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Technology   Feature     

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Role of Internet In South Asian Development
    
Successful case studies
    What the Gurus say
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    - Gururaj Deshpande

Technology - a weapon to
fight poverty.

South Asian success     stories
   - Bangladesh  
     Village Phone
     Village E-Mail
     Village Internet
   - Madhya Pradesh State
     Initiative
   - TARAhaat.com
   - Several more


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the-south-asian.com                            February 2001

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Technology a weapon to fight poverty

 

India's contribution to the technology boom is well known. Indians now run more than 750 technology companies in California's Silicon Valley. Microsoft's Human Resources Department notes that over 30% of its programmers are of Indian ancestry. McKinsey & Co. predicts that Indian software revenues will rise from $5 billion now to nearly $87 billion by the decade's end. Several U.S. companies founded by Indians are now counted among the world's most promising Internet start-ups. A growing number of India IT-diaspora leaders are searching for ways to "give back" to India, assisting its social needs. Not satisfied simply with investing capital in companies in India, some are exploring new roles as philanthropists and as volunteers who could be encouraged to help rethink India's economic and social development efforts.

"It is obvious that dropping a computer into a remote village will have little positive impact," Akhtar Badshah, Executive Director of Digital Partners said. "Creating and adding appropriate and readily understood IT applications could accelerate a lot of excellent development work being done around the world. We want to identify these opportunities."

 

South Asian Success Stories

Grameen Village Phone, Village Email and Village Internet Bangladesh
A Family of Technology-based Companies to Alleviate Poverty

"We have started believing the unbelievable, namely that the elimination of poverty is feasible and that there is no reason whatsoever why anyone should remain poor on this planet." Mohammad Yunus, Founder of Grameen Bank and the Micro-credit Movement


Grameen Bank gave birth to the micro-credit movement in 1976 by giving the poorest of the poor access to small loans without the requirement of collateral. The Bank is credited for unleashing the entrepreneurial and empowering potential of millions of the (previously) poor. Currently, Grameen is the largest rural finance institution in Bangladesh. It has more than 2.3 million borrowers, 94 percent of who are women. With 1,128 branches, it provides services in 38,951 villages, covering more than half of the total villages in Bangladesh. The repayment of its loans, which averages US $ 160, is over 95%.

Grameen Bank's positive impact on the poor has been documented in many independent studies carried out by external agencies including the World Bank, the International Food Research Policy Institute (IFPRI) and the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS).

Its success has inspired people and institutions throughout the world with its success in poverty alleviation. A total of 223 Grameen replication programs in 58 countries have been established during the last decade. Taken together, they have reached several hundred thousand poor borrowers with credit around the world.

The Bank has now turned its attention to unleashing the potential of the new technologies of the Digital Age to benefit the poor. The banks four technology-and-market based efforts are described as merely the first steps in working to "unleash the potential of everyone everywhere."

Village Phone 

Village Phone is Grameen's unique method of bringing the information revolution to the rural people of Bangladesh. There are currently 1425 Village Phones in operation. The goal is to provide the first phone service to 100 million rural inhabitants in 68,000 villages by 2007.

This visionary goal will be achieved one village at a time by giving micro-credit loans- usually to poor women- to create 68,000 new entrepreneurs known as "phone ladies." Building on past relationships with Grameen Bank, customers with a good credit history are allowed to borrow about $350 from the Bank and purchases a cell phone in order to provide telephone services to the villagers, making a good living and paying off the loan. It creates a self-employment opportunity in each village and provides access to telephones to all.
Each of the Village Phone operators earns more than twice the country's annual per-capita of less than $350. Besides the obvious economic benefit to the "phone lady," studies consistently show that the whole village is economically benefited. With access to accurate information about prices, farmers get more for their products and pay less for their supplies. Yields have increased because of timely weather and pest information. Healthcare is improved. Family connections are maintained - most families have at least one member living abroad to earn money. In fact even exchange rates on remittances sent home are higher in villages with phones. The point is that information is empowering, and the middlemen are losing their monopoly.

By bringing electronic connectivity to rural Bangladesh, Village Phone is bringing the digital revolution to the doorsteps of the rural poor and unconnected. By being able to connect to urban areas or even to foreign countries, a whole new world of opportunities is opening up for the villagers in Bangladesh. Thus, the telephone becomes a weapon against poverty.

"The people of Bangladesh are a good investment in the future. If you look at Grameen Bank, it has 2.4 million borrowers in 39,000 villages. Ninety-four percent of the borrowers are women. Ninety-eight percent of the loans are repaid. And now, with loans for people to buy cell phones, entire villages are being brought into the Information Age. I want people throughout the world to know this story." Former US President Bill Clinton


Village Email and Village Internet

Village Email and Village Internet are two new programs that promote development through information access, use and exchange. Village Internet will seek poverty alleviation by reducing migration from villages to cities through creating IT related job opportunities for the rural poor. An effort is also planned to introduce full Internet services to educational institutions and social organizations in Bangladesh on a sustainable basis. Village Email will provide early warning of disasters.

Village Energy

Village Energy (Grameen Shakti) is a not-for-profit rural power company whose purpose is to supply renewable energy to un-electrified villages in Bangladesh. The expectation is not only to supply renewable energy services, but also to create employment and income-generating opportunities in rural Bangladesh. GS will focus on supply, marketing, sales, testing and development of renewable energy systems such as solar PV, biogas and wind turbines on a sustainable commercial basis to serve poor rural areas.

 

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