This blog is part of of the series South Asia Youth Voices on regional integration. The views expressed are those of the authors.
The 21st century world lives on optical fibers, and with an active base of 1.49 billion monthly users, Facebook would today be the most populous country in the world. The digital revolution presents an opportunity to transcend geographical borders toward greater regional integration in South Asia. And youth, empowered by internet and the smartphone, can override traditional boundaries and historical prejudices.
Information and Communication Technologies
One of the first things I did after the earthquake on 25th April was to connect with my family through the internet as phone lines were then not available. Never before had I been so grateful to have internet access. The quakes in April and May claimed more than 9,000 lives and injured thousands. Million others are now homeless. Of the many ways the Nepalese community, international development organizations, and the Government initially supported the most affected, Internet and open data platforms played a major role. As info-hubs they provided updates for those in Nepal and elsewhere in the world and helped monitor post-disaster rescue and relief efforts.
Working in the renewable energy sector for the World Bank since 2010, I have visited more than 50 Micro Hydropower Plants (MHPs) in rural Nepal. From villages high up in the hills inaccessible by even the toughest 4WD jeeps to settlements perched on steep slopes, to one powerhouse that could only be reached by crossing a cold river with shoes in hand.
And with every community I visited, every family that welcomed me, I felt the same happiness to see them celebrate the commissioning of a MHP in their village. They enjoy evenings and nights as they chat, eat and watch TV with their family under the electric lights.
Each year, Bangladesh spends around $10 billion of its national budget on public procurement to build and maintain schools, roads, power plants and others. Public funds can be used effectively for the people only when the procurement system is transparent and efficient. In the last few years, the country has shifted away from traditional procurement standards – paperwork and long processing time – and rolled e-GP, a new electronic government procurement system.
- Open Governance; Open Data; Public Finance Management; Public Procurement; Information and Communication Technology; Public Integrity and Openness Practice; Transformational Engagements; Data Analytics; Private Sector Development; Citizen Participation
- Accountable Governance
- Public Sector and Governance
- Information and Communication Technologies
- South Asia
As Pakistan readies to celebrate its independence day, we can all feel satisfied about progress in restoring macroeconomic stability, but should also realise that the country can and should do much better. Pakistan has many assets, of which it can make better use — from its vast water and river endowment, to its coastline and cities, to its natural resources. And there are upsides: a growing middle class, a lively informal economy and a strong influx of remittances. Pakistan can also be proud of the first peaceful transfer of power between two civilian governments. But to reach its full potential, Pakistan needs to focus on two critical areas, both obvious and urgent. It needs to ensure that its people have the means to fully participate in and contribute to the economy. And it needs to integrate itself more, globally and regionally.
The first challenge is demographic. As a result of rapid population growth, 1.5 million youngsters reach the working age each year. The question is, will the private sector be able to provide the jobs they need and want? And will the youth have the skills to get good jobs? Pakistan must do far better in education. Primary school net enrollment is about 57 per cent, well below other South Asian countries. Enrollment drops by half in middle school, with much lower levels for girls and children from poor families. This is not a good foundation to build on.
It is not surprising then that Pakistan also struggles to give all its citizens the opportunity to participate in building better lives for themselves. Only 25 per cent of women participate in the labour force, compared to 50 and 80 per cent in most developing countries. Women and girls deserve better. Research shows that girls with little or no education are far more likely to be married as children, suffer domestic violence, and live in poverty. This harms not only them, but also their children, their communities and the economy. Greater gender equality can enhance productivity and improve development outcomes for the next generation. It is smart economics.
Pakistan has taken steps to empower women. The Benazir Income Support Program, supported by the World Bank, has provided millions of women with national ID cards and makes direct payments to them, strengthening their ability to take decisions and move out of poverty.
Sail Food Production Company is one of the largest food manufacturing factory in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Despite countless hours spent on manual bookkeeping, its owner always complained about errors when reporting profits and losses on the company’s balance sheets.
At the close of each monthly accounting period, the company was always late in submitting profit and loss statements to the Provincial Department of Finance. Similarly, there were many inefficiencies in production and raw material tracking due to the absence of a proper inventory control system.
The scarcity of information technology integration within business operations has limited the development of Sail Food Production and many other Afghan small and medium enterprises (SME) as they are trying to remain competitive in a global business environment. How could this be improved?
Young people were lined up to access what has become the largest tech conference of Pakistan, while others were working as volunteers to help manage the event. A coalition of prestigious sponsors joined the World Bank, the KP IT Board and Peshawar 2.0 to put on a two and half-day summit to inspire the next generation of digital innovators in Pakistan.
Arsalan Ahmed Jaraal, a student at the Institute of Management Sciences, who is volunteering at the event, said friends are persuading each other to attend the Summit. It saw the participation of 3000+ youth and 80+ speakers, over 30+ sessions and breakout events.
With energetic, social media savvy youth presence, it wasn’t surprising that the Summit trended on Twitter in Pakistan and more than 1.2 million people were reached on social media.
While this is the second such summit, there were also several firsts this year. This year saw many more international and national speakers flock to Peshawar to take part in the event. Two Pakistani American entrepreneurs, who met for the first time at the summit, announced that they would be launching a fund targeting high net worth Pakistani Americans as seed funding for Pakistani tech startups. This is perhaps the beginning of an angel investment network that leverages to expatriate community.
