Union digital centers help empower women
Salma, a poor woman with a month old baby girl living in the remote rural sub-district of Bhurungamari in northern Bangladesh was eligible for maternity allowance that was provided by the government as part of its social safety net.
Previously her husband died in a tragic road accident a few months ago and he never got to see his daughter. Salma lived with her in-laws who could barely afford to shelter her with a tiny mud-walled room.
She worked as a domestic help earning a paltry thousand taka (approximately USD 13) per month. With the presence of Union digital centers she can collect her money near her village residence.
But before the set up of Union digital centers, Salma had to first travel close to 20 km to the sub-district government office just to collect the application form to collect money.
Like the way they help Salman, Union digital centers help Bangladeshi women to empower them. And thereby they contribute in the country's overall development.
Union Digital Center (UNCs) is newly formed one-stop service outlets that operate around the country's 4,547 Union Parishads (the country's lowest tier of local government). Union Digital Center is able to offer different types of knowledge about government, livelihood, and private services to people in rural areas through the use of ICT.
It ensures that service providers and customers save time and money, and that operations are simple. These centers, which operate under the Public-Private-Peoples' Partnership (PPPP) model, are operated by local entrepreneurs, hosted by UPs, and funded by the central government.
Union Digital Centers (UDCs) have made it possible for people to access livelihood knowledge and services that impact their everyday lives in a simple and cost-effective manner. Today, a farmer in a remote area can learn about proper fertilizer and pesticide usage for his crops; a survivor of domestic violence can find legal resources; a villager can apply for land records; a migrant laborer can learn English using digital resources; and unbanked citizens can use Union Digital Centers to access banking services.
All of this is now possible thanks to Union Digital Centers, which are usually located within walking distance or a few kilometers from a village citizen's home.
Union Digital Centres -- technology-based information service points at union parishad levels -- have created more than 15,000 entrepreneurs becoming self-sufficient; among whom more than 5000 entrepreneurs are women.
During the time period, around 567.5 million services were provided by these centres, which are under the a2i Programme of the ICT Division and the Cabinet Division.
Digital Centres have been the flagship initiative of Digital Bangladesh. Today, over 300 services are being provided through the 7,600 digital centres established across the country to bring services to the doorsteps of the people. Citizens of remote areas are now able to avail services in less time and at a lower cost through these digital centres including those related to land mutation and registration, passports, birth registration, mobile financing and many more.
Aiming to help government services reach people's doorsteps easily, fast and at low cost, Union Digital Centers began operations in 2009 in 30 Union Parishads (UP) through partnership between Local Government Division and a2i programme. The Quick Win initiative expanded rapidly, culminating in a launch in all 4,501 UPs of the country on November 11, 2010 by the honorable Prime Minister of Bangladesh and UNDP Administrator.
Each Union Digital Centers is operated by two young local entrepreneurs - a male and a female - under supervision of a local advisory headed by UP Chairman. The UP provides space and utility for the centre. Local Government Division coordinates with Cabinet Division and Bangladesh Computer Council to establish the basic ICT setup including computers, laptops, printers, multimedia projector, digital camera, webcam and solar panel.
The entrepreneurs are free to install additional facilities to support business growth, at the same time, ensuring that the social sustainability of the centre is achieved by delivering government information and services. Key services are-Public exam results, Government forms download, Birth and death registration, Online university admission, Data Entry, VGD/VGF card database, Livelihood information, Employment information, Visa processing /visa form printing, E-mail and Internet browsing, Computer Training, Video conferencing, Mobile Banking, British Council's English Learning, Photocopying/ Scanning/Photo/Mobile phone services.
Around 100 countries have implemented one-stop shops-one-door or single-window service delivery outlets, neighborhood or resident information and service centers, and e-government web portals-to eliminate corruption by simplifying and rendering citizen-friendly public service delivery processes. The Bangladesh government is one of them.
These are reducing corruption and the service delivery quality all over the world. People in India, for example, registered a 50percent lower risk of encountering a bribe demand as a result of service centers. In Georgia, citizen satisfaction with government services increased from 10percent to 92 percent.
Among service partners are public and private banks (e.g. Dutch Bangla, Mercantile, Trust, bKash), life insurance companies (e.g. state-owned Jibon Bima), telecommunication companies (e.g. Robi, Banglalink) and non-govt. organizations (British Council, Ankur, Practical Action). Some of the partners also provide software & hardware troubleshooting support (e.g. Bangladesh Computer Council-BCC, Bangladesh Computer Samity-BCS, and Technology Today).