Q: What are the pillars of the Digital Bangladesh strategy?
A: At the end of 2008, prime minister Sheikh Hasina unveiled her vision for a digital Bangladesh built on four main pillars: human resource development, internet connectivity for all, e-governance, and the promotion of the domestic ICT industry.
Q: What results has it had so far?
A: We have experienced rapid and massive changes in the past 11 years. Back then, there were 16 government websites in total. Today we have 46,000 websites under a single government portal. We created 1 million jobs in the ICT sector, made 600 government services available online, and took the fibre optic cable up to the village level.
With regards to our ICT industry, 11 years ago we had only $30m in ICT exports, now they have grown to $1bn with more than 100 ICT companies exporting software, hardware and services to 60 countries. Our focus remains on transforming the traditional economy into a digital economy. In this perspective, the core of all our activities is the ICT industry and the youth.
Q: What are the future targets of the Digital Bangladesh initiative?
A: We have a target to provide another 1 million jobs in the ICT sector in the next four years, also through the development of the 28 hi-tech parks we are building, and the plan is to increase them to 64; each and every district should have one. We are also focusing on emerging technologies such as AI, the Internet of Things [IoT], establishing specialised laboratories in different universities in partnership with the government and IT business leaders.
Q: Bangladesh has built its recent success on the garment industry. How will you combine the development of labour-intensive legacy industries with the rise of automation and Industry 4.0?
A: In this regard, we are targeting tapping into the ICT market. The market for mobile apps and gaming has already grown to $400bn globally, and is expected to reach $1000bn by 2025. We are nurturing our game developers and our app developers. Our ICT freelancers are already generating about $1bn per year in income. We are now reskilling them.
We are also increasing the number of mandatory ICT courses at schools and extending them to primary school level. We have set up 8000 digital laboratories, and we are targeting another 10,000 installed in schools across the country in the next five years. This is how we are creating a pool of talent in ICT.
Also, as mentioned, we are setting up centres of excellence in frontier technologies specialising in the likes of AI, IoT and big data. In this way we can harness the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and we are confident that we can adapt to the rapid and massive changes happening worldwide. We would like to lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the next 20 years. The world is already jumping on board as our start-ups [have brought in] foreign investment worth $200m in the past four years.
Q: What incentives are available for ICT companies and start-ups?
A: We are introducing investment-friendly policies. Until 2024 there is no corporate income tax for the ICT sector, and the prime minister also took the decision to introduce 10% cash incentives on exports of hardware and software from Bangladesh to the rest of the world.
This article first appeared in the April-June edition of fDi Magazine. The full digital version of the magazine is available here.