“Digitalisation can unlock Tajikistan’s untapped potential”

Jovid Ikromi, a John Smith Fellow (2017) from Tajikistan is advocating for policies that will speed up digitalisation in his country and create a better quality of life for all.

Although Tajikistan is making some progress, it still lags behind all other Central Asian countries in terms of internet penetration and access. In 2021, the country’s fixed broadband penetration was a meagre 0.06 subscribers per 100 inhabitants. Only 40.8% of Tajik households had internet access in 2023, which is below regional and global averages.

High prices and slow internet speeds present barriers to improving access. Although fixed broadband packages are becoming more affordable, the price of mobile internet is increasing, while internet speeds in Tajikistan are up to 3.8 times slower than the region’s leaders (e.g. Kazakhstan). Tajikistan ranks 139th in the world (out of 145) for mobile internet speed.

“Embracing digitalisation is key to unlocking Tajikistan’s untapped potential, fostering economic resilience, and enhancing the quality of life for its citizens,” he says. “It plays a crucial role in economic development and increasing efficiency in various sectors such as education, healthcare, and government services, as set out in the UN’s SDG 9 – ’Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation.’

Advocating for digitalisation

Jovid continues to contribute to the discourse on digital infrastructure and technological competitiveness. In his 2023 publication, ‘Current issues of digitalization in Tajikistan’, he suggested measures for the transition to unlocking the potential of digital technologies in Tajikistan.  He has advocated for and contributed to policies addressing the need for faster and more affordable internet, enhanced regulation in the field of ICT and the establishment of a government services portal.

“My efforts have included leveraging my position to push for reforms and regulatory advancements that align with the evolving technological landscape,” Jovid explains. “By emphasising the importance of digitalisation and its potential impact on the country’s development, I’ve aimed to contribute to developing and implementing effective policies.”

John Smith Fellowship

Jovid was among the first cohort of Fellows from Central Asia to undertake a John Smith Trust Fellowship in 2017. He describes the experience as “transformative”.

He says: “The fellowship not only broadened my understanding of international perspectives but also allowed me to connect with remarkable people from Central Asian states with diverse backgrounds. The experience, rich with cultural exchange and meaningful conversations, has left an indelible mark on my personal and professional growth.

“During the fellowship, we had several meetings with UK Members of Parliament and visited both Houses of the UK Parliament. This experience inspired me to pursue a career in Parliament. Subsequently, just a few weeks after completing the John Smith Fellowship, I secured a new role at the Parliament of Tajikistan as Head of Economics Department.”

Jovid’s initial action plan focused on analysing the impact of Official Development Assistance on Tajikistan’s development and proposing policy recommendations based on best practices. However, when he joined Parliament in January 2018, he developed this action plan to include state support to SMEs for the country’s policymakers.

Jovid Ikromi with Director of John Smith Trust Maija Paasiaro

Influencing change

“In 2018, my analysis revealed that the Tax Code adopted in Tajikistan in 2012 had become outdated, resulting in an excessively high tax burden (65%). Moreover, taxpayers had to pay ten different taxes, which was considerably higher compared to other Central Asian republics.

“I successfully advocated for the drafting and adoption of a new Tax Code, convincing key stakeholders that such a measure was timely and necessary. After several years of discussions, seminars, round tables, and expert meetings, the Parliament of Tajikistan adopted a new Tax Code, which is much better than the previous one, in December 2021. This came into effect in January 2022.

Forging connections

According to Jovid, the John Smith Trust network and the contacts he made through the fellowship have an ongoing impact on his current work. “The connections I forged during the fellowship continue to be a valuable resource,” he says. “These contacts have facilitated collaborations, exchange of ideas, and access to expertise that contribute significantly to my role in Tajikistan’s Parliament and my endeavours in economic development. The John Smith Trust network acts as a dynamic platform for ongoing learning, collaboration, and the exchange of innovative solutions.”

The potential impact of Jovid’s work on the lives of millions of people in Tajikistan is what motivates him to keep going, despite the challenges. “I am driven by the desire to help improve the economic conditions in Tajikistan and contribute to the betterment of my fellow citizens’ lives,” he says.

“Additionally, I find great satisfaction in finding solutions to complex problems and implementing them successfully. Lastly, the support and encouragement I receive from my colleagues, mentors, and the people who believe in my work also motivate me to continue pushing forward.”

From John Smith Fellowship to Chevening

Since 2023, he has embarked on a new academic venture as a Chevening Scholar at the London School of Economics (LSE), pursuing a Master’s in Public Policy.

“The skills and perspectives I gained during my time with the John Smith Trust Fellowship are now being further refined and expanded upon in my studies as a Chevening Scholar at LSE. This progression from hands-on policy work from UK to advanced academic study exemplifies my commitment to a holistic understanding of international policy.”