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Taking digital to the next level in Bangladesh

Posted by Laura Eldon ICT in Programme Humanitarian Advisor

25th Jun 2013

Bangladesh is undergoing something of a digital revolution.  Just driving in from Dhaka airport, I was immediately bombarded with posters and signs advertising the latest mobile phones and new 4G networks - a technology that's only just reaching my home of Oxford back in the UK. 

A lot of this progress is thanks to the government's official policy of Digital Bangladesh, which is all about using technology to fulfil promises in education, health, job placement and poverty reduction. But it's the people, who are really embracing this technology, that are making real change happen. You might have already heard about the fantastic Info Ladies, who cycle hundreds of miles bringing laptop computers and access to the internet to thousands of the most remote villages in the country.

Oxfam is no stranger to the idea of using technology in its overseas programmes. Our pink phones project in Cambodia works to empower women by giving them access to information via mobile phone, while our drought monitoring project in East Africa uses mobile phones to monitor water points and provide early warning of droughts before the strike. But Bangladesh takes it to another level.

  • There's definitely something in the air, something that means we're seeing innovation upon innovation coming out of the country. Here are a few of the innovations I saw while I was there:Along Bangladesh's southern coast, we're supporting a digital early warning project to help save the lives and livelihoods of fishing communities. It's a delicate balance in Bangladesh.  It's a country where 70% of its land is less than 10 metres above sea level so, on one hand, the risk of flooding is high but at the same time, large numbers of communities have to depend on the water for their living, often risking their lives to brave the seas. This new project means fishermen are sent warnings of incoming storms, which are transmitted from telecommunication towers to special devices installed on their boats. If a boat is caught in rough seas, the device allows them to be tracked so that the coastguard can be deployed to rescue them. Fishermen can also raise an alarm in the event of hijacking and can even access information about fish availability.

  • Further north, monitoring on a poverty reduction project is being carried out using mobile phones. Staff interview programme participants and input the information on a mobile phone, saving time over the traditional method of paper and pen which then needs to be transcribed into an electronic format. Data is instead automatically sent to an online platform where project members are able to log on remotely and view results in real time.

  • The humanitarian team have been developing a Smart Information Management System to register beneficiaries and facilitate two-way feedback using Android smart phones. And, in the same area, Oxfam is running a mobile cash transfer programme using the local 'bKash' system.

With rising levels of mobile penetration across the globe and the development of new innovative digital tools, it's an exciting time for Oxfam as we seek to integrate the use of technology in our programmes. And its countries like Bangladesh that are leading the way. I for one can't wait to see what initiatives take hold next.

Blog post written by Laura Eldon

ICT in Programme Humanitarian Advisor

More by Laura Eldon

Laura Eldon