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    Using ICT For Alleviation of Poverty in Bangladesh
    CASE STUDY : Ownership of A Cell Phone Spurs Entrepreneurship in Bangladesh Village


Using ICT For Alleviation of Poverty in Bangladesh




Can the rural poor in Bangladesh utilize the latest information and communication technologies to overcome their poverty? There will be quite a few who will disagree. But a number of Grameen enterprises have attempted to develop new business models to test the hypothesis that has been vigorously advocated by Professor Yunus since the early 90s. The 41st issue of Grameen Dialogue featured the new technology based enterprises which have been set up in the 90s. Grameen Communications have already successfully experimented with rural internet service, IT training and village kiosks. Grameen Bank and Grameen Telecom have pioneered the highly innovative village phone programme, that has been so successful that it has already drawn world wide attention. The VP programme with more than 150,000 subscribers at the end of July this year, has provided the Grameen Bank borrowers with access to GSM mobile phones, connecting even the remotest Bangladesh villages in the coastal belt with rest of the world. According to numerous studies, the programme had a spectacular success in raising the income of village women and their families. Selected members of Grameen Bank receive regular loans from the bank, to buy a mobile handset and the cell phone service through Grameenphone network. The VP programme clearly demonstrated the power and cost effectiveness of ICT when a number of factors work together: Firstly, there is the need for an institution that is designed and dedicated to promote the technology ( i.e. mobile telephony ) and provide the poor with direct access to it. In Bangladesh Grameen Telecom was developed specifically for this purpose. The primary precondition was that investments in such a technology must be profitable for the poor, who should be able to own and manage the technology. Secondly, the ICT application has to be worthwhile as a business enterprise. It has to be financially and technically feasible, capable of attracting large commercial investments. This became a reality in Bangladesh context when Telenor of Norway, one of the largest telecom operators in Europe, found it worthwhile to invest in cell phone business in Bangladesh, assured no doubt by a reliable partner like Grameen Telecom. Thirdly, you need a microfinance institution that is willing and able to take the risk involved in providing the financing needed by hundreds of thousands of micro-entrepreneurs, mostly the women from the poorest households, dispersed over thousands of remote villages throughou t the country.

Microfinance, therefore, enables the poor to gain a strong leverage with the new technology to raise their income and social status.

The impact of mobile telephones, for the first time in the hands of the poor in rural Bangladesh, has been almost instantaneous. While the government owned BTTB, the sole fixed line telephone system in the country and other mobile operators looked on incredulously, the VP programme spread rapidly. GrameenPhone was also encouraged to roll out very fast its transmission network, with hundreds of new base stations coming on air every year. Grameen Telecom has kept pace with expansion of its technical support services to the VP customers. Simultaneously, Grameen Bank expanded and diversified its lending programme to provide the much needed finances to its borrowers. Thousands of new micro-entrepreneurs have entered the cell phone business, setting up telephone kiosks in villages, market places and small towns along the rural roads and highways. Many have already diversified their business providing, telephony, telefax, computers and emerging IT related business.

- by Khalid Shams
 Editor : Muhammad
Executive Editor : Khalid Shams 
Editorial Assistance :
Lamiya Morshed 
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