Leading Through Innovation: Q & A with Shahid Uddin Akbar Of BIID
Shahid Uddin Akbar is the CEO of Bangladesh Institute of ICT Development (BIID)- a private sector initiative to promote the use of ICT as a tool for development. BIID covers research and development on telecenters, e-Governance, capacity building and content development.
Briefly tell us about yourself?
I am Shahid Uddin Akbar, I studied Finance at the University of Dhaka. After finishing my graduation I joined at a bank and worked there for quite a few years. Later on, I joined a Development agency. Then suddenly, I realized that as a human being, we have responsibilities to perform to our society, to family, and to our country. That’s what made me think about the very question; what can I do? Then, the idea of doing business came into my mind. I think, business is really a good way to serve your community and country at large.
Tell us about BIID and its vision & services.
We use a punch line that is “leading through innovation”. We lay emphasis on innovation most. You would not find any generic business in our service offerings. We don’t do hardware or software business. Since our inception, we have introduced various services for underprivileged people to make their life easier and productive.
We have introduced services for farmers called E-Krishok, from where farmers can get necessary information for their life by using ICT. We have introduced e-Clinic that vows to ensure Quality Health Service in Rural Areas as Telemedicine has been identified as one of the most potential tools to bring quality health service to rural communities.
To invest in these innovative sectors we earn money from other projects. Research and consultation is one of them. We are also supporting Micro, Small, Medium, Enterprise (MSME) through www.sme.com.bd, promoting rights-based activities through e-Complain, providing information and solutions to travelers through Travel Line, and supporting telecentres in Dhaka districts through DRC and creating a new business model for telecenters with Batighar.
Tell us about the past accomplishments of BIID.
From the very beginning of BIID, we’ve been working for making a difference through our various projects. In November 2008, BIID launched its own CIC and co-branded it as Batighar with a vision to develop it into an R&D facility to try out new service and community engagement strategies.
In Jan 2009, under the initiative of BTN, BIID was appointed as the District Resource Center (DRC) for Dhaka District to develop provision for training and consulting to deliver/enhance skills, knowledge and managerial capacity development for telecenter owners/operators.
BIID successfully conducted a Joint Impact Assessment, Services Need Analysis and Designing Business Model Towards Developing A Sustainable Network of Telecenters in The United Republic of Tanzania jointly with Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) and Tanzania Telecenter Network (TTN).
We had also assessed the impact of Telecenters and developed a business model to serve the rural underprivileged communities towards the improvement of livelihood by using ICT tools.
As we work mainly within the Bangladesh we have the affiliation with Grameenphone, Banglalink, Citycell, BARD (Bangladesh Academy for rural development), Catalyst Bangladesh etc. We have got some recognitions that are really encouraging. In 2011, International telecommunication Union (ITU) nominated e-Krishok as a Success Story for 2011.
How did you come up with the idea of BIID?
I was not a student of technology, but I had a passion for technology and innovation from my student life. I wanted to do something with technology. Fortunately, throughout my job life in Bank and development agency, I thought and worked with different technology-based business models.
So, you see, I’m a technology fan and also worked in the fields where I was in touch with technology, all these experiences and that old passion once matched together and I got the idea of BIID. It’s a lot like connecting dots. Then, when I got it right, I developed the model and started to work to implement it.
What were the biggest obstacles you faced in your journey?
Well, if you want to bring something new you have to face difficulties. I found that in our country people are not aware of the power of information. The very first challenge was to convince farmers that, by using information technology they can change their life.
Concurrently, Social environment to support the entrepreneurial initiative and business enabling environment is significantly meager in Bangladesh. As for only getting permission to start something, it takes long enough time. It happened that, to get authorization to start a project we had to wait for a long time which made it difficult to keep the commitment to our client. As our clients are distinguished our challenge to keep the commitment is higher than others.
Then and again, financing is always a problem for startup entrepreneurs. And in Bangladesh, this is comparatively more intricate and if you are young then things can take you the extra mile.
What advice would give to someone just starting out?
Being practical in thought and action is important. Besides, one should try to have a plan for something that is achievable, implementable and should also define how. Having a positive attitude towards everything around you is equally critical as there would be a lot of things that would not go right. Try to think and act in a different way always, walking new path is difficult but most of the time its worth it.
Every businessman needs to be a good marketer. Similarly, be serious about proper documentation of the financial activities of your business which will help you to get a loan from financial institutions and will also prevent from getting messed up. Along with that, entrepreneurs must have knowledge about latest technologies and implication of those in business and their day to day life. At the end, there are no other ways but working hard enough to make things happen.
Interview by: Muhammad Zakaria and Julfikar Islam