Digitalisation in Development

Entrepreneurial ecosystems, Upskilling and Reskilling, Sustainable agriculture
Bangladesh has experienced a notable surge in digital initiatives in recent years, aimed at modernising its infrastructure, enhancing service delivery, and fostering innovation. In collaboration with local stakeholders and government agencies, Swisscontact is implementing several initiatives to further advance digitalisation, to enhance service delivery, promote economic growth, and uplift livelihoods.

Moreover, Swisscontact's commitment to inclusive digitalisation ensures that marginalised communities, including women and youth, have equal access to digital opportunities. 

Charting the digital services and payment revolution

In the remote rural Bangladesh, the Making Markets Work for the Chars (M4C) project, jointly funded by the Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh and the Government of Bangladesh, works to uplift the livelihood of farmers, specifically in the remote char region of northern districts. Collaborating with key partners like Agrigate Network Limited and mPower, M4C introduced Agrigate's user-friendly app for char farmers with Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and QR-enabled digital cards. In 2023, a total of 225 farmers received Smart ID cards. The Shudokkho, mPower’s telemedicine service, granted them access to expert veterinarians. In collaboration with M4C, 538 Livestock Service Providers (LSPs) were trained to use the app, facilitating the provision of digital veterinary services to around 500,000 farmers. The app is offering 24/7 access to veterinary expertise for LSPs. Besides providing timely and quality services, this transition to tech-driven initiatives has equipped LSPs with a comprehensive database, efficiency, and quality of veterinary services.

A char farmer from Rangpur with his vaccinated healthy bull benefitted from digital livestock service

Innovative water solutions and community entrepreneurship

On the other hand, Satkhira, located in the southern coastal region of Bangladesh, faces a different kind of challenge. Satkhira encounters frequent disasters such as cyclones and floods, exacerbating water salinity in the area. As a result, Satkhira is one of the most water crisis-prone regions regarding sustainable groundwater management and saltwater intrusion in the country. In 2023, the H2O project, funded by a private sector donor Lokales Waser, developed, and tested two community-based water entrepreneurship models in Satkhira. The innovation involves a school-based enterprise equipped with a sanitary napkin vending machine and a community-based water enterprise. These models include the addition of a digital payment mechanism through water ATMs. The water plants are powered by solar energy with the capacities of 8 kW and 3.4 kW.  

A smart card was introduced to purchase and recharge for accessing safe drinking water. In the school-based enterprise the same smart card serves a dual role, to access water and sanitary napkin dispensing. In 2023, 412 cards were activated, including to marginalised communities and households. This digital initiative resulted in dispensing 105,588 liters of water through the water ATMs in one year. H2O's digital innovations extend beyond addressing water scarcity, fostering community empowerment through efficient and sustainable water management. 

Beneficiary operating water ATM through digital payment mechanism

The digital transformation of Bhomra Land Port

Satkhira also grows in development importance for its land port that brings in an average of $8-9 m USD of annual revenue (Inspira report, 2022). However, the port currently relies on manual processes and documentation, resulting in slowed cargo transit and clearance. The 'Digitalisation of Border Procedures at Bhomra Land Port' (DBLP) project, funded by the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation, therefore is an important project in digitalising, streamlining, and ensuring an efficient and quickened port operation. In 2023, DBLP made significant strides in modernising Bhomra port. An impactful digital literacy training in early 2023 equipped over 100 stakeholders with essential readiness for adopting an e-Port system. This encompassed all public and private stakeholders in port operations, including Clearing and Forwarding (C&F) agents, port authorities, immigration, and customs officials, among others.  

Additionally, DBLP onboarded DataSoft Systems Bangladesh Ltd., a leading national software development company, in developing and deploying a full-suit of e-Port management software modules. DBLP also onboarded Spectrum Engineering Consortium, another reputed company for procuring the hardware of e-Port systems to strengthen the digital infrastructure at Bhomra port.  

DBLP arranged multiple public private dialogues throughout 2023 to raise awareness about the benefits of digitalisation to more than 110 influential stakeholders. These activities mark positive progress towards the digital transformation at Bhomra Port, enhancing its efficiency, transparency, and trading capabilities. 

