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Microsoft And Young Bangla Initiative, Steps Towards Digital Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a land of vast knowledge and possibility and the youth demographic represents the most promise. According to a recent report, some 47.6 million or 30 percent of the total 158.5 million people in Bangladesh are young (10-24 years) (The Daily Star, March 8,2015). They are the change makers of the society. However, youth led initiatives in the grass root level are yet to be materialised properly. The Centre for Research and Information (CRI) and its youth led platform Young Bangla has been initiated to find out the potential young voices from the different part of the country, irrespective of class and section, to create a linkage between young change makers and policy makers and thereby support and promote youth lead initiatives to be successful. This report looks at the one such project within the general platform, whereby Young Bangla has partnered up with one of the tech-giants Microsoft Bangladesh in providing information and communications technology (ICT) equipment and training to youth of Bangladesh. In particular, the report highlights the Microsoft computer lab setting programme.

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Why This Project?
The mechanism which works as a catalyst of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ transformation is a bottom-Up process. To promote the vision of Digital Bangladesh, the benefits of ICT needs to be spread out in the very remote corners of Bangladesh and the starting should be initiated from the grass-roots level to assimilate their stories and to give them a platform to raise their voice and to share the challenges they are facing.

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In collaboration with Microsoft Bangladesh, three inclusive measures have been taken, namely: I. Opportunity of internship and brand ambassadorship, II. Service engineering training by Microsoft experts and III. Setting up a computer lab.

Under the third scheme, Microsoft Bangladesh has provided a set of equipment consisting of five computers, one projector, one printer, one modem and one router to establish a computer lab to the selected youth led organizations. Candidates have been selected from amongst the Joy Bangla Youth Awardees, who have demonstrated significant contribution at the local level. The project target has been set that at least one deserving organization will be awarded once every month round the year.

On March 25, 2016 one of the Joy Bangla Youth awardees, Kumar Bishwajit Barman, founder of Ashar Alo Patshala from Kurigram, received a set of equipment in an inaugurating ceremony event comprising of Sonia Bashir Kabir, Managing Director, Microsoft Bangladesh and other Young Bangla officials. In continuation of the process Keshob Chandra Roy, founder of Youth Association for Culture and Development from Nilphamari, received a Microsoft computer lab the following day. Mohammad Nazrul Islam Jony, a Joy Bangla Youth Awardee is the last of the three receivers to date.

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Kumar Bishwajit Barman
Founder, Ashar Alo Pathshala, Kurigram.

Biswajit Barman made a noteworthy comment, “Most of the children of the mentioned locality were amazed to see the computer device for the first time and sensed that the device is sacred.” As an inhabitant of the society we all have some obligations towards it but only some of us uphold the responsibility not only in paper but also in the field. Kumar Bishwajit takes his social responsibilities seriously. Hailing from Kurigram, Nageshwari, which is a very remote corner of Bangladesh and also vulnerable to any crime because of its strategic location which is close to India- Bangladesh border, he heads the organization Ashar Alo Pathshala. This organization works on tree plantation, stopping child marriages, reengage dropout children with education, providing vocational training and educational assistance to the unprivileged women, and campaigns to mitigate drug abuse and prevent drug business. Ashar Alo Pathshala promises to remove all the hindrance which obstructs the progress of youth. Young Bangla collaborated with Microsoft Bangladesh to facilitate this organization with a Microsoft computer lab.

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Follow up of the Microsoft lab Program:
• With the assistance of Microsoft and Young Bangla, Ashar Alo Pathshala initiated a Basic Computer Training Course. They have already trained 235 people since the beginning of the training session from April, 2016. It is a 15 days basic extensive training on Microsoft Office, Web Designing and Internet browsing. Each training batch consists of 7 students and occurs 8 times per day. Currently a batch of 52 students getting the training. They have received positive feedback from the locality. This computer training also opened a way of earning for the trainer of the courses too. Minimum charge of 300 for a 15 day Training course is levied. With the mentioned amount of money, they can easily manage the servicing and maintenance cost and also a source of livelihood.
• Apart from the regular training, they have already organized three campaigns in the Kurigram Union; they executed two session with the children of riverine islanders (char dwellers) to familiarize children with computer technology and Internet. Another campaign was arranged for primary school children. Around 1,500 children participated in the three campaign programs.
• They also arranged training sessions for the primary school teachers, as well as several institutions in the Kurigram Nageswari Union. Though the rate of literacy is very low in the Kurigram District of Rangpur division, the Ashar alo Foundation aims to double the number of literacy through their active participation and use of ICT.

Keshob Chandra Roy
Founder, Youth Association for Culture and Development (YACD)

Follow up of the Microsoft lab Program:
• YACD works at the remote Upazila (sub-district) Joldhaka, of Nilphamari District. Partnership with Microsoft has enabled easy communication system via their YACD computer Lab at the local Joldhaka Upazila Bazar. They have initiated a 6 month training program on Microsoft Office, Internet browsing and also web designing. At present 40 students are entitled to the 6 months intensive training program. Among them 16 are female and 28 are male students. Two trainers are assigned to the training process on a regular basis. Students who are getting training are provided a certificate after the completion of the course and it is needless to say that the certificate will add an additional weight to their employability portfolio.

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• Apart from the training program they are also using their computer lab to project multimedia classroom and prepare stage drama against extremism and child marriage.

• Providing internet access for the local people to meet their regular needs; for instance, to gather agricultural news or to know the result of any competitive exam.

Lessons Learned
– The process may be scaled up to increase the number of recipients
– Rural parts of the country need more ICT focus
– More private companies can use CSR funds in rural ICT development
– Impact of service engineering training and labs need to be monitored
– Those who received labs can also be considered for service engineering training to enable easy maintenance and upkeep.

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