In addition, the Summit saw the first investment in a Peshawar based startup. Ebtihaj, Haroon Baig, Zahid Ali Khan, and Mubassir Hayat—all of them in their early 20s-- founded Messiah, an app that allows users to easily connect with loved ones and first responders in case of an emergency. At the summit, they were offered investment in their startup, by two angels—Shubber Ali and Kash Rehman—as well as from Oasis 500, a Jordan based investment company. The team will be attending a 100 day acceleration program in Amman later this year.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) is a leading post-graduate medical institution and the only medical university in Bangladesh. It plays a unique role in enhancing the quality of medical education and research. BSMMU is one of the largest beneficiaries of the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) which has brought about significant improvements in the quality of medical education and research.
Launching the first-ever virtual classroom for medical education in Bangladesh
Teaching quality in medical education and training is increasingly a thorny issue in Bangladesh. Teachers in medical colleges are inadequate both in quantity and quality. Currently there are only around 120 pharmacology teachers across 86 medical colleges in Bangladesh.
To address the challenge, the AIF supported the Department of Pharmacology of BSMMU to establish the first-ever virtual classroom system for medical college students in Bangladesh. The system has a great potential of changing the landscape of medical education and training in Bangladesh. The “Virtual Teaching-Learning Program on Pharmacology” sub-project was launched to pilot innovative use of information technology in medical education by establishing a virtual classroom environment. Under the pilot, medical college institutions across Bangladesh are connected to the virtual classroom. It allows senior medical professors in Dhaka and even international experts from abroad to deliver their lectures to students in medical colleges in different regions. Students can attend real-time online classes, download teaching materials, and assess their competence in self-administered test.
“So far 36 topics are available to the students for free. An online question bank has been uploaded containing about 4,000 questions. We also established a synchronous teaching system that is so far connected with 32 medical colleges. Professors in Dhaka now remotely teach classes to students outside of Dhaka, and sometimes international guest lecturers also give lectures via the synchronous system. It is an exceptional experience for students in remote areas to listen and ask questions to renowned medical professionals. The bandwidth of internet connectivity is the only challenge. BSMMU is connected to high-speed Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN), whereas colleges in remote areas have only narrow-band connectivity and cannot receive our synchronous broadcasting. It is now essential for the colleges to get broad-band internet connectivity.” says Professor Mir Misbahuddin, the sub-project manager at Department of Pharmacology, BSMMU.
Establishing a world-class genetic research environment
The “Modernization of Genetic Research Facilities and Patient Care Services” sub-project by the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences is another success at the BSMMU. The sub-project installed a Next Generation DNA Sequencer, the only one of its kind in the country, and established a modern fully equipped genetic research laboratory. The sub-project aims to promote research on human genetic diseases in Bangladesh, which have never been addressed due to the lack of proper facilities, and invites international experts in genetics and molecular biology to train medical researchers in Bangladesh.
“With this Next Generation Sequencer, we can now analyze the DNA sequence of Bangladeshi citizens and explore the genetic data of most prevalent genetic diseases in Bangladesh.’ explains Laila Anjuman Banu, sub-project manager and professor of Genetics & Molecular Biology. “Currently, we are developing a database of patients suffering from breast cancer and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in Bangladesh. The database is useful for researchers in Bangladesh for further researches on developing molecular diagnostics and designing targeted therapeutics in the near future. This is a cutting-edge arena for medical research worldwide. We have published two papers already using this new sequencer.” she added.
AIF sub-projects awarded to other departments such as Anatomy, Urology, and Palliative Care have been equally successful.
Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and yet one of the least integrated. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5% of South Asia’s GDP, compared to 25% of East Asia’s. Meanwhile, with a population of 1.6 billion, South Asia hosts one of the largest untapped talent pools.
To encourage young researchers in the region who aspire to use their research to inform policy making, the World Bank Group calls for research proposals on South Asia regional integration. Proposals will be carefully reviewed and the most suitable proposals (no more than five overall) will be awarded with a grant based on criteria listed below. An experienced researcher from the World Bank’s research department or an external academic will mentor and guide the young researcher in the implementation of the research.
The vibrant city of Peshawar is getting ready to host the 2nd Digital Youth Summit (May 7-9, 2015, Shiraz Arena). Co-organized by the KP IT Board, Peshawar 2.0 and the World Bank, the Digital Youth Summit is a tech conference and startup expo gathering participants from Pakistan and all over the world passionate about tech entrepreneurship. While there is a lot of excitement about how technology fuels entrepreneurship, there has also been a quiet and steady rise of the ‘e-lancer’
What is e-lancing? Exactly what you think it is. E-lancing is free-lancing for the digital age. Powered by ICT tools and the internet, e-lancing allows independent tech savvy workers connected to the internet access to the global labor market. Over the past years, even ‘physical’ workspaces have started to get virtual through tele-conferencing, video meetings etc. Many are very convinced by the benefits of ICT-enabled remote work and the flexibility that comes with it while others caution that it may not be the holy grail people tout it to be. However everyone is in agreement about one thing: ICT reduces barriers and distances making the global market more accessible than ever.
All you need is a computer and an internet connection. Thanks to ICTs, e-lancing is booming and there are multiple platforms where employers and e-lancers can “meet” and do business. These virtual marketplaces functions like a Craigslist for skilled tasks: employers post tasks and e-lancers respond to posted tasks and submit offers. Once selected, the e-lancer starts working remotely for his/her client. In most cases, the e-lancing platforms remain the center for all main interactions (payments, reviews, messaging, etc.) between the employer and the on-line worker so to ensure transparency and avoid frauds.