Creating a culture of innovation in Bangladesh

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Creating a culture of innovation in Bangladesh
« on: October 23, 2019, 12:37:40 PM »

As the world progresses and we revel in the technology that makes our lives easier, there still remains many areas of improvement, especially in a developing country such as ours. Plastic pollution is at an all-time high worldwide, while in Bangladesh, rural areas remain devoid of basic everyday amenities and healthcare facilities. Here, city planners and policymakers continue to overlook the needs of persons with disabilities. Some young innovators noticed these issues, and decided it was high time to take matters into their own hands.

Soumic Ahmed, a recent graduate of civil engineering from Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, said, “Right at the beginning of my university life, I came across a video on social media that showed the trouble Tripura women have to go through just to procure drinking water. They have to make an uphill climb three to four times a day from the water source to their homes. This takes up most of their time, and they don’t even have electricity to pump the water.”

Women’s contribution to the household is hardly acknowledged in Bangladeshi society. Soumic decided he would make their lives easier and make drinking water more accessible. “I came up with the idea to build a hydraulic ram pump, which doesn’t require any external energy source. It depends solely on the gravitational force or kinetic energy through flowing water. Using the basic principle of the hydraulic pump, it uses local materials, and leaves no harmful impact on the environment,” said Soumic.

Soumic’s idea was picked up by ilab, a funding and piloting programme of a2i, which is supported by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “I participated in Solve-a-thon 2017, with my hydraulic ram pump idea. After some rigorous competition at divisional and national levels, ilab selected me for mentoring and funding.”

Today, Soumic has taken ram pumps to two different locations in Bandarban, with tremendous feedback from local people. ilab is currently trying to connect the innovator with different development organisations to help him scale up the project.

But it is not just university students from cities making strides in innovation for development -- Md Touhidul Islam (26) from Jamalpur’s Kojghar village invented a reactor that creates fuel from plastic waste. “I was a fourth-grader when I first noticed how polythene pollutes the environment, and since then I was determined to figure out a way to reduce this waste,” he said.

The project is currently at its pilot stage in Jamalpur, and with help from ilab, Touhidul is trying to produce this fuel commercially. However, he said that it wasn’t easy to get here -- “When I first took on this project, everyone said I would fail. My family supported me and ultimately it was picked up by ilab after I won a prize in the national science fair 2016.”

Ahsan Habib (21) was studying in Barguna Polytechnic Institute when he invented a smart walking stick for people with vision impairment. “We get most information using our eyes. In developing countries, many people with blindness do not earn enough to afford expensive devices that help with movement. I decided to make a low-cost smart walking stick using easily available technology such as GPS, motion detectors, and voice instruction,” he said.

Ahsan’s invention was discovered at a2i’s Solve-a-Thon in 2017. Currently he is working on perfecting the device, and selling it commercially. “We are still acquiring the technical skills needed to market the stick. Unfortunately not all of the technology needed for the device is available in Bangladesh, so the process of getting it to the market is a bit time-consuming,” said Ahsan.

Also driven by the urge to help the masses, Anwar Hossain of Rajshahi’s Dingadoba village created a portable incubator. “When my younger daughter was born premature, I had to scour everywhere for an incubator to no avail, and it wasn’t possible to take her to a different area. After that incident, I kept trying to find a way to make a portable incubator at an affordable cost,” said Anwar.

“After a lot of research, trial and error, I successfully designed the incubator, and participated in Udbhaboker Khoj-e in 2017. Currently, a prototype is being tested, and it has been used successfully a few times as well,” Anwar said, adding that although the process of getting here was difficult, the reward of creating such a useful equipment is worth it.

All the inventors that have been patronised by ilab are hopeful for a better, more innovation-centric future for the Bangladeshi technology and startup scene. “ilab can improve their services by involving more technical experts, and providing skills training for beginner to advanced level innovators,” said the inventors.

Since 2016, ilab has accepted 250 ideas, and 27 of them are currently on the way to being commercially produced. “Despite the many limitations in terms of sourcing and technology, we have tried to patron the inventions that hold true potential. We aim to promote a culture of innovation in Bangladesh and create sustainable social change through it,” concluded Manik Mahmud, Head of Social Innovation Cluster at a2i.