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More than a vision: a digital future for Bangladesh

Jon Fredrik Baksaas

Jon Fredrik Baksaas

Jon Fredrik Baksaas, president and CEO of Telenor Group, sheds light on Bangladesh’s prospects in ICT, as Digital Investment Summit kicks off in Dhaka on 7 May 2015

Jon Fredrik Baksaas

Digitalisation and improved connectivity are among the strongest forces that can push Bangladesh towards middle-income status.

Future-oriented policies, predictable frameworks and transparent processes can make it happen.

Leaders from the country’s digital and ICT environment gather today for the first Bangladesh Digital Investment Summit. Top representatives from the government, multinational companies and the local ICT industry, as well as a host of ICT entrepreneurs, will gather to discuss how the vision of a Digital Bangladesh can become a reality.

Telenor Group is proud to be part of the conversation, together with international heavyweights like Accenture and Huawei, local associations like BASIS and the Bangladeshi government through its ICT division and the A2I initiative.

Bangladesh is in many respects ahead of its peers in terms of socio-economic development. The country has been able to lift millions out of poverty, dramatically reduce child mortality, increase life expectancy, and significantly improve primary education enrolment.

A densely populated country of relatively limited size, Bangladesh lends itself well to projects that aim to improve lives for the many.

While there is still much to be done, Bangladesh’ development indicators are pointing upwards.

 Strong domestic industries with global reach have the biggest potential to further accelerate this development, both in terms of value creation and employment for its youth.

Bangladesh has a strong growth engine in garments and manufacturing, but so far has not been able to fully take advantage of its potential in the ICT space.

So how can we unlock the potential of Bangladesh? First, Bangladesh needs to make its ambitions known — as it has done in its vision 2021 for a Digital Bangladesh. Secondly, it needs to put actions behind its words.

A bold vision: Digital Bangladesh
The government has laid out a vision of a Digital Bangladesh aiming to utilise the significant potential of digitalisation and connectivity to bring benefits and opportunities to the country’s masses.

As Telenor Group is a long-term investor in Bangladesh, it welcomes the vision and ambitious thinking behind it. Together with Grameenphone, our domestic and international partners and the rest of the local ICT industry, we want to contribute positively to realise a Digital Bangladesh.

The foundation: Internet for All
To do so, job number one is to bring connectivity. We have stepped up the roll-out speed of Grameenphone’s new 3G network to meet demand, aiming to bring internet to 50 million customers within the next 3-4 years.

But it does not stop there: digital inclusion for everyone — regardless of age, gender or geography — is essential to realise the full societal benefits of mobile connectivity. With ‘Internet for All’, mobile devices can become your bank, your government disbursement unit, your school and your doctor. Above all, it can become your livelihood.

Bangladesh is already a leading country on the freelance software development platform oDesk, just trailing India and the Philippines. Without any marketing or corporate backing, over 300,000 freelancers are reported to have billed over $21 million in 2013 from two such platforms.

ICT is already a significant employer, but the potential is much bigger: in its vision for 2021, the government aims for 45 percent service sector jobs. ICT companies: multinationals and start-ups, IT-enabled services and business process outsourcing (BPO) companies have the potential to absorb a vast pool of skilled young people and create significant value.

Building capabilities and skills among the youth, stimulating domestic entrepreneurship and welcoming foreign investors are all important stepping stones towards realising the vision.

The global focal point of the mobile and ICT industries is pivoting towards Asia. This is where the most new internet users will come from. GSMA projects that the mobile industry will need to invest in excess of $730 billion over the next 5 years in Asia to meet connectivity demand.

Asia is already a frontrunner in adopting new technologies and a manufacturing hub for the world’s mobile devices. We firmly believe that Asia will be increasingly important in fuelling the world’s mobile and digital innovation, and the potential is the greatest in developing services tailored to the needs of mass market customers.

Bangladeshi entrepreneurs and companies are well positioned to develop relevant services that respond to local and regional customer needs.

The need: frameworks and policies for a digital future
The future of mobile and digital innovation and growth belong to Asia, and Bangladesh can take more than its fair share of this potential. Reaping the full benefits of modern technology requires an equally modern policy framework focused on facilitating innovation, healthy competition and removing barriers to efficient delivery of service to customers.

To attract foreign investors, predictable frameworks are a decisive success factor. A progressive tax and regulatory environment is necessary to sustain investor confidence over time.

Finally, transparent processes, fair practices and a level playing field are needed to ensure that the money invested is most efficiently allocated to the benefit of customers and society at large. In 2016, Telenor celebrates 20 years as a foreign investor in Bangladesh. We came and stayed because we believed in Bangladesh and Grameenphone. We still do.

We assisted to bring mobile connectivity to this country, and now we are helping bring Internet for All. With that foundation, there is almost no limit to what Digital Bangladesh can become.


Source: Daily Star

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