The last decade started with the promise of creating a Digital Bangladesh. The first challenge in achieving this goal was to make information accessible to everyone. So, the government introduced one stop shops in comparatively rural areas to provide people with necessary information. The shops were named Union Digital Centres (UDC) in 2014.
More than 4,000 UDCs were set-up with young entrepreneurs to serve as many people as possible with information. So how are they doing after nearly a decade? Have they been successful or do they need change? Ahmed S Ishtiaque, an assistant professor and research associate at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (Ulab), ran a research on the centres.
He interviewed 125 people including area-based community leaders. His work under the title "Sustainability of Union Digital Centres Moderated by Entrepreneur Skills: A Case Study of Bangladesh" reflected the present condition of UDCs and how they should be in this era.
Assistant Professor Ishtiaque explained what UDCs do and how they reduce hassle for people in remote areas by providing them with birth registration certificates or national identification (NID) cards within a short time. However, the centres were having problems in convincing people to trust them.
The researcher said the trust issue has been fixed over time. The number of services has increased. Also, information became more accessible since they started providing it in Bangla. He informed the audience that computer training programmes have also become a part of UDC activities.
However, they are still failing to make an impression. Why is that? This is where the research has provided answers, and Ulab unveiled the findings on Tuesday.
The university also disclosed the details of two other studies, one titled "Sharing Economy and Ridesharing in Bangladesh" and the other titled "Role of Disruptive Technologies in Countering Violent Extremism".
Sharing Economy and Ridesharing in Bangladesh by Sajid Amit (Director, Executive MBA and Center for Enterprise and Society) of the university, focused on the market size of the service. He also examined the challenges that it faces.
It showed, that in a competitive market worth $260 million (Tk2,200 crore) with 7 million rides per month, the challenge lies in retaining consumer loyalty.
The research on the role of disruptive technologies in countering violent extremism restated the importance of an inclusive curriculum. Faculty member and researcher Lumbini Barua said, "There is a need to integrate values of tolerance and of pluralistic societies in education through digital/blended courses, and to make changes in the national curricula."
Studying people who chose to be extremists can be an effective approach to understanding it.
She also mentioned how religious preachers can contribute to fighting extremism.
The researcher pointed out the lack of skills of entrepreneurs at the UDC centres. Ishtiaque explained how initially the authority was interested in involving young people to run the centres without looking into their experience. This contributed to the slowing down of the project.
Now the researcher suggests arranging more and more training for entrepreneurs in order to make the project sustainable. This will make them confident enough to take risks.
Other than this, he strongly suggested updating information on a regular basis and introducing local content. This will help people to connect with the project. Thus it will generate more money. The centres will create more employment.
Last but not the least, this probably was a hint to policymakers to increase services and make them more appropriate for the new decade.
The event ended on an optimistic note.