Bank commenced operations in 1983, its goal was to alleviate
poverty in rural Bangladesh by providing collateral-free business
loans to the poorest of the poor. Given the traditional view
that the poor are not credit-worthy, Grameen's unconventional
approach to micro lending initially encountered widespread
skepticism. By providing access to credit and capital and
encouraging a disciplined approach to business, Grameen has
provided Bangladesh's poor with the opportunity to benefit
directly from free enterprise and self-employment.
1995, Grameen Bank embarked on a new mission that was equally
radical. Driven by the belief that poverty is accentuated
by lack of information, the Bank began investigating the benefits
of telecommunications access. Grameen Telecom, a not-for-profit
enterprise was established to spearhead development of mobile
telephony in the rural areas of Bangladesh.
Khatun in her village phone shop
infrastructure remains very inadequate and underdeveloped.
The rural areas are not connected by good roads or any other
form of communication. As a consequence, the rural population
and in particular the poor households in the villages have
remained isolated from the cities and the urban markets. Bangladesh
has a population of about 140 million, and a density of about
2,000 people living in every square kilometer. Yet tele-density
in Bangladesh is one of the lowest in the world. The rural
areas, having 80% of the population, are practically devoid
of any telephones. If the poor in the villages could be given
access to telecommunications to obtain information for their
business or personal transactions, then there would be faster
development in the rural areas.
objectives of Grameen Telecom are as follows:
Provide easy access to telephone services all over Bangladesh.
• Initiate new income earning opportunities for the
villagers, especially the Grameen Bank borrowers, who now
became the village phone operators.
• Gradually spread the information revolution in the
rural areas, and introduce telecommunication as a powerful
new weapon to fight poverty.
Village Phone Programme has witnessed rapid expansion in recent
years as shown in the tables below:
Phone Growth Trend
Story of Rashida Khatun
For Rashida Khatun, an outspoken and enthusiastic female client
of Grameen Telecom and a long time borrower of Grameen Bank,
life was not always as good as it was now. Like most Bangladeshis,
she was born into poverty and was deprived of the basic opportunity
to go to a school. Because of the dire financial straits of
her parents, she was married off at a very young age to a
poor man. Kayamat Ali, her husband owned a makeshift tea stall
and the income generated from this business barely covered
their living expenses. To add to their burden, Rashida gave
birth to a daughter and the three of them huddled together
to live in utter squalor. For making a living and to get out
of the poverty, Rashida knew that she had to look for other
income earning opportunities. But the birth of her second
daughter put things on hold again. Hearing about Grameen Bank’s
program in her village, in 1993, Rashida joined a credit group.
After training, she initially borrowed Tk. 5,000 to start
a business for selling cloth door to door. With her husband’s
earnings from the tea stall and the profit she was making
from selling sarees, Rashida managed to save some money and
bought a plot of land and erected their own home. Later, she
expanded the house to add three more rooms to her house, which
she rented out, earning a net profit of Tk. 900 per month.
Rashida’s entrepreneurial activities did not stop there.
She heard about Village Phone Program and wanted to get a
mobile phone connection. Finally in 2002, after taking part
in an extensive training and orientation programme, she decided
to venture into this business. With her perfect repayment
record, Rashida very easily qualified for a loan that helped
her set up her mobile phone business in a rented store in
the market where she was also managing her textile business.
Village Phone Program increased Rashida’s family’s
standard of living further. With a whopping Tk.2,000 additional
earning every month from her phone business, she bought a
TV for her family as well as a cassette player for her daughters.
Her biggest achievement was sending her daughters to school,
something that her husband and she could not dream of earlier.
Her eldest daughter is now in her third year of college and
the younger one is in the eighth grade. The latter now dreams
to go to an engineering school after finishing high school.
from the financial and economic benefits attained by Rashida
Khatun’s family, her business also had tremendous impact
on the community where she lived. Telecommunication services
provided by her, have helped connect the people in her locality,
with families and friends in other parts of the country and
even abroad. Families of expatriate workers in the Middle
East, Malaysia and elsewhere, can contact their emigrant family
members, whenever they want to and let them know about their
well being. One such customer at Rashida’s phone booth
whose brother works in Saudi Arabia, voiced his appreciation
for the ingenious program. “Before, we had to rely on
other people in the city who had phones to let us know when
and where my brother would send us money. Sometimes, these
people did not even inform us and we faced difficulty for
lack of funds. Now due to Rashida’s mobile phone, all
the information is readily available to us, just a phone call
Bank’s microcredit and Village Phone Program have helped
ensure better quality of life for Rashida Khatun. It gave
her the opportunity to realize a broader set of human capabilities
and make her family a model to follow in the locality.
and case story by Zain Bari