrepreneurship Project, aimed at attracting private investment in ICT and IT Enabled Services. We are expecting to set up the first Digital Entrepreneurship Hub in the country. We expect these initiatives to help the economy to rebound from the impacts of COVID 19 in a stronger way.

Fifth, the fourth industrial revolution has unlocked new opportinuites for business and economy. In order to take advantage of this, the government is undertaking a programme called Enhancing Digital Government and Economy (EDGE) to build a robust platform against future crisis. This will also help digitalize SMEs and strategic industries in their efforts to become sustainable.

Finally, considering that digital technologies can offer new opportunities for women and youth in the post pandemic era, the Government is planning to establish a digital leadership academy and some centres of excellence.

Excellencies. Despite the progress made, and our efforts and investment, we recognize that there are challenges, and we are yet to achieve universal access to internet. We strongly feel the need for closing the digital divide. International support is essential to build the capcity of the developing countries to bridge the digital divide. For that, we need the support of development partners; to support us by facilitating technology transfer in a meaningful manner; and by investing in infrastructure development of this sector. South-South and Triangular Cooperation can also play a vital and complementary role in accelerating digitalization in the post-COVID era.

Bangladesh is currently leading three platforms, namely, the South-South Network for Public Service Innovation, Alliance for Asian Apprenticeship, and the South-Asia Civil Registration Network. We are working with others to bolster cooperation among the countries of the South to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, experiences and best practices and find innovative solutions within these frameworks to address any crisis.

To conclude, our experience has shown us how digitalization contributed to our social development and economic progress; for building a more inclusive society. And as we fight the pandemic, with our hard-won development gains in peril, it has become all the more urgent and imperative to invest in ICT enabled societies, and to ensure a ‘digital defence’ against future shocks.

I thank you.