Aspire to Innovate (a2i), a massive program in Bangladesh, that has been at the forefront of modernizing, simplifying, and digitizing myriad government functions, processes, and services. A2i has been a hub in Government of Bangladesh helping hundreds of ministries, agencies, and government offices to improve how they work with their customers, namely business and citizens. Most services and products created with a2i expertise are available on the various government websites, though all can be reached through two national portals: Bangladesh.gov.bd or mygov.bd.
To reach people in poor or rural districts who may not have access to internet or technology, a2i has helped establish more than 8,363 digital centers around the country. Last year alone, the digital centers provided 619 million services to citizens and 16,110 entrepreneurs (mainly small and medium enterprises of whom 50% women). Clients can go to these digital centers, sit down with customer service staff and gain immediate access to more than 1,600 government services . If they are unhappy with the services they get, if they suspect fraud or simply poor service, citizens can register a complaint at the mygov.bd-accessible complaint line or directly to grs.gov.bd. Bangladeshis outside of the country can also access this special phone service by dialing 0966678333. All complaints are supposed to be satisfied by the respective office within 30 days or the customer has the right to claim a penalty from the offending office. I do note however, the day I tried to access the complaint site it was not accessible.
What are these services that have been simplified, automated, and digitized and now making people’s lives easier? There are too many to list, but here are few: land registration, sell land or real estate, get your cattle vaccinated, applying to be an NGO, register your vehicle, apply to organize a fair or large public event, get your national identity card, applying for student grants. You can join a program to match your skills with the skills needed by foreign employers and get a job abroad. You can download a mobile app to participate in the a2i-inspired skills market. You can get training to be a firefighter or an imam. The list goes on and on.
Overall, in the last ten years, a2i has helped Government counterparts migrate more than 2,000 services from analogue, i.e., fully paper based and often in person or face-to-face, to fully digitized, where services are first simplified, automated and fully digitized, and able to receive requests. This simplification and digitization of services has greatly reduced: the face-to-face time that citizens and public servants must meet; the costs of accessing services and doing business for citizens, business, and government agencies alike; and the time that citizens and business must dedicate simply to access public services. The metric for this is called TCV (time, cost, visits) and a2i has a meticulous monitoring and evaluation system that has tracked TCV for the past decade. The reduction in complexity and in face-to-face interactions, combined with greater accountability brought about via the complaints system in the grs.gov.bd or 333 application, reportedly has led to enormous declines in graft and corruption, all of which a2i is able to measure and monitor.
A2i operates on the idea that Bangladesh cannot achieve sustainable economic growth and human development based on its human resources alone. These must be matched with knowhow and technology and this technology must always keep pace with the latest developments. To achieve this vision, a2i operates on four pillars: 1) improve human capacity of government officials, citizens, and business; 2) create connectedness; 3) implement e-governance; and 4) create the environment and nourish the ICT industry.
A2i is a program funded mainly by the Government of Bangladesh but with considerable financial and technical support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as well as from other development partners. Most of the services, databases, tools and support services a2i has supported, either with technical assistance or through the use of its challenge funds, are on their own sustainable since they are now “owned” by the various using government agencies. The a2i program is seeking to ensure its own sustainability. Indeed, the Government has been drafting a law to convert a2i from its current program status to being a fully-fledged national authority by 2025, with its finances established in the national budget.
A few days ago, I had the benefit and pleasure of discussing a2i with Dr. Dewan Muhammad Humayun Kabir, a2i Project Director and a Joint Secretary of the ICT Division, Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology, Bangladesh, along with my dear DevTech colleague, Dr. Nasir Uddin Ahmed. Thank you so very much Dr. Kabir for so openly sharing numbers, experiences, results, and challenges. And good luck to you as a2i continues to grow and becomes the Aspire to Innovate Authority of Bangladesh.