Statement by H.E. Mr. Zunaid Ahmed Palak, MP, Hon’ble Minister of State for Information and Communication Technology, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh at the High-level Thematic Debate on Digital Cooperation and Connectivity, 27 April 2021

Thank you for inviting me to speak on the theme – “Whole of Society Approaches to End Digital Divide”. The Founding Father of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman envisioned an equitable, poverty free, hunger free, developed Bangladesh and his philosophy has been the cornerstone of the development philosophy of Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina which led her to declare the Digital Bangladesh vision in 2008. The Digital Bangladesh vision is being implemented under the able leadership of her Honorable ICT Adviser Sajeeb Wazed, and under his guidance we have used Information and Communication Technologies as a vehicle to achieve the dream of Bangabandhu.

The Digital Bangladesh Vision is a bottom-up approach development philosophy, focusing on improving the livelihood of the rural population while investing in technology to enhance the productivity of the country. We have used a three-pronged approach for designing all our digital services – for the digital natives, for the early adopters, and the digitally unconnected. From establishing Union Digital Centers to ensure that no-one is left behind in the drive for digitalization, to establishing mobile financial services and Internet Connectivity even at the village level, we have established an efficient digital infrastructure in the last 12 years which has helped Bangladesh overcome the challenges of a LDC and emerge as a lower Middle-Income country in 2018. This digital readiness has helped us during the covid-19 pandemic, allowing us to use digital technologies and the Internet to carry on with Education, Commerce, Health Services, etc. and ensuring the smooth functioning of the supply chain from the village to the town, resulting in a GDP growth of over 5% during the Covid-19 crisis in 2020. As the world moves into the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution and with the Pandemic creating havoc across the World, we still have about 36% of the Global population or about 1.89 Billion people living in extreme poverty.

There are some important facts and lessons that we have learned while eradicating the Digital Divide in our Country that I would like to share with you. First Preparing the communities is the biggest job we have in our hands. Second, we need to make sure that the unconnected population is digitally connected through the internet by providing them affordable devices. The third most important challenge would be the growth of the market or the industry.  Ensuring the growth of the private sector to create the jobs for the digital economy is crucial.

For more effective discussions, the Whole-of-society Approach needs to cover up the farthest parts of the society that aren’t properly represented by any stakeholders in all the multi-stakeholder collaborations we previously had. We must ensure participation of the Whole-of-Society instead of representation. In conclusion, I would like to share an old proverb that states, “If you give a man a fish you can feed him for a day. But if you teach a man how to fish you can feed him for his lifetime”

Joy Bangla, Joy Bangabandhu