Friday, October 9, 2015

Technology Development in Bangladesh

                   Technology Development in Bangladesh

Since the beginning of civilization humans have always strived to improve their living conditions by developing knowledge, technology and commerce. Certain civilization, society or nation has excelled than others mainly by developing new technologies or improving the existing ones, expanding their knowledge and commerce. They have been innovative, hardworking and disciplined in reaching their goals and aspirations.

Neolithic Revolution, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Indus, Chinese culture of the ancient past or Romans, Greek, Islamic advancement or Industrial/scientific revolution of Europe, America or the recent industrial miracles of the far-east led by Japan, Korea, China and India – all have a common thread i.e. they all have developed new technologies. They have led in various technologies and continue to lead and develop new technologies beyond our imagination.

In this article I will touch some of the key ingredients of technology development and explore the framework, conditions and possibilities of their implementation in Bangladesh.

A.   What is Technology?

Commonly technology is defined as “know-how” or “tools and techniques”.  In reality, technology covers: “Know-how”, “Know-what”, “Know-where” and “Know-when”.  Depending on the complexity of the technology or at what stage of the technology development one starts, it covers: material, man and machine. It covers: Product life-cycle, intellectual rights, the market-creation and safety of the users.
 Development of technology is a systematic and disciplined approach with imagination for creating something ‘different or new’ that did not exist or improves an existing method, product or application that ultimately would make the life of the user better, simpler or more attractive than he or she knew beforehand.

We often think that technology development has to be something fundamental or completely new. Fundamental new technologies are few and far-in-between.  Most of the technology developments are incremental developments and applications of the fundamental or already existing technologies. A good example is laser. The development of laser technology is fundamental and was first observed by Max Planck in 1900, theorized by Einstein, who also proposed a process in 1917. Lot of works was done after that and many different kinds of lasers were invented before it found its many applications in: industry, medical, military, communications, printing, law enforcements, entertainment, cosmetics etc. and still counting. A simpler example of technology development would be a potato-peeler or can-opener or a solar-powered cell-phone charger. Often a missed-technology development can open new market/applications e.g. yellow-sticker by 3M, commonly known as ‘Post-it’®, which can be used again and again without leaving any residue.

 Before 1948 Bangladesh had certain technologies/industries like Muslin, Silk, Jute, and Tea etc. During 1948-72 some industries were established to start an industry based country, but did not make any measurable impact compared to the other nations. Since 1972 private initiatives have paved the way to some of our current industry-base, mainly in: agriculture, fishery/poultry, garments, pharmaceuticals, construction etc. In most cases these industries have acquired knowledge and implemented the technologies that are available elsewhere to meet the internal demand and export in some cases.

B.   Creating a culture of Innovativeness

Innovative thinking and technology development for a society happens only when a culture and environment is created. This can be done by an individual who has a unique idea and entrepreneurship skills e.g. Edison, Siemens, Microsoft, Apple etc. Typically, such ideas and the initial technology have a ‘snow-ball’ effect and spreads across the industries spurring new enterprises. In reality, the society has to be in a position to foster ideas and empower its population. Let me explore this a little bit.

Although innovative thinking is an individual gift and the degree of innovation varies from person to person, everybody in this world has some unique idea. In the current ‘flat-world’ an idea can be generated anywhere and implemented from far away. Innovative thinking and generation of ideas can be nurtured to bring out the best of any human being. During my extensive travel, I have observed that those society/nations who have been most successful in generating innovative ideas have certain hall-marks: They never say “NO” or discourage; No idea is a “BAD” idea or should be discarded without appropriate evaluation; They encourage, foster and empower youngsters/co-workers/citizen to pursue and implement their dreams; They are disciplined and goal oriented.

