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Grameen and Nokia

The Grameen Foundation employs some of the most innovative poverty-reduction and economic development tools around: microfinance; biomass-based village micropower; and "Village Phones," which enable rural communities to maintain access to regional and national markets, information and -- most important of all -- family members. Grameen Phone has been wildly successful in Bangladesh, where it started (and now serves as the nation's top phone company), as well as in Uganda and Rwanda.

Yesterday, the Grameen Foundation and Nokia announced a partnership to expand the Village Phone network in Africa:

With tiny loans, financial services and mobile technology, Village Phone provides affordable access in a sustainable manner.

The collaboration between Nokia and GFUSA is designed to accelerate efforts to make universal access, particularly in rural areas of Africa a reality. As part of this effort, Nokia and GFUSA have jointly developed a solution based on Nokia's most affordable phones and an external antenna to serve rural communities in Uganda and Rwanda, the two countries where GFUSA's Village Phone currently operates.

As far as I can tell, this is more of an expansion and acceleration of the Village Phone project than a new venture, but so far, there's little more information available than in the press release (which is identical on both the Grameen and Nokia sites).

The final part of the press release promises that Nokia and Grameen will work together on a large-scale study of the socioeconomic impact of mobile phones on global development, as well as on the sustainability of microfinance -- a good sign that both organizations are starting to think through the longer-term implications of their decisions.

(Via On Safari with El Jorgito)

Comments (6)


Thanks Jamais for the heads up about the expansion - its about time, and it seems like a good partnership. Those interested in more information on the Grameen Phone model might want to read a (dated - 2001) case study: Grameen Telecom's Village Phones by the World Resources Institute. In terms of the ongoing research - "a large scale study of the socioeconomic impact of mobile phones" - Vodafone has already done such a report. In it, they note that mobile phones have a positive and statistically significant impact on economic growth. My 2 cents can be found on NextBillion.net

Interesting. I've followed the developments over at Grameen off and on since 2001 when I took in interest in Bangladesh (I was following the elections at the time). Good to know that their ideas are taking root elsewhere.

Though I'm probably in danger of being branded as the non-resident curmudgeon comment-maker, I just want to note a factoid from an inter press service dispatch from the ongoing UN information society conference in Tunis:

Some poor communities in Sri Lanka are spending up to 15 percent of their income on communications. "That's huge," Laurent Elder, of the International Development Research Centre in Canada, told IPS. "Is that a good thing? Are we making people poorer?"

(complete article at: http://www.ipsterraviva.net/tv/tunis/viewstory.asp?idnews=392)

Also, some researchers cited in the article assert that investment in information and communication technologies is, in essence, a trickle-down approach to economic empowerment and poverty reduction.

[quote]Some poor communities in Sri Lanka are spending up to 15 percent of their income on communications. "That's huge," Laurent Elder, of the International Development Research Centre in Canada, told IPS. "Is that a good thing? Are we making people poorer?"[/quote]

I for one would not brand you a curmudgeon because many people feel this way. I would however invite you to look at this from the point of view of the poor. If they are willing to spend 15% of their income on communications, is that not an indication of how much it is valued by them? Would it not make sense to encourage programs and technologies which lower the cost of the communications which they are using anyway?

Also, "trickle down" programs benifit the rich in the vain hope that the poor will benefit. Investing in information and communications technology make them more available rather than being monopolized by the few rich people and businesses who can afford satalite links and it means that getting service is not limited to the few.

Thanks, Apesnake, for releasing me from the curmudgeon dungeon. I lived in desperately poor communities in the developing world and I know how much people there value having mobile phones. My concern is that we tend to be triumphalist about these things, creating wonderful phrases like leapfrogging, and trumpeting fizzy visions of the transformative aspects of technology. We just shouldn't forget that many people who now have access to cell phones, whether through Grameen or other entities, still don't have access to water.

Laurent Elder:

Seeing as I am the initial crumudgeon who was quoted here, I just wanted to give some context to the statements I made. The reporter seems to have picked out the key "controversial" issues I mentioned in my presentation, not its overall conclusion that states that most of the evidence points to the fact that ICTs do have a positive effect on poverty (although the process is quite complex). Let's not forget that possibly having access to a cell phone might actually facilitate their getting access to water for example. If you'd like me to share my presentation with you I'd be happy to.
Great site btw...


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