Being a responsible business entity, Huawei, the leading global provider of ICT infrastructure, is committed to the skills development of the youth across the globe. Following their promise to create a budding learning environment for young learners to prepare for the ever-evolving technology world, the company has introduced several initiatives globally, including in Bangladesh.
Recently, The Business Standard had a conversation with Zhang Zhengjun, CEO of Huawei Technologies (Bangladesh) Limited, in which he shed light on the topics related to ICT inclusion, digital divide, skill development, and ICT talent ecosystem in Bangladesh.
An excerpt from the discussion is presented below for readers.
All the countries have discovered a new way of massive ICT inclusion in the digital journey. How do you see Bangladesh doing in this aspect?
Yes, many countries have been progressing towards a digital vision for years. But we faced some initial challenges at the beginning of the pandemic when the whole world was concealed indoors. The good part is, the world is familiarising itself with new ways driven by online, automated, and intelligent trends, and sparking a fast track to build digital competitiveness and resilience.
Bangladesh has also set pretty good records here, utilizing the existing ICT technologies and initiating timely steps. As per some research papers, Bangladesh launched lots of mobile applications including 29 telemedicine, seven other mobile applications, and around 250 digital transactions and shopping-based applications, two online helplines dedicated for foreign workers, and so on at the very early stage of this situation. A successful digital vaccination system, 'Surokkha' was introduced. Education system adopted to the digital platforms. Schools, colleges, and universities now rely on online classes, and students could receive regular education without significant problems.
And even if we keep this pandemic situation apart and observe overall digital development in this country and compare it with other notable South Asian countries; we can see that Bangladesh is better positioned regarding this digital transformation and achieved a better digital inclusion growth rate in maintaining sustainability. This reflection showed in Huawei Global Connectivity Index 2020. This report shows that Bangladesh is in a better place than some countries that started early and have a larger GDP overall.
And if we think about our future, I must say, Bangladesh is doing well for now, but it is imperative to focus on seeds, our youth, who are our future leaders. On the other hand, we have also realized the importance of ICT knowledge and applications along with access to it. So, minimizing the digital divide and the development of ICT skills at large in Bangladesh should be focused on at this moment.
You have mentioned the digital divide and skill development. Why are those important?
Knowledge can change destiny. It can shape our future into a better one. But the knowledge of ICT will enable us to maintain our sustainability. I believe that people with advanced ICT knowledge will change the world in a better way. Let's take a look at Bangladeshi freelancers. According to the 'Digital Economy Report-2019' of UNCTAD Bangladesh, there are over 650 thousand young people working on the global freelancing platforms earning more than 100 million US dollars every year. Bangladesh is the second-ranked country in the world in the case of online labor supply. This is just a glimpse of the potential of our youth when they get access to the internet and the know-how of ICT facilities.
The barrier in this part is the digital divide which is now a crucial issue worldwide. According to Huawei's research, half of the world's population is disconnected from the internet's benefits. They are left out of the advantages of modern technologies. Nearly 2 billion women and young people under 25 lack the help of fixed broadband service in their homes. In the context of Bangladesh, this digital divide also exists here like other countries. There are people out of broadband internet coverage and fast data transmission technology.
Another significant issue is the deficiency of ICT Talent. Although digital transformation has accelerated recently, the number of available ICT talent is still not enough to match the future requirements. To keep up with the rapidly growing ICT industry, we need to make sure that the future generation is well trained to sustain our digital growth and Digital Bangladesh vision and add value. As we all know, Bangladesh has a very good demographic dividend of young people, about 65% of the 163 million people in Bangladesh are under the age of 25.
In the next 10 years, the ICT sector will be equipped with the latest ICT tech and there will be a huge job opportunity for ICT skilled youth. At that time, we will need highly trained local talents to suffice our local needs in the ICT sector. We need to invest in cultivating ICT talents by creating a local ICT talent ecosystem to fulfill the dream of Digital Bangladesh 2021. If we don't take measures in time, we will be losing the opportunities, and this deficiency will grow into a more significant threat.
How can we ensure a better ecosystem for retaining ICT talents?
To retain a better ecosystem for cultivating world standard ICT talents there should be a collaborative venture between the government, the education system, and the ICT industry. These three factors need to collaborate and work together. To successfully develop an ICT talent ecosystem, the first role player is the government. The government needs to establish distinctive policies to accommodate the ICT talents with the means to develop their skills. Educational organizations, especially engineering universities will play a secondary role. Students from the top STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) will be the candidate for the advanced training methods and will be trained in the latest technologies by the government set ICT training institutes. These training institutes will collaborate and collect all the latest technologies from international entities such as tech companies, ICT corporations, and vendors. Finally, the ICT-based industries will give them the chance to work in real-time technologies and finalize their skill development.
It is the cycle of the ICT talent ecosystem. Every step of this ecosystem is essential for building ICT talents who are well trained and experienced in real-time. It will narrow the skill gap and provide training to the students in the newest technology, and by the time the technology arrives in the country, the ICT workforce will be well trained and ready for it. This ecosystem to cultivate ICT talents must follow some standards. This training system must be relevant to the global ICT education system. And most importantly, the students by themselves need to be more attached to available online educational platforms so that they can learn the most advanced knowledge from the globe.
How is Huawei already working to develop the ICT talent ecosystem in Bangladesh?
Huawei has been working on this part for a long and certainly, there are several initiatives we have been organizing in Bangladesh for talent ecosystem-building. Since 2008, Seeds for Future, a flagship program for youth development, has trained 30,000 youngsters from over 500 top universities in 126 countries worldwide. This program has been organized in Bangladesh since 2014, and so far, 5,770 students have taken part in the program, and 70 of them were provided the opportunity to take a study tour to the Huawei Headquarters from the Seeds the Future program.
Huawei has been working on an ICT bus project in collaboration with the Bangladesh ICT ministry. This ICT bus project mainly focuses on developing the ICT skills of young females in the rural area of Bangladesh. The first phase of this project was completed in 2019 and still, the ICT buses are covering most of the district of Bangladesh and provided training to 63,361 female students and women to date.
We have launched various ICT competitions with the Bangladesh Computer council and Bangladesh High-tech Park Authority to cultivate and nurture ICT talents from the universities. It will be a regular process where we will allow the student to sharpen their talent in the ICT sector.
Do you think Bangladesh or its youth can take these opportunities? What is your future plan for youth development?
I believe the youth and their sharp brain is a great asset of Bangladesh. And Bangladesh is full of these resources. Our young talents have been proving their capabilities despite a lot of challenges. We saw young talents of Bangladesh winning gold medals in the Math Olympiad. In the international Robotics Challenge, Bangladeshi students won six awards in South Korea. Students from Bangladesh ranked first and fourth in the University Rover Challenge (URC) 2021. We have a number of examples. So there is no doubt about the capabilities of our talents. They just need a proper guide and facilities.
Huawei Bangladesh has a special theme, 'In Bangladesh, for Bangladesh', that inspires us to do something for the greater good of this country. And with that inspiration, we will continue to work for the betterment and an inclusive future for Bangladesh in this digital world. Like other countries, Huawei is going to establish an ICT academy in Bangladesh very soon. We have already signed an MoU with the nation's top engineering university, BUET.
This year of 2021, our focus will be on economic recovery, adopting new policies, introducing new technologies, and grooming talent for the future. Huawei is looking forward to establishing itself as the ICT partner of Bangladesh and gain success together. We can see that our future will rely on digital, so let prepare together for a digitally inclusive future for Bangladesh and its people.