Why does poverty exist? That’s no small question for an individual to ask, but in Iqbal Quadir’s homeland, Bangladesh, there may be no other question that matters more.
His answer is twofold: First, European prosperity resulted from the devolution of authorities and the empowerment of citizens, while Western aid to developing countries simply empowered authorities to marginalize the citizenry. Even looking at oil-rich countries, the autocratic regimes grew spectacularly wealthy, while poverty remained entrenched. “Economic development,” Quadir concludes, “is of, by and for the people.” Second, his life experience had demonstrated that connectivity is a powerful weapon against poverty. The ability to communicate eliminates massive and avoidable waste in productivity, which in turn creates greater commerce and economies.
In Bangladesh 12 years ago, only one in 500 people had access to a telephone. “In whole areas where 100 million people lived, there were no telephones,” he says. “Vast amounts of wasted time results. The only way people can depend on each other is to connect to each other, which leads to productivity.” He decided to bring cell phones to them all–although not to each of them individually.
The New York-banker-turned-Bangladeshi-entrepreneur faced the hurdles you would imagine, the most prominent being that poor people could not afford cell phones. But in fine entrepreneurial fashion, Quadir contended, “If a cell phone creates productivity, why would you worry about [people’s ability to pay]?” With backing from microbank GrameenBank, Quadir started GrameenPhone, a locally based shared cell phone service. He approached a single woman entrepreneur in each village and provided her with a cell phone. The local woman would lease its access on a per-call basis, making cell phone communication available to more than 52,000 Bangladeshi villages and 80 million people. As for the women entrepreneurs, there are now 115,000 of them within GrameenPhone, each making a profit of $700 a year, far more than the average per capita income of the country.
Thanks to Entrepreneur.com for listing various TED videos