Innovators need to be linked with investors for commercialisation of digital innovations

Facebook, the world's most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. Uber, the world's largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. And Airbnb, the world's largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. This is how the digital age is changing everything dramatically. The wind of change is blowing across Bangladesh, too.

I had the opportunity to listen many inspiring stories while covering the first-ever 'Digital Device and Innovation Expo-2019' at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre (BICC) in Dhaka on October 12 with the theme "Made in Bangladesh: Nothing is Impossible'.

Dr James Poisant, Secretary General of the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA) inspired hundreds of youngsters at the inaugural session describing how the digital age is changing everything and the opportunities it offers for a country like Bangladesh.

Founded in 1978, the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA) is a leading consortium of ICT industry association members from over 80 countries around the world. WITSA's members represent more than 90 percent of the world ICT market.

Dr Poisant said Bangladesh made remarkable progress in CT development in the past few years. "You're becoming a middle income country and now progressing towards a totally developed nation by 2041."

He is very pleased to see that Bangladesh has a very similar mission what they have and their vision will be completed when every person will be benefitting the ICT.

As a Bangladeshi, I feel happy when a foreign friend says Bangladesh will one day become the manufacturing capital of the digital devices.

In another occasion on October 20, Prime Minister's ICT Affairs Advisor Sajeeb Wazed Joy said most of the citizen services will be available either using fingertips on mobile phones or through Union Digital Centers by 2021.

"Today, this is another big step towards that direction (providing citizen services digitally). We'll also be adding more and more citizen services," Joy said while addressing a function marking the unveiling of 'E-government Master Plan' and launch of 'Digital Municipality Service System for Digital Bangladesh.'

Joy also inaugurated three digital one-stop services - Eksheba, Ekpay and Ekshop - to enable the people to get different government services, utility bills and fees payment facilities and e-commerce.

Perfect Platform of Innovation

It was a decade ago when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared her 'Digital Bangladesh' plan for the people of Bangladesh.

Recognising the progress that the country has made so far in ICT sector, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has said Bangladesh becomes a 'perfect platform of innovation' to leap into the future prosperity.

"Vision 2021 and Digital Bangladesh are no more a dream but a reality today," he said focusing on connecting people through digital devices and innovations.

The Foreign Minister praised public-private partnership and assured of government's support to such efforts saying innovation is the key to sustainable development.

For Bangladesh, the Foreign Minister said, there is no option but to make the right choice and take adequate preparation so that youths and industries can fully exploit this advantage of technology.

"Emergence and advent of spread of ICT industry, tools and norms have truly transformed lives and livelihoods across societies - even in remote corners of rural Bangladesh," he said.

Domestic production to meet Samsung phones' demand

Around 96 percent Samsung smartphones sales in Bangladesh is currently assembled in its Narshindi plant. No Samsung phone will be imported to Bangladesh from March next as it will be able to meet the entire domestic demand.

Dr Momen said giants like Uber and Alibaba are already operating in the market, where startups like Pathao and Chaldal are reaping the fruit of this digital wave while operating alongside World-Class tech companies.

The number of mobile phone subscribers has reached 162.6 million and internet subscribers have reached 98.136 million.

"We've the largest internet portal in the world with 25,000 web sites. Bangladesh has entered the space age by launching the Bangabandhu Satellite-1," said the Foreign Minister.

However, Dr Momen said, all this came due to early recognition of the frontier technologies as a tool to bridge the gaps across different segments of people and society.

For the country, he said, ICT is about securing inclusion, dignity, well-being of people at large. "The government was quick in identifying the ICT industry as a thrust sector."

According to UNCTAD's latest 'eTrade Readiness Assessment Report', Bangladesh's ICT sector has grown by 40 percent annually since 2010, thanks to public and private sector initiatives and facilitation from the government, Dr Momen said.

To help achieve targets in the ICT sector, the government has declared tax holiday till 2024, only 1 percent import tax for materials of hardware industry and exceptional cash incentive of 10 percent for ICT export.

State Minister for ICT Division Zunaid Ahmed Palak said Bangladesh will soon become a significant robot-exporting country and steps have been taken in this regard.

"Let's do something new, something innovative. Nothing is impossible," he said urging the youngsters to stop dreaming of something old.

Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority (BHTPA), Information Communication Technology (ICT) Division, Bangladesh Computer Samity (BCS), and Idea Project jointly organised the expo where youngsters demonstrated their digital innovations.

Innovators-Investors Bridge

On October 16, the first-ever 'Digital Device and Innovation Expo-2019' ended with a pledge to build bridges between innovators and investors for commercialisation of digital innovations and boosting economy of the country.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam and State Minister for ICT Division Zunaid Ahmed Palak, among others, spoke at the interactive closing session moderated by Chairman of Daffodil International University (DIU) and Daffodil Family Md Sabur Khan.

Speaking at the function, Palak said they are getting innovations but their commercialisation is a missing which needs to be addressed to help the country emerge as a nation of innovations.

He laid emphasis on building bridges between digital innovators and investors, and linking entrepreneurs to the industry to ensure commercialisation of the innovations.

Shahriar said a strong domestic demand can drive the manufacturing and innovation simultaneously. He cited a number of examples and mentioned that Toyota did not manufacture its first car for the American market but for Japanese people.

He said Bangladesh, once described as a basket case, is the most successful economy case today. "The (development) journey is on and IT professionals will lead the development."

Shahriar said the days are not that far away when the next Samsung phone model will be from Bangladesh and the next Toyota car will be from Bangladesh. "The government will help you achieve that."

Govt doesn't take 10pc but gives back 10pc

State Minister Palak said it was Bangladesh's bad luck that Samsung had to go to Vietnam in 2004 when Hawa Bhaban demanded 10 percent commission from Samsung after they wanted to set up manufacturing unit in Bangladesh. He said Samsung exports US$ 50 billion from Vietnam annually and created 1.60 lakh jobs.

Palak also said the current government gives 10 percent cash incentive on exports of hardware, software and services products. Now 10 companies have started assembling here and some 15 lakh Samsung phones, made in Bangladesh, have been sold this year.

Some 50 lakh Walton phones, made in Bangladesh, were sold in the last two years and each month some 30,000 laptops are being manufactured and sold here.

"A few months ago, Bangladesh started exporting laptops to Africa," Palak said adding that Bangladesh also exported 11 Robots to South Korea. Symphony and Samsung will not import any phones after 2020 and the required phones will be made in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has won the right to host the "World Congress on Information Technology" (WCIT) in 2021, the largest event in information technology.

It is going to be a great opportunity for Bangladesh to show the world that Bangladesh is far from the lagging behind rather Bangladesh is leading in the digital creations of opportunities. We hope to see Bangladesh reaches the pinnacle of digital excellence.

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