Today’s world is shaped by availability of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Because global economy is powered by technology, fueled by information and driven by knowledge. This rapid change demands a dynamic renovation in Bangladesh also. Government of Bangladesh declared a vision of Digital Bangladesh by 2021 to ensure services at peoples’ doorsteps. A total number of 4,501 UISCs (Union Information and Service Centres) have been established at all Union Parishads (the lowest tier of the local government) of Bangladesh. These e-Service access points are inaugurated simultaneously on 11th November, 2010 by Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh and UNDP’s administrator & former Prime Minister of New Zealand Ms Helen Clark in order to translate the dream of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ into reality. UISCs are the ‘e-Service delivery outlets’ which initiated a new era in information and service delivery for rural and marginalized people. With the aim to ensure services at citizens’ doorsteps, UISCs are offering various government services, like public examination results, online university admission, birth-death registration, agricultural & law consultancy, telemedicine, life insurance; private services, like mobile banking, English learning, computer training, email, internet browsing and so on. At present 40 lac citizens per month are receiving services countrywide. 9002 young entrepreneurs are working with 4,501 UISCs and half of them are women. Entrepreneurs are self-employed and they manage their life with their own income. Increased entrepreneurial and self-employment activities help UISCs generate a monthly average income of BDT 3 corer. These hubs of information and services at doorsteps of local people save their time, energy and money.
Today’s world is shaped by availability of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Because global economy is powered by technology, fueled by information and driven by knowledge. This rapid change demands a dynamic renovation in Bangladesh also. Government of Bangladesh is committed to foster the development activities through the appropriate use of ICTs, and declared a vision of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ by 2021 to ensure services at peoples’ doorsteps. Union Information & Services Centre (UISC) is ICT enabled one-stop service outlet located at Union Parishads at union (the lowest tier of the local government) level. Similar to the ‘telecentre’ concept by different private organizations, the UISC model, however, is unique in the sense that it builds on the concept of Public Private Partnership (PPP) instead of donation dependant models, and brings govt. services within reach of every citizen in terms of proximity and cost. A total number of 4,501 UISCs have been established at all Union Parishads, all of them inaugurated simultaneously on 11th November, 2010 by Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh and UNDP’s administrator & former Prime Minister of New Zealand Ms Helen Clark in order to translate the dream of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ into reality.
UISC emerged from its earlier version known as CeC (Community e- Centre) is a Public Service Delivery Chanel at union level. In 2007, two Community e-Centre (CeC) was established as pilot under Democratic Government Thematic Trust Fund (DGTTF) of UNDP. In early 2008, CeC has been included as a driver project of UNDP supported Access to Information (a2i) Programme of Prime Minister’s Office. In 2008, Local Government Division (LGD) started 30 CeCs in Union Parishad. In line with that, LGD established UISCs in all Union Parishads of Bangladesh step by step. UNDP supported Access to Information (a2i) Programme of Prime Minister’s Office plays a catalytic role in this regard. Each UISC is operated by two local entrepreneurs – one female and one male local youth - who have invested in the centre, and is supervised by the associated Union Parishad which provides space and utilities. Union Parishad, or the Local Govt. Division also borne some initial costs including basic equipments such as a computer, a printer, internet modem and a webcam; the entrepreneurs are free to install additional facilities keeping pace with business growth. Entrepreneurs are self-employed, they are not the paid employees of Bangladesh Government, and they manage their life with their own income. These employment opportunities created by the UISCs have stimulated thousands more employments in the country.
Overall objective: UISCs have been established with an aim to develop the UPs as reliable, dependable resourceful centres having connectivity among global, national and local network.
Specific Objectives: More specific objectives are as follows-
To ensure easy access of common people to government and commercial and social information and services
To create ICT infrastructure at all union parishads and to increase efficiency of union parishads through prompt delivery of information and other day to day services.
To provide a supportive environment for creation of local entrepreneurs.
To ensure free flow of information for empowering rural community.
To create a vibrant, knowledge-based union parishad.