Typically during the first 10 years, a child develops its inquisitiveness, courage, discipline and coherent approach to implement his/her thoughts. This is the time when the child learns: “YES, I can do it!”  To foster innovative thinking (every human being has some unique and innovative contributions to make), the family/society/education system need to promote this aspect of the child. As he/she turns into adolescence, the person, the family, the educational system and the society need to be aware, recognize the talent and help to foster his/her dreams, ideas or unique thoughts. The best way it is done by example and practicing: ‘Yes, you can do it! Let’s see how we can implement it etc.’ and taking the ‘negativity’ out of the dialogue or pushing the teen towards, where he/she does not feel comfortable.

Innovative thinking is not a domain of the experienced/elderly person only. Neither, it belongs to any class of population. On the contrary, most of the world’s innovative thoughts/entrepreneurship skills have come from young people under the age of 40 and from wide spectrum of the population, in most cases from unexpected sources and social background. Innovation can cover any aspect of life: science, engineering, economics, politics, literature or simply to improve any aspects of daily life or solve any problem that we face.

Once an innovative idea has been generated the thought needs to be realized and implemented in a disciplined goal-oriented ‘step-by-step’ process: making proto-types, confirmation of repeatability, manufacturing or large-scale capability, men/machine/material issues, safety etc. Not necessarily all products or ideas will require to follow all the steps, but from technology development point of view it is important to cross-check/confirm every steps even though the answer may be a simple finding.  

In Bangladesh every family needs to have the tools and education to empower their children with the belief that they can realize whatever they dream, whatever they want to achieve and support them. Educational institutes need to have the tools to cultivate creativity as a part of students’ standard-learning process, so that the students can grow into ‘the society’s creative future’. Government has a key role to play as facilitator and create an environment where every organization, every citizen irrespective of their age or background can pursue their creativity that advances everyday-life at home, at workplace, in business or the society. Creativity and dreams must never be restricted.  

C.   Creating the environment for Technology Development

Creating a culture of innovativeness automatically helps individuals to be creative in nature and provides a broader base for unique ideas in the society. But one needs more than that to create the environment for technology development. It needs knowledge and specific learning related to the particular technology covering  science, engineering, materials, machines, processing parameters, the operators capabilities, health & safety, market & product life-cycle, laws & intellectual rights, competition etc. A typical ‘Technologist’ posses the knowledge of most of the above and understands the impact, cause & affect of the technology to be developed. For larger and complex technology, it usually extends over many people and many departments.

Typically for a complex technology development, one needs to have basic research, applied research, industrial research, development and engineering. They are housed in various and separate facilities. This can also be accomplished by a single person at home or in a garage first e.g. Edison or Steve Jobs of Apple. Whether the technology development is spread over various facilities or is first accomplished at home, the key is the ‘idea’, ‘determination’ and ‘discipline’ until it is accomplished, implemented and multiplied.

For broader technology development ‘center of excellence’ is the source for basic and applied research. These centers excel in particular disciplines finding many fundamental aspects of science and engineering or the subject matter that can then be used in industrial and practical applications. These centers are often housed in the universities or national laboratories, where the ‘subject matter experts’ work to research and solve the fundamental aspects. It is desirable to have two or more such facilities to spur competition, complement and confirm the findings.

Industrial research is of course best done in an industrial environment by experts who can transform the findings of the basic/applied research to proto-types (design, form-fit-function, feasibility etc) and large scale operation (manufacturing, process, cost-benefit, health & safety etc) prior to the standard production or/and marketing.

Bangladesh has several universities, research facilities, as well as, some industrial base. To generate ‘technology development’ , it is paramount that ‘centers of excellences’ are created in these facilities, starting with the knowledge base & expertise that is currently available and then transforming these facilities to the extent that they become ‘world-class’. These centers need to work closely with the industries, whereby the industries would have certain interest in terms of ‘intellectual rights’, priority/rights to manufacture for supporting the cause.  Industries, who are currently not involved in industrial research, need to start doing industrial research & development, generate ideas not only to improve their current technology/products, but also to excel in their capabilities & product portfolio so that they are better than their competition, especially those that are outside Bangladesh.  

D.   Technology, Entrepreneurship and Commerce 

Technology, Entrepreneurship and Commerce go hand-in-hand. Typically technology development leads to new products, process, goods & services, which in turn promotes entrepreneurship and commerce. The key is to focus on the ‘added value’, take a ‘long-term view’ and less on ‘trading’.

