Reaching the unreached in Bangladesh through an innovative public-private entrepreneurship model
Similar to the situation in many developing countries, Bangladeshi government offices at the district and sub-district levels provide an extensive range of public services that are time-consuming and labor-intensive for both service providers and recipients. This creates frequent delays and has had an adverse impact on the livelihoods of the poor. Most citizens reside and work in rural areas, so they must typically travel long distances to access the nearest government facility, usually located in urban or semi-urban areas. In addition to long commutes, service recipients have also faced difficulties in completing applications to access public and private services. They have furthermore confronted barriers to accessing banking, financial and some private services. Due to a lack of IT literacy and Internet connectivity, they cannot enjoy the benefits of e-commerce. And due to the lack of access to information regarding the processes and the lengthy timelines involved, citizens have had to forego income-generating activities and incur additional costs to access services including transportation, accommodation and food. For women, the elderly and people with disabilities, the challenges have been even greater.
Towards a Solution
To address these challenges, Access to Information (a2i), a special program of the Government of Bangladesh, in partnership with the Local Government Division, set up digital Centers. Located in the lowest tier of government administration offices such as Union Parishad, Pourashava and at the City Corporations’ Ward councilors’ office, these Centers are one-stop access points for obtaining private and public services. They are operated by entrepreneurs who are selected jointly by the Upazila Nirbahi Officer (head of the Upazila administration) and the Union/Pourashava chairman/city corporation ward counsellors. The Government does not bear the cost of the entrepreneurs’ salaries as these entrepreneurs, both male and female, manage the business model by taking minimum service charges from service recipients. Their activities are in turn monitored by Upazila Nirbahi officers. Because the Centers employ females, rural women have been encouraged to seek services.
An online service platform, Ek sheba, has been developed for the entrepreneurs. To date, over 136 public and private e-services and the rural e-commerce platform ekShop have been integrated into this platform. This platform currently provides over 136 public and private services, agent banking services and assisted rural model e-commerce support through Ekshop to rural citizens. a2i is liaising with different government offices and private organizations for service expansion through the Ek sheba platform.
The digital Centers ensure that underserved populations, such as rural women, people with disabilities and the elderly, can access vital information and services, regardless of their general and specific Information and Communications Technology (ICT) level of literacy. A typical digital center is about 4 km from the average rural citizen’s home, compared to a government subdistrict office, which is about 20 km away, and a district office, over 35 km away. Access to these Centers enables citizens to receive efficient and customized public and private services. To date, 5,286 digital Centers have been set up, delivering over 150 types of services – both public and private – to an average of 6 million underserved citizens every month at much lower time, cost and number of visits (TCV). On average, the time needed to obtain services has been reduced by 85 per cent, cost by 63 per cent and the number of visits by 40 per cent. Already 323 million services have been provided from digital Centers to 76.8 million citizens, including approximately 2.1 million prospective migrant workers who have been registered online and 4 million citizens who have received m-banking services. In the process, the digital center entrepreneurs have earned over USD 32.95 million.
Collectively, digital Centers represent an important nexus for decentralizing service delivery, strengthening local government and also empowering communities. These one-stop Centers are essentially micro-enterprises run by “citizen entrepreneurs” in tandem with elected local government representatives. They leverage modern technology to provide citizens both free and fee-based access to more than 150 public and private services. Public services include land records, birth registration, telemedicine, passport and overseas job applications as well as applications to various other government services. Private services include mobile financial services, rural e-commerce services (through ekShop), insurance and various types of computer and vocational training. This initiative won the WSIS Prize from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2014. a2i is working with interested public and private agencies to design policies to make more in-demand services available for citizens through these digital Centers. Local government divisions have already established the policy frameworks needed to set up digital Centers and establish the terms and conditions. District administration and upazila (i.e. subdistrict) administrations have been assigned to monitor these Centers and evaluate the entrepreneurs who run them. In addition, as part of service process simplification, the Cabinet Division strongly encourages scores of government agencies to use the digital Centers as last-mile delivery points for
hundreds of public services. Private sector companies are also starting to make their services available through these Centers, which may be the most cost-effective way to achieve nationwide reach quickly. Digital Centers are also providing agent banking facilities, enabling citizens to withdraw allowances, deposit savings and conduct other financial transactions through these Centers.
Project name: Digital Centers of Bangladesh
Countries/Regions: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, Maldives
Nominated by: Government of Bangladesh
Sustainable Development Goal targets: 1.4
Supported by: Government of Bangladesh, UNDP and USAID
Implementing entity: Access to Information (a2i) Programme, ICT Division, Bangladesh
Project status: Ongoing
Project period: 2010−2018
URL of the practice: https://a2i.gov.bd/one-stop-shop-2/
The article is extracted from “Good Practices in South-South and Triangular Cooperation for Sustainable Development” published by United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation. The document can be accessed by clicking the following link https://bit.ly/2OcYs3z