5 years of national helpline 333: Creating a pathway for Smart Bangladesh

This article explores the role of the National Helpline-333 in providing crucial support for individuals seeking information and services related to government assistance. With over 8.4 crore calls received, the helpline has played an important role in addressing a wide range of issues, including food and relief aid, healthcare inquiries, child marriage prevention, and cyber-security related concerns.

April 18, 2023

The call center-based service 333 is a part of the Aspire to Innovate (a2i) program in Bangladesh. This program is managed under the Cabinet Division and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Division of the government, and is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Twenty-four-year-old Pushpo Akther got married almost nine years ago. Just before the pandemic, she along with her husband and son went to visit her paternal house in Kishoreganj. Once the pandemic situation had somewhat normalised, Pushpo's husband returned to his village in Barishal and eventually cut off all communication with her during this time. 

Pushpo was left alone, and in despair trying to fend for her son. With no hope in sight, she ended up calling the national helpline-333 in tears. 

Based on advice received through the helpline, Pushpo went on to take legal measures against her husband. 

The national helpline-333 completed five years of operation on April 12. It was launched with the tagline "Government information and services at all times". In these five years, many like Pushpo have availed the services of this helpline and authorities plan on widening the scope of services in the future. 

We learned the story of Pushpo through the call center-based service 333 of the Aspire to Innovate (a2i) program managed under the Cabinet Division and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Division of the government, supported by UNDP, Bangladesh. 

The national helpline gets most calls from Sylhet, Noakhali, Dhaka, Jashore and Shatkhira districts. On the other hand, calls from Barishal, Bagerhat, Barguna, Bhola, Bandarban are numbered. Men are ahead of women in number of calls placed. 

So far 8.4 crore calls have been placed to 333 on various issues ranging from filling up forms, allowance, child marriage, land-related issues, food and health assistance and other issues related to government services. Out of this more than 4 crore calls have been received and service provided. 

Of them, 1.64 crore calls were related to food and relief aid, 1 crore were for health-related inquiries, 98.45 lakh calls were regarding purchase of medicines and daily commodities, 23.28 lakh calls were for assistance regarding government assistance, 22 lakh were for land-related service, 20 lakh calls were from people trying to stop child-marriage or from people with disabilities, 12.73 lakh calls were regarding digital commerce 'Ekshop', 10.62 lakh calls were for cyber-security related issues, 6.6 lakh calls were for women and children’s security related issues,  4.48 lakh calls were placed for assistance regarding natural disaster, 39 thousand calls were placed regarding social issues, and 9 thousand calls were for preventing child marriage. 

The national helpline-333 was piloted in 24 districts in March 2017 before it was officially inaugurated. In the beginning it was operated as a government-information related call service. Later other social problem-related services were added to it. The national helpline played a critical role during the Covid-19 pandemic. During that time, the helpline received over one lakh phone calls requesting their services. Demand for government food aid and healthcare services was the most sought-after back then. Around 25 lakh families were provided with food-aid during the pandemic. 

These days the helpline receives nearly 25,000 calls each day. Of these, 8,000 to 10,000 calls are served directly through the helpline. Others are forwarded to relevant authorities. Other than this, nearly 2,500 calls come in each day requesting land-related services. 

Dewan Mohammad Humayun Kabir, project director of a2i, said that the government already has many call centers across the country and people cannot possibly remember all the different numbers. As such there are plans to adjust them. There may be one or two call central centres in place of the numerous that exist currently.