Government plays a vital role in all these by way of providing the vital requisites: stability, rules & regulations (sufficient but not burdensome), infra-structure (communications, utilities, Internet etc). Their job is best performed as facilator and promoting innovation, technology development, entrepreneurship and commerce. The support of the government in creating large-scale ‘centers of excellence’ is critical.

Currently Bangladesh is mainly a trading society with the exception of few industries. Entrepreneurs, innovators and ‘people at large’ need to have modern tools or/and access to the vital requisites for innovation and technology development. Public-private partnership needs to be emphasized and promoted.  Long-term views are vital for the well-being and long lasting technological leadership to transform the trading nation into a technological based nation.

E.   What Technologies could Bangladesh pursue?

- There is no doubt that innovators need to pursue their dreams no matter what the situation is. The nation as a whole needs to support the innovators and innovation, so that new technologies, goods and services can evolve at faster rate.

- The current industries need to establish high quality ‘Research, Development & Engineering’ facilities in their own premise promoting innovation in their own products, process and services. They need not only work continuously with the universities and with the research facilities to create ‘center of excellences’ related to their field but also push these facilities to become ‘world class’. Research facilities in turn need to fill the pipe-line with substantial result/achievements that can be used by the industries. This healthy ‘push & pull’ will provide Bangladesh with much needed technological advancements. Industries need to identify their core-expertise/technology and apply to new products. A long term view is necessary to excel in a particular technology and a leading recognition in the region/world.

-  Study of technology migration has shown that goods & services follow the technology leader and optimum ‘over-all cost’ (efficiency, labor, quality, stability etc). As nations or goods cross the ‘emerging status’ to ‘developed status’, they usually become expensive or/and fail to remain in the forefront of the technology. This phenomenon provides opportunities for Bangladesh to look for goods and services, which have become technologically out-dated and costly in other countries. This has been observed in case of USA (clothing, shoes, manufacturing in general), Germany (ship building, camera etc), Japan (electronics, cars etc.). Bangladesh needs to prepare, implement, develop or acquire ‘state of the art’ technology for goods and services which will become technologically outdated and expensive in Korea, China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and elsewhere.

- Distant learning can bring knowledge to the learners/students from a distant place in lieu of the institute itself where the students assemble. The goal is to bring knowledge to the people virtually from remote places rather than bringing the people to places where knowledge is available e.g. in good well-established institutions. Bangladesh being very densely populated country and its villages/towns not being in a position to attract highly qualified teachers, is ideal for distant learning. This would not only empower the 95% of the population to innovate, but also put the country in the fore-front of learning and disseminating knowledge, allowing Bangladesh to leap-frog in technology development and entrepreneurships.

- The challenges of daily life: in the kitchen, in the field or at work place can provide many source of ideas for innovation. It is vital that the users input are taken to solve the problems, make life easier and efficient by developing new products and technology. Many of the products currently made in the emerging countries, as well as, in other countries and sold all over the world are cheap but not necessarily adequate in ‘form, fit and function’ or quality. Someone’s problem can be a boon to the entrepreneurs in Bangladesh.    

F.   Conclusion

Rather than recommending any specific technology or any specific product or process for Bangladesh, I have tried to outline a frame-work, parameters and conditions for innovation, technology development and to empower the entire population, especially the youth. Everybody, the individual, the family, the educational system, the business and the government need to embark in this journey of innovation and unleash the potential of the country.

Internet, communication and solutions for sufficient energy are pre-requisites for country’s technology base, development and innovation. Broad based innovation and technology development cannot happen overnight.  With a long term view and right priorities, the conditions and the parameters for technology development can be pursued and achieved ‘bit by bit’ and in parallel. The perfection or 100% achievement in ‘any one area’ must not necessarily be the hindrance for ‘the good or a start in the right direction’. After all, every ‘Today’ will become a ‘Yesterday’ and every ‘Tomorrow’ will become a ‘Today’—we must start.