BANGLADESH

In­spired by In­dia, Bangladesh pre­pares to lead South Asia into a new era of global tech­nol­ogy.

Southasia - - Contents - By Aminul Is­lam Sa­jib

De­spite its small ge­o­graph­i­cal size, Bangladesh has a pop­u­la­tion es­ti­mated at 156 mil­lion in 2009. Although the rate of growth has de­clined, the ex­ist­ing pop­u­la­tion does not ac­tively con­trib­ute to the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the coun­try due to lack of job op­por­tu­ni­ties or ed­u­cated man­power. There­fore, agri­cul­tural and gar­ment pro­duc­tion re­mains the sole source of in­come. How­ever, ‘out­sourc­ing’ has re­cently caught the at­ten­tion of the Bangladeshi youth, pro­vid­ing them an al­ter­na­tive source of in­come.

Free­lanc­ing or out­sourc­ing has a large im­pact on any coun­try’s econ­omy. De­spite this, many in Bangladesh view free­lanc­ing as a scam. How­ever, for the youth that is un­able or un­will­ing to get a job, free­lanc­ing has be­come a pop­u­lar and quick way of mak­ing money.

Bangladesh to­day con­tin­ues to strug­gle with a se­vere lack of re­sources. As a de­vel­op­ing coun­try, its IT sec­tor has seen lit­tle in­vest­ment from the gov­ern­ment side. The ur­ban-ru­ral in­equal­ity is three­fold. In Dhaka most do not feel that the In­ter­net con­nec­tion is slow and costly com­pared to the neigh­bor­ing coun­try, In­dia. In ru­ral ar­eas how­ever, the only way to con­nect to the In­ter­net is through a mo­bile phone SIM. Although most mo­bile phone op­er­a­tors have good in­ter­net cov­er­age across the coun­try, com­mon prob­lems re­lated to in­ter­net speed and avail­abil­ity still ex­ist. In­ter­net fa­cil­i­ties for city dwellers have in­creased af­ter WIMAX ser­vices with 4G tech­nol­ogy were in­tro­duced. In the cities, a sub­scriber can get an ex­pected speed of 128 kilo­bytes per sec­ond to one mbps at an alarm­ingly high rate. De­spite

Though Bangladesh re­mains crip­pled by greater con­cerns such as flood­ing and power short­ages, in­vest­ment in tech­nol­ogy is crit­i­cal to long-term de­vel­op­ment.

that, the ser­vice isn’t sat­is­fac­tory.

What IT de­vel­op­ment can be ex­pected from a coun­try that of­fers poor in­ter­net ser­vice? With­out in­ter­net avail­abil­ity, in to­day’s world, a coun­try is al­ready left be­hind. Though Bangladesh re­mains crip­pled by greater con­cerns such as flood­ing and power short­ages, in­vest­ment in tech­nol­ogy is crit­i­cal to long-term de­vel­op­ment.

Over the years, the coun­try’s ad­vance­ment in the IT sec­tor has been sig­nif­i­cant, largely due to gov­ern­ment poli­cies. In a round­table meet­ing at the Dhaka Press Club last year, Mustafa Jab­ber, Pres­i­dent of Bangladesh Com­puter Samity said, “The de­vel­op­ment in the ICT sec­tor is a con­tri­bu­tion of to­day’s youth in Bangladesh. The gov­ern­ment lit­er­ally didn’t do much.”

Awami League, the rul­ing party in Bangladesh, has promised its peo­ple a dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion known as “Vi­sion 2021.” As part of the progress to de­vel­op­ing a Dig­i­tal Bangladesh, the gov­ern­ment has re­cently started con­tribut­ing fer­vently to IT de­vel­op­ment. Li­cens­ing 3G In­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity, re­mov­ing tax from free­lancers’ in­come and pro­duc­ing a do­mes­tic lap­top, DOEL, are few of the re­mark­able steps that are be­ing taken.