Services of UISC:
Popular Government Services:
• Public examination results
• Online university admission
• Government forms
• Birth and death registration
• Citizenship certificate
• VGD/VGF list
• Government circulars and notices
• Agriculture and health consultancy
• Govt. life insurance
• Services of DC office (35+)
-Development (VGD, VGF, TR, minority welfare, Kabikha, sports & cultural activities, development of educational institutions)
Revenue (Porcha, khas land distribution, Ashrayon, Non-agricultural land purchase, land acquisition money, requisition, certificate suit, hat & bazaar, vested property, exchange property, stamp vendor license, land survey)
-License (C.I Sheet, Cement, Poison, Food grain)
-Complain & remedy (pension, land, family affairs, law & orders)
-Relief & rehabilitation (Donation, grant, GR)
-Certification (marriage, NGO)
-Miscellaneous (Different committee approval, different appointments, dramatical performance, expatriate welfare, examination matters)
Popular private services:
• Internet browsing
• Computer training
• English learning of British Council
• m-Banking (Dutch Bangla Bank, Mercantile Bank, Trust Bank, One Bank, bKash limited)
• Job information
• Passport processing
• Visa application and tracking
• Service camp
• Video conference
• Mobile service
• Soil test
• Arsenic test
• Height & weight measurement
• Deed writings
Partners of UISC:
In order for UISCs to survive successfully in the long run, support from various govt. and private organizations is being mobilized through partnerships, these entities not only offer people oriented services through these centres, some of them also provides hardware maintenance and other technical support to keep these centres operational. In the forefront of such partnerships are public and private banks (e.g. Dutch Bangla, Mercantile Bank) – powered by the upcoming online banking facilities, Life Insurance agency (e.g. Jibonbima), telecommunications (e.g. Robi, Banglalink), non-govt. organizations (Dhaka Ahsania Mission, Practical Action) and govt. agencies and projects (e.g. Cabinet Division, Bangladesh Computer Council). A range of useful services (e.g. British Council’s English learning) is available at the union level, and govt. agencies are benefitting by using the UISC infrastructure and resources for data collection, registration for various schemes, transparent beneficiary identification and disbursement of Social Safety Nets allowances, so on and so forth.
Telecom Industry: Banglalink, Robi.
Financial Institutions: Dutch Bangla Bank, Mercantile Bank, Trust Bank Limited, One Bank Limited, Bikash Ltd (BRAC Bank).
Education institutions: British Council, Ankur ICT Development Foundation.
Solar energy: IDCOL (Infrastructure Development Company Limited), Climate Change Unit (Ministry of Environment and Forest).
Insurance companies: Jiban Bima Corporation.
NGOs: Practical Action Bangladesh, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, Swanirvor Bangladesh.
Technical trouble shooting: Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC), Bangladesh Computer Samity (BCS)
Cyber Cafe Owners’ Association of Bangladesh (CCOAB).
• Crucial livelihood information i.e. agriculture, health, law, etc. is easily available on time near doorsteps of all citizens.
• Many new potential government and non-government services being added.
• Entrepreneurs started to have their own life.
• Entrepreneurs are earning BDT 3 corer per months on average and 45 lac people are taking services in every month.
• Capacity of Union Parishad in prompt service delivery enhanced and closer ties established among the LG employees, people’s representatives and citizens.
• Government officials’ bureaucratic hegemony reduced. Now a friendly relationship has been developed among the UISC entrepreneurs and officers local administration (e.g. DC, ADC, UNO) through the activities of UISC.
• Government information and services e.g. form collection-submission, tax payment, land record copy collection and so on available near doorsteps of all citizens.
• Convenient Access to a wide range of commercial services from online banking, life insurance to English language learning ensured.
• Online interaction platform uiscbd.ning.com (UISC blog) created.
• A host of local entrepreneurs, half of which is women, created.
It’s true that no new invention can run only through smooth way; with each new innovation some new challenges come as well. At present the UISCs are facing the following challenges:
-Internet speed is very slow in rural level
-Coordination gap among the Union Parishad Chairman, Union Parishad Chairman and UISC entrepreneurs.
-Few officers of local administration are not pro-active as well.
-Entrepreneurs’ dropout rate is high.
-All entrepreneurs’ technical skills as well as accounting skills are not enough.
-Campaign, mobilization and marketing strategy are not enough.
Steps to Overcome Challenges:
‘Digital Bangladesh’ is the country‘s ultimate dream, and it’s very indispensable for country’s national development as well. UISC is an important step to translate this dream into reality. So, various measures have been taken to meet the current challenges, such as-
o Solar panel has been set up in 1013 UISCs where there was no electricity at all; solar panel is also going to set up in heavy load shading UISCs soon
o Discussion is going on with different telecommunication companies for improving the speed of interaction connections at UISCs.
o Various workshops are going on in district and sub-district (upazila) level with the presence of union parishad chairmen, union parishad secretaries, entrepreneurs and the officers of local administration to reduce the gaps among them.
o Strong monitoring and follow-up mechanism for local administration is going to establish from Cabinet Division, Local Government Division (LGD) as well a2i, Prime Minister’s Office in order to make the UISC sustainable.
o Entrepreneurs’ training from local district administration has been started whenever and wherever needed.
o Advance course on technical issue, accounting, mobilization, communication and marketing strategy will be addressed soon for UISC entrepreneurs.
UISC is a local knowledge centre. These hubs of information and services at doorsteps of local people save their time, energy and money. Now it has the challenge for the citizens to carry out the benefits of UISCs and make these sustainable. As a result, UISC will be a centre of service excellence which will meet hassle free citizen demand by reducing digital divide between core and periphery.
Writer: Jr. Consultant, Access to Information (a2i) Programme, Prime Minister's Office, Tejgaon, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org