Trucks from India waiting in queue at Bhomra Land Port

Transforming access to finance through digital solutions

Bangladesh’s readymade garments (RMG) industry employs an estimated 4.22 million people, of whom 2.5 million are women, contributing to almost 9.7% of the country’s GDP and 84% of total export earnings (BGMEA, 2023). However, only 67% of the RMG workers have access to bank accounts, 12% save formally or informally, and 38% take any form of credit, mostly from informal, risky sources. 

To address this, the Sarathi project, funded by the Metlife Foundation, enabled a network of private and public stakeholders including those directly involved with the project such as Mobile Financial Service (MFS), FinTechs, startups and training providers; regulatory bodies such as the central bank of Bangladesh, Insurance Development and Regulatory Authority of Bangladesh (IDRA), Microcredit Regulatory Authority (MRA), etc., and major trade associations such as Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), to facilitate access to preferably digital financial solutions for at least 265,000 RMG workers and community members. The Sarathi II project (2021-2024) has reached 700,018 RMG workers and their community members in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur, and Chattogram districts (of target 500,000). 

Moreover, 414,700 individuals from the target group have gained access to various financial products, and of this 125,735 have availed these products. So far, 33,000 RMG workers and their community members have made digital transactions. Approximately, 1,900 received digital nano-loans [which follow AI-based alternative credit scoring methods to assess a loan applicant’s credit worthiness], 18% of 87,900 low-income workers accessed micro-savings products digitally, and 17,220 RMG community members were introduced to micro-insurance, availing additional round-the-clock telemedicine services. 

An RMG worker withdrawing salary from an ATM booth, Gazipur

Improved awareness and information sharing through digitalisation

Cattle extension services, Dinajpur

In 2023, Bangladesh Microinsurance Market Development Project, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), bundled Out-Bound Dialer (OBD) service with crop insurance products as one of the Climate Resilient Extension Services to diminish the overall risk for smallholder farmers. The farmers suffered from crop damage due to extreme weather. The OBD service delivered weekly weather updates during harvest periods, enabling insured farmers to plan their agricultural activities and take precautionary measures in advance. A total of 456,700 farmers were reached with this service in phase-I of the programme. The OBD service helped the farmers to protect crops in case of adverse weather conditions. The service disseminated knowledge on farming practices based on weekly weather conditions. This knowledge helped the farmers to make better decisions, aiding the farmers to increase their crop production and reduce their losses.

Entrepreneurial ecosystems
H2O: Innovative business model for safe and affordable drinking water
Even though water has been officially recognised as a human right by the Bangladeshi government, 60% of Bangladesh’s 160 million inhabitants have no access to clean drinking water. Many people live on polluted land or with polluted groundwater. Rural and rapidly growing (sub)urban areas are not usually connected to the public drinking water supply. People collect water of questionable quality from unofficial and informal providers at high prices.
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Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation
The Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation is a public-private partnership for trade-led growth, supporting governments in developing and least-developed countries in implementing the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement. By bringing together governments and businesses of all sizes as equal partners to deliver targeted trade reforms, the Alliance cuts through red tape and end costly delays at borders. 
Entrepreneurial ecosystems
Making Markets Work for the Jamuna, Padma and Teesta Chars (M4C)
To reduce vulnerability and increase wellbeing of vulnerable and marginalised char dwellers living in the northern char region of Bangladesh. Chars are riverine land, susceptible to erosion and soil deposition, which remain disconnected from mainland either seasonally or throughout the year. Due to this unique geographical positioning,...
Upskilling and Reskilling
Sarathi – Progress Through Improved Financial Health
Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment exporter, with the ready-made garment (RMG) sector accounting for over 83% of the country’s exports and contributing approximately 16% to the GDP. This industry encompasses more than 4 000 RMG factories and provides employment to approximately 4.2 million workers of which almost 60% are women. Even though the RMG sector plays a pivotal role in Bangladesh’s economy, only 34% of it was integrated into the formal financial system when Swisscontact started to work towards the financial inclusion of RMG workers and their community members in 2016.
Entrepreneurial ecosystems, Sustainable agriculture
Bangladesh Microinsurance Market Development Project (BMMDP) (Surokkha)
The project supports Farming Enterprises (Micro and Small) to improve resilience through using climate-sensitive microinsurance products and services, contributing to food security and inclusive economic growth of Bangladesh.