How­ever, in­vent­ing a lap­top at a rel­a­tively cheaper price (with cheap ma­chin­ery) is not enough. Nu­mer­ous uni­ver­si­ties fo­cus­ing on ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­ogy ex­ist through­out Bangladesh but their teach­ing is ar­chaic for what is nec­es­sary to con­trib­ute to IT de­vel­op­ment. Stu­dents who free­lance for IT firms are of­ten self-taught.

To­day, the peo­ple of Bangladesh em­brace and read­ily adapt to tech­nol­ogy. The rev­o­lu­tion of mo­bile phone us­age in Bangladesh proved that fact a long time ago. Though the gov­ern­ment has a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude in im­prov­ing the over­all IT sec­tor in Bangladesh, the progress is slow due to gov­ern­ment ad­vi­sors who have in­ad­e­quate knowl­edge of In­for­ma­tion Tech­nolo- gy and de­vel­op­ment. Even forty years af­ter in­de­pen­dence, the coun­try lacks a smooth and af­ford­able In­ter­net con­nec­tion and an un­in­ter­rupted power sup­ply. Prices of com­puter ac­ces­sories are sky­rock­et­ing, e-com­merce is yet to emerge and a big source of in­come, out­sourc­ing, re­mains un­der­es­ti­mated and un­der­ex­ploited.

Khalid Biju, CEO of WEBEXBD, an out­sourc­ing firm in Bangladesh, ar­gues that out­sourc­ing firms re­ceive no fi­nan­cial or any other kind of sup­port from the Bangladeshi gov­ern­ment. While there is no lack of en­cour­age­ment, the gov­ern­ment does not di­rectly sup­port out­sourc­ing firms although it would ul­ti­mately re­sult in the bet­ter­ment of the coun­try’s eco­nom­ics. “Imag­ine what would have hap­pened if we were given all the re­sources we need,” he added.

While the youth in In­dia has greatly con­trib­uted to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, poverty in Bangladesh be­comes its great­est hur­dle. Bangladesh’s IT sec­tor mod­els it­self af­ter In­dia’s in­dus­try. For ex­am­ple, 3G was li­censed in Bangladesh af­ter it be­came avail­able in In­dia and it was only af­ter a $35 tablet was avail­able in In­dia that Bangladesh pro­duced a new kind of Chi­nese tablet, Cho­rui, priced at around $100. Most large-scale in­tro­duc­tions or in­no­va­tions are in­spired by In­dia.

In re­cent days, Bangladesh has been in the spot­light among tech­nol­ogy ex­perts and en­thu­si­asts from South Asia af­ter host­ing the regions’ high pro­file tech­nol­ogy event - EASIA. The 3-day event took place in Dhaka and was at­tended by many speak­ers in­clud­ing odesk’s Vice Pres­i­dent Matt Cooper and oth­ers. EASIA 2011 cre­ated a buzz among the gen­eral public as well as the me­dia.

Af­ter a suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of EASIA 2011, ques­tions arose whether Bangladesh could be­come the next IT hub in South Asia. Un­for­tu­nately, the coun­try is not ready yet. IT de­vel­op­ment is slow though the move­ment among the youth is rapid. Bangladesh is mainly known for its out­sourc­ing func­tions; an in­dus­try that can­not rep­re­sent the larger IT sec­tor. Though sem­i­nars and events can take place in Bangladesh, the un­der de­vel­oped coun­try is not ready to serve as an IT hub for South Asian coun­tries, let alone the world.

To sum it up, Bangladesh has se­ri­ous tech­nol­ogy pro­pos­als in place backed by a pos­i­tive gov­ern­ment at­ti­tude to­wards de­vel­op­ment of the IT in­dus­try. Un­for­tu­nately, the coun­try still lacks enough re­sources for that to hap­pen. With ad­e­quate re­sources, the youth of Bangladesh can take the coun­try to the next level in the In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­nol­ogy field, out­run­ning other coun­tries in South Asia.

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