Bangladesh’s Demographic Dividend for a Digital Future: A Blueprint for the ICT Sector

Publish: 8:00 PM, April 28, 2024 | Update: 8:00 PM, April 28, 2024

M. Rashidul Hasan: As Bangladesh graduates from its status as a Least Developed Country (LDC), it stands at a crucial stage. The transition is a testament to its decades of economic growth and development strides. However, this graduation is double-edged, particularly for its burgeoning Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector, which will lose certain international trade privileges that come with LDC status. To maintain its growth momentum and capitalize on its achievements, Bangladesh must craft a strategic blueprint for the ICT sector in the post-LDC era.

The Current Landscape

Bangladesh’s ICT sector has been a cornerstone of its developmental success story. It has shown remarkable growth, spurred by government initiatives like the Digital Bangladesh Vision 2021, which laid the foundation for digital infrastructure and e-governance. The industry has cultivated a vibrant startup ecosystem and has become a destination for IT outsourcing, thanks to its young, tech-savvy population.

Despite these successes, the sector faces looming challenges as the country transitions out of LDC status. The loss of duty-free access to key markets under schemes designed for LDCs, such as the European Union’s Everything But Arms (EBA), will pose competitive challenges to the ICT exports. Additionally, the sector must address internal shortcomings that could stifle its potential, including skill mismatches, inadequate infrastructure, and limited access to capital.

As Bangladesh strides forward, exiting its LDC status, it faces an unprecedented opportunity to harness a key asset: its large, young population. With approximately 170 million people, ranking 8th globally in population size and 9th in density, the country’s future hinges on effectively mobilizing this human reservoir. The findings from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics Household Census 2022 reveal that about 65.3% of the population falls within the working age, defined by the UNFPA as ages 15 to 64 years old. This demographic profile sets the stage for what is termed a ‘Demographic dividend,’ an economic potential that Bangladesh will enjoy until around 2040.

The Challenge of Youth Unemployment amidst Growing Educational Attainments

Despite over 200,000 students graduating every year from the science departments of secondary educational institutions, Bangladesh is confronted with a rising tide of unemployment among engineering graduates. This is not a new scenario; the early 2000s witnessed a similar trend where the supply of engineering graduates exceeded market demands. However, the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the vitality of the ICT sector, rejuvenating interest among the youth towards this field.

The interest in these areas is climbing, with projections estimating up to 30,000 graduates by 2025 in Computer Science and related fields like Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Applied Physics. Yet, the employment landscape remains grim for these young hopefuls. A staggering 91% of companies are in pursuit of experienced ICT professionals, an insight gathered from BD Jobs statistics, highlighting a critical gap between the education provided and the skills required by the industry.

Addressing the Skills Gap

To convert its demographic advantage into a competitive, knowledge-driven economy, Bangladesh must embark on a strategic overhaul of its educational and training frameworks. The global demand for ICT professionals is robust, with the USA alone needing 3 million, followed by Europe at 1.5 million, the UK with 1 million, and Japan requiring 850,000. These numbers present a lucrative opportunity for Bangladesh, which can aim to capture a significant share of the global IT services market, potentially reaching exports worth US$ 22 billion by 2031.

Strategic Priorities for Sustained Growth

  1. Enhancing Education and Skills Training: The mismatch between the skills produced by educational institutions and those demanded by the ICT industry is a critical barrier. Bangladesh must overhaul its ICT education and training programs. This includes curriculum updates in universities to include cutting-edge technologies like AI and blockchain, and stronger industry-academia collaboration to ensure that skills training is aligned with market needs.
  2. Strengthening Infrastructure: Reliable and widespread digital infrastructure is non-negotiable for a thriving ICT sector. The government should continue to invest in high-speed internet connectivity, particularly in rural and underserved areas, to ensure inclusivity in the digital economy. Data centers and cloud infrastructure also need significant upgrades to handle the increasing data needs of modern ICT operations
  3. Fostering Innovation and Entrepreneurship: The post-LDC era should see enhanced support for ICT startups and innovation hubs. This can be achieved through tax incentives, funding for promising ventures, and creating more incubators and accelerators. Special attention should be given to fostering female entrepreneurship to ensure gender inclusivity.
  4. Expanding International Markets: To mitigate the impact of losing LDC-specific trade benefits, Bangladesh must forge new trade agreements and strengthen existing ones. Efforts should be focused on securing trade deals that include ICT products and services, ensuring that the sector remains competitive in international markets. Additionally, a focus on niche areas where Bangladesh can offer unique value, such as software development and BPO services, will be crucial.
  5. Regulatory and Legal Reforms: A streamlined regulatory framework that supports rapid growth and adaptation is essential. This includes everything from data protection laws to regulations that encourage foreign direct investment in the ICT sector. The government must ensure that the regulatory environment is transparent, fair, and conducive to business.
  6. Sustainability and Social Responsibility: As the ICT sector expands, its impact on the environment and society must be carefully managed. This involves adopting green technologies and practices, ensuring data privacy and security, and implementing corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives that contribute to social welfare.

The vision for a ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by 2041 is not just a goal but a necessity. The pathway to this future is through strategic investments in human capital, particularly in ICT capabilities. By addressing the educational and skill mismatches and creating an ecosystem that nurtures innovation and entrepreneurship, Bangladesh can effectively leverage its demographic dividend. This will not only Page 3 of 3 transform its economy into a smart, digital powerhouse but will also ensure sustainable growth and development in the post-LDC era. The time is ripe for action, and the global stage awaits the rise of Smart Bangladesh.

The journey is fraught with challenges, but with strategic planning and execution, Bangladesh’s ICT sector can thrive in the global market. As the country moves forward, it will be crucial to maintain the momentum of innovation and resilience that has characterized its ascent. With a focused vision and robust strategies, the sky is the limit for what Bangladesh can achieve in the digital world post-LDC. This era could very well define Bangladesh’s future as a leading digital economy in the global arena.


M. Rashidul Hasan
CEO and Managing Director,
Systech Digital
1) Vice President, BASIS, 2016-2018
2) Vice President, BASIS, 2014-2016
3) Joint Secretary General, BASIS, 2012-2014