The global community could hardly imagine the currently turbulent progress largely defined by technological revolution only 100 years ago. However, by this time, Bangladesh is no stranger to this new wave of technological advances and newer market forces. Industry 4.0 is knocking on the door, and by 2071, in the centennial of the country’s birth; we can expect some paradigm shift in terms of innovation.
Nobody is sure where it would go in the remote future. Bangladesh might become a super industrialised concrete jungle; it can adopt green architecture, ensure complete food security; or it can emerge as a completely networked, hyperconnected society by realising the internet of things and many more.
Be sure, this country has no dearth of bright minds and ingenuity; but lack of recognition, availability of funds, proper investment and entrepreneurial environment, and sponsorships and little government support keep many innovative ideas sealed in the dark.
By official standards, the innovation drive in Bangladesh is one of the poorest, as the country is globally placed at 116th position in the Global Innovation Index 2020, among 131 countries. Bangladesh stands at 162nd in Draper Innovation Index 2021, out of 228 countries.
To change this position and become one of the top innovative nations in the next 50 years will be challenging, but doable. We need to make some carefully planned changes, focus on what sector needs more innovative minds and encourage great ideas from the younger generations.
It’s a relatively new idea in the economic field that shifts the neoclassical understanding of capital and labour-intensive economy to a more knowledge, intelligence and research-centred economy. Bangladesh can also implement economic plans for the next decades to slowly shift towards a more innovation-focused economy.
R&D (research and development) expenditure, easier patent policies, easier permits and licenses for small businesses, business clusters, etc. need to be emphasised in our national budget. Bangladesh can incentivise investors to focus on newer, more interesting ideas, inducing a national drive for both innovation and entrepreneurial ventures.
With more national emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, data suggest that such an approach would ensure more economic gain, employment growth and overall society wide benefits.
Areas for innovation in the future
Food security, smart farming and GMOs
With impending threat of global climate change and a unique geographical location of Bangladesh, food shortage might go out of control if we don’t prepare for it urgently.
Agri Biotechnology is one of the most promising technologies right now, in the agricultural sector. It is conceived that it will be able to end world hunger if implemented correctly. Bangladesh has some ongoing projects on agricultural biotechnology, but we need more minds and investors focusing in this area.
There are misconceptions about using scientific techniques in agriculture and farming in our country. That’s why both private and public sectors need to step up to properly communicate smart farming technologies like agribiotechnology and induce innovation in farmers themselves so that they come up with ideas and inventions themselves.
More funding and research on GMOs (genetically modified organisms, foods etc.) and communicating their effectiveness to the masses is crucial for future food safety and sustainable food security. Advances in GMOs will reduce our reliability on insecticides and pesticides, and we’ll have more nutritionally rich food for the future generations.
Local food supply chains are another area in food security that needs more innovative ideas. People of Bangladesh eat primarily perishable foods like fish, meat, vegetables and fruits in their daily diet. The cost of these foods skyrocket due to lack of a proper supply chain management to deliver these foods faster from producers to consumers with lesser middlemen in between.
Formalin and other toxic preservatives prevail precisely because of lack of proper supply chain management for perishable products. Implementing innovative transportation and storage facilities in the supply chain management can bring an end to these problems once and for all.
Smart cities and Internet of Things (IoT)
The world is entering the age of big data. Using data collected from electronic methods and sensors in urban appliances to improve overall quality of life in the city is the core concept of smart cities. This is one of the most ambitious ventures Bangladesh can embark on, to turn the often unliveable cities of Bangladesh into smart andbeautiful cities.
We have already dreamt of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ and the vision for Digital Bangladesh will certainly feel incomplete without smart cities. We have already made vast strides towards getting internet and information technology in the hands of people; but that isn’t even half the race towards smart cities. For a true smart city, we need to start investing in the idea of the Internet of Things (IoT).
