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The Singapore e-Government Leadership Centre (eGL) at NUS-ISS has a partnership with Access to Information (a2i), a project under Bangladesh's Prime Minister's Office. INNOVATE@ISS meets Mr Manik Mahmud, the advocate who is championing change through capacity development at a2i.
A relationship that began over 2.5 years ago hit a high note in August, with the completion of training for a second batch of government officials responsible for e-transformation across Bangladesh's public service.
From left: Manik Mahmud, Capacity Development Expert, a2i Programme, Prime Minister's Office, Bangladesh, Ashok Kumar, Centre Director, eGL, Mohammad Ashfaqul Haque Chowdhury, Upazila Nirbahi Officer, Ministry of Public Administration, Bangladesh, Mohammad Nairuzzaman, Upazila Nirbahi Officer, Ministry of Public Administration, Bangladesh, Mohammad Kamruzzaman, Upazila Youth Development Officer, Ministry of Youth & Sports, Bangladesh, Cheong Vin Mei, Manager, Operations, eGL
The partnership stems from an MOU on capacity building, consulting, research and study visits between NUS-ISS e-Government Leadership Centre (eGL) and Bangladesh's Access to Information (a2i), Prime Minister's Office, a national effort to promote innovation, accelerate the adoption of government e-services, and to develop the ICT capacity of public service providers.
Nearly 100 Bangladeshi civil servants, from staff through to senior levels, have benefitted from this special training arrangement so far. A stringent set of selection criteria have been put into place by a2i to ensure that all participants came ready with real projects from their respective ministries.
"We were very specific with our learning objectives. Our priority was to expose the right officers to this valuable experience, so that the ideas and key takeaways could be immediately applied," explains Mr Manik Mahmud, a2i's Capacity Development Expert.
Participants first attended a two-week training session in Bangladesh, where they acquired the basic tools and techniques underlying e-transformation. "To make sure our objectives are well-entrenched, we've made it a point to reach out to operational staff, middle managers who mentor these staff, as well as senior officials and policy makers . In doing so, we're not just teaching competencies, but also the ability to guide and sustain the projects successfully," said Mr Ashok Kumar, Centre Director at eGL.
After the initial exposure, participants had eight weeks to implement pilot projects back at their places of work. In the final leg of training, trainees got to visit Singapore departments that demonstrated transformation and innovation. The delegates could then observe, first-hand, various principles and aspects of e-government planning, implementation and leadership in action. These departments included the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Land Transport Authority, National Library Board and Marina Barrage.
"The site visits and interactions have been particularly helpful," approved Mr Manik, who noticed that his team members have been greatly inspired by what they have learnt. "I can tell they're all very excited to get back and put their ideas and recommendations to the test!"
Mr Manik was most impressed with Singapore's practice of planning for future needs. "We had many insightful discussions on this subject, and understood how strong leadership and clear directions could make a difference in producing more focused and productive contributions."
"We've always focused on service improvements, and haven't really got a huge culture of innovation back home. Few departments are prepared to take risks or champion change and transformation in their roles," he continued.
However, having observed how decisions can be derived and strategies put in place to mitigate the risks, Mr Manik is excited to convince even more policy makers to join him on the quest for change by nurturing capacity development. "Talking about innovation is not enough. One needs to foster supportive environments, cultivate the right skills and knowledge, and empower teams and stakeholders to encourage true transformation."
The a2i is interested to deepen its partnership with NUS-ISS and eGL by creating new and relevant training opportunities for public officers in the areas of IT, business and leadership, beyond e-governance. To Mr Manik, the chance to learn from industry veterans, observe real-life working examples, and talk candidly about the operational challenges has been refreshing.
Like many Singaporean outfits, a2i also aspires to strengthen its engagement with citizens and local communities, and to capture more user feedback in the process of innovation. "It will put a different spin for those of us piloting new projects. After all, innovation isn't just about producing cleverer and better systems - it's people who matter," said Mr Manik.
The Singapore e-Government Leadership Centre (eGL) conducts workshops to help leaders achieve a shared e-Government vision for their department / ministry / country and align their e-Government programmes that lead to fulfilment of the economic or societal drivers. To learn more about what eGL does, click here