Bangladesh Hosted side event at 80th session of UN ESCAP

Bangladesh, a leader in digital innovation within the global South, hosted a significant side event at the 80th UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) conference titled “Smart Innovation for Sustainable Development: Bangladesh and the Asia-Pacific Region Perspective.” The event, jointly organized by Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Division and the Embassy of Bangladesh in Bangkok, aims to highlight how digital innovation can advance Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Bangladesh and the broader Asia-Pacific region, providing a platform for government officials, policymakers, and experts to share their insights and strategies. It spotlighted the country’s impressive strides in digital technology and its contribution to achieving the  SDGs.

Bangladesh has significantly integrated digital technology into everyday life, overcoming substantial challenges and narrowing the digital divide.These digital innovations have reduced costs, time, and visits for citizens, garnering international interest in Bangladesh’s e-governance expertise. The nation’s “Smart Bangladesh” vision, targeting 2041, emphasizes inclusivity and aims to bridge the digital divide through sustainable digital solutions.

The hybrid event took place at the United Nations Conference Center in Bangkok on Monday, April 22, 2024 and virtually drew participants from across the Asia-Pacific region to discuss how digital innovation can drive progress toward the SDGs. The focus was on Bangladesh’s journey from its “Digital Bangladesh” initiative to its ambitious “Smart Bangladesh” program, which aims to create an inclusive, knowledge-based, sustainable society by 2041.

Bangladesh’s commitment to sharing its experiences with the global South was highlighted by the Finance Minister, H.E. Abul Hasan Mahmud Ali. He stated that by sharing knowledge and technology, collective progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals could be made.

H.E. Zunaid Ahmed Palak, State Minister for Posts, Telecommunication, and Information Technology, reflected on Bangladesh’s rapid digital transformation under the leadership of Prime Minister H.E. Sheikh Hasina. He noted that the success of “Digital Bangladesh” has paved the way for the “Smart Bangladesh” initiative, focusing on four key pillars: Smart Citizen, Smart Economy, Smart Government, and Smart Society. He remarked that 2 million jobs had been created in the IT/ITES sector, with about 700,000 IT freelancers, contributing to $2 billion in export earnings.

The welcome speech was delivered by Bangladesh’s Ambassador to Thailand, Mohammad Abdul Hai, while the closing remarks were given by Md. Shahriar Quader Siddiqui, Secretary of the Economic Relations Department. Mr. Md. Mamunur Rashid Bhuya, Project Director (Additional Secretary) of Aspire to Innovate (a2i) moderated the whole program. Mr. Anir Chowdhury, Policy Advisor at Aspire to Innovate, presented the keynote speech.

The event included a panel discussion with experts from Bangladesh and the Asia-Pacific region, who discussed the role of digital innovation in addressing the challenges of achieving the SDGs. Panelists included Mr. Hur Sanwok, President of Korea’s National IT Industry Promotion Agency; Dr. Ramesh Chandra Paudel from Nepal’s National Planning Commission; Ms. Atsuko Okuda, Regional Director of the International Telecommunication Union; Mr. Adnan Aliani, Director of Strategy and Program Management Division at UN ESCAP; Mr. Kendrick Yonghao Chan, Senior Policy Analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change; and Mr. Gerd Trojemann, Manager of Regional Programs at UNDP. 

The discussion focused on the transformative potential of digital technologies in advancing sustainable development. The diverse panelists shared insights, best practices, and strategies to leverage digital innovation to meet the SDGs and reduce the digital divide.

Bangladesh’s role as a pioneer in the global south in digital innovation and its commitment to sharing knowledge with other developing nations was a recurring theme throughout the event. As the country moves toward its “Smart Bangladesh” vision, it serves as a model for how digital technology can be harnessed to promote sustainable development and reduce disparities in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Additionally, an interactive Smart Bangladesh Pavilion was set up to illustrate Bangladesh’s transition from its “Digital Bangladesh” program to its current “Smart Bangladesh” vision, providing the global audience with a comprehensive overview of the nation’s journey toward becoming a smart nation.