IoT basically entails a future where all physical objects are connected in a dense network with the use of electronic sensors, software and other technologies. Basically, it’s turning our daily appliances into a part of the internet. IoT will generate vast data for the smart cities to improve upon. It will usher in an age of hyperconnected Bangladesh.
To make this a reality, we need more engineering minds to innovate on life appliances, robotics, digital wellness and digital transformation of objects. There are already many researchers, students and self-funded individuals working on these types of innovations, but we’ll need more investors chipping in and government support as well as ample funding for these ventures, to build a true IoT society and smart cities for Bangladesh.
Sustainable and green architecture
For the geographically vulnerable Bangladesh, the architecture sector is one of the most important sectors in desperate need for innovative ideas and solutions. Green architecture or green buildings are some of the current innovative ideas we have been slowly implementing.
Alternative bricks and blocks used for green building don’t attract builders and inverters much, and most green architecture projects fail or get under the file because of its high price. The innovations in green engineering should be subsidised if Bangladesh ever hopes to fight the climate change. The building code laws and construction laws and requirements need complete overhauls for the future.
There is also a projected risk of earthquakes that we need to prepare for, lest we might face an unimaginable number of losses of lives and wealth. Sustainable architecture such as vernacular buildings and ecological designs will be integral in that preparation.
Our cities are heavy with general stores, small offices and unplanned, harmful congestion of industrial and public buildings. We must solve this problem by the next 50 years if we want to make the country beautiful for the future generation.
Smart health sector
Smart health sector holds enormous potential in ensuring universal healthcare in developing nations like Bangladesh. E-health technologies such as app-based health services are already one of our most useful weapons against the global pandemic. We need to enhance upon these technologies through innovations and ideas.
Medical informatics is another subsection of big data that is revolutionising the public health sector throughout the world. The more data we have, the easier and faster diagnosis, medication and analysis become.
Following up on the IoT, the country’s health sector needs more digitisation, and not just through apps. Through self-tracking technologies, telecommunications for health and e-health business ventures, we can create a sustainable healthcare system that is accessible and affordable to all.
Kidpreneurship is the idea of encouraging kids to come up with fresh ideas about solving problems and innovating through positive education and games. We can’t just blindly focus on innovations; we need to build proper workforce who can tackle and solve the problems of future. A lot of countries worldwide are restructuring their curriculums to create more kidpreneurs. Bangladesh can take lessons from that.
Dr. Rafiuddin Ahmed, associate professor of Department of Marketing at the University of Dhaka, has created an organisation called ‘Innokids’ that strives to turn kids of today to future kidprenuers through creative guidance in emotional intelligence, technology, business skills and soft skills.
Ventures like these tell us that there is still hope for future entrepreneurial drive in Bangladesh. But we definitely need more ventures similar to this one, if we want to build a future generation capable of solving social and technological problems through innovation.
Innovation in social justice
The future society of Bangladesh has to be an inclusive and open one, where people of all identity, gender, ethnicity, religion and socioeconomic class will enjoy full rights and social security. The current state of that isn’t promising, even after 50 years, social justice in Bangladesh is one of the poorest in the world. To improve this situation, investing in social justice innovation is a must.
Innovations that impact social justice aren’t easy to devise, and there’s a scarcity of bright minds working on this area right now. We need more graduates and researchers thinking about smart social connections, digitised and remote judicial service, architecture and designs for physically challenged people, more investment in technological social security and so on.
By 2071, if we play our cards right, we can hope to see a truly inclusive Bangladesh, where no citizens feel discriminated against or wronged by the system.
And definitely politicians cannot alone achieve this. Innovations and ideas to eradicate the injustice ingrained in the system will be absolutely necessary.
If there is any angle that we can hope to completely overturn the current problems of Bangladesh by the next 50 years, it would be innovation. Once we boost our innovation drive and create the right environment for fostering and applying great ideas, the country will prosper beyond any predictions we can make right now.
Arefin Mizan is a researcher at Centre for Genocide Studies.