Knowledge Networks

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Globally, the South Asia Region is the least integrated. Historical and cultural divisions tend to keep countries from collaborating more than they do. As a result, knowledge exchange, trade, and coordination are substandard—constraining growth and development.

“Our neighboring countries—India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal—they all have national research and education networks in their own country,” explained Ali Salman, the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) representative in Bangladesh. “The only lagging behind country was Bangladesh.”

Bangladesh has 50 private and 30 public universities with more than a million students, but none of the Universities are connected. Moreover, R&D centers and other institutions of learning work more as silos rather than networks.


GDLN helps World Bank launch groundbreaking talks on South Asian knowledge networks

Meanwhile, aware of the challenge, other countries in South Asia were moving forward with individual solutions. In India, for example, the Government created a Knowledge Commission that was tasked with identifying the knowledge institutions and infrastructure the country would need to compete in the 21st century.

“Through empowering people with better skills, we believe we can expedite the process of development,” said Sam Pitroda, the Commission’s Chairman.

In its work with India, the World Bank Group was also exploring how knowledge and innovation could help spur India forward on a sustainable development path.

Mark Dutz, a Bank Senior Private Sector Development Specialist, invited Pitroda to collaborate: “We quickly realized that [the World Bank] could play a convening role and a facilitating role in pulling together the best that the world has to offer—having to do with learning and innovation and basically using knowledge much more productively within an economy.”

The World Bank’s South Asia region approached GDLN to design a dialogue series that would bring all the parties together. It would connect Bank staff with Pitroda’s Knowledge Commission, as well as key stakeholders throughout the region.

Not all countries, however, jumped on board immediately. “We actually went out to the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Telecommunication, as well as the University Grants Commission to give them presentations and to bring them here in the GDLN center,” said Salman.

“We had to make a strong case that a national research and education network is needed in Bangladesh, and we should start immediately, and they should learn from the experiences that have been around within our neighboring countries in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.”

In March 2008, the World Bank and the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) hosted a dialogue entitled “South Asia Research, Education, and Innovation.”
It focused on both the experiences and potential of building national knowledge networks in South Asia. In attendance were representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Jamilur Choudhury, BRAC University’s Vice Chancellor, participated. “I made a presentation on the situation prevailing in Bangladesh. And then it was followed by a question and answer. It was almost like a conference where participants are present in one room.”

“I thought the quality of discussion was very good,” said Pitroda. “People took the initiative, I got to know them, and I was very pleased that there was an environment of openness.”


Bangladesh begins to build national knowledge network

Until recently, Bangladesh had made little progress toward a national knowledge network, but the presence of GDLN and the impetus of the dialogue made a big difference.

“Over the last two years with the help of GDLN, we are going ahead with this network,” said Choudhury. “Within the next year or two we should be able to connect almost all the 85 Universities in the country, and then connect globally to similar networks in other countries.”

“I think it has been a benefit not only for the University, but also for the country as a whole.”

The Global Development Learning Network ( is a partnership of over 120 centers in 80 countries that offer solutions to the knowledge and learning needs of clients around the world.

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