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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 July, 2005, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Technologies 'to aid the poor'
By Jo Twist
BBC News science and technology reporter

Iqbal Quadir, Grameen Phone founder
Iqbal Quadir had the idea for Grameen phones 12 years ago
The best way to help developing nations is to recognise that development is "of the people, by the people and for the people", says a Bangladeshi entrepreneur.

Iqbal Quadir, Grameen Phone founder in Bangladesh, told experts gathered for TED Global in Oxford that aid strategies for the last 60 years had failed.

Technologies such as mobiles empowered people because they connected them.

This, he said, fuelled productivity much more than the top-down aid approach.

Mr Quadir had the idea for Grameen Phone, a way to get mobile telephony into Bangladeshi villages and rural areas, 12 years ago.

Since then, the company has grown to more than 3.5 million subscribers, with more than 115,000 phones in villages across the country.

Voices heard

Talking at the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Global conference, a top US event being held in Europe for the first time, he criticised aid for developing countries that benefited authorities over the people themselves.

"The only way we can depend on each other is if we connect with each other. Connectivity leads to dependability which leads to specialisation and then productivity," he said.

Grameen phone lady
A woman with a mobile becomes important in a village. This changes the power distribution
Iqbal Quadir
What was key about a technology as simple as the mobile in a rural village was that people's voices, not just those in authority, were heard.

The next step, he hoped, would be to get wireless internet via mobile devices into villages. But he warned of jumping on the technology bandwagon.

"If everyone can talk, it is more egalitarian," he told the BBC News website.

"But we should not jump ahead too much and say just because the First World has internet, then the Third World should, too. There is a fundamental beauty in just a phone," he said.

The Grameen Phone scheme has had a big impact is on the lives of women.

Known as Grameen phone ladies, these women provide villagers with a vital link to services such as hospitals and to relatives both at home and abroad, in a country with the lowest number of phones in South Asia.

"A woman with a mobile becomes important in a village," he said. "This changes the power distribution."

Energising growth

He said the success of Grameen Phone had had a huge impact on people's lives in areas where there is poor infrastructure, but that there were bigger problems to address, such as the lack of other credit checks, bank branches, customer contact points, but also energy production.

His current project with Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway scooter, is about developing village-based micro-power plants, fuelled by cow manure.

Two are currently running in villages providing power for 20 businesses.

The project combines access to micro-credit with low-cost energy generation technology to see if rural entrepreneurs can manage mini power plants in villages.

"Some breakthrough in energy would be fantastic," he said. "Just imagine if solar panels suddenly become much cheaper. It would reduce the authorities' hold on electricity.

"If you bring electricity to villages, you can bring jobs. Electricity is half the problem," he said.

TED Global attracts technologists, scientists, artists and commentators alike and runs from 12 to 15 July.


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