In class, we have spoken extensively about the difficult requirements of ICTs to successfully drive development. Technology in a marginalized community may have little developmental impact if it does not meet the demand of its users. Individuals in developing countries must see a need for the technology, understand how it is used and be able to access, afford and sustain the ICT use for the project to be successful. In addition, the communal or individual use of the technology plays a vital role in its practical application.
As mentioned in the text, Grameenphone’s Village Phone Program demonstrates how ICT4D initiatives must deliver the specific needs of its recipients to be successful. In 1997, Laily Begum, an impoverished Bangladeshi woman became the first participant in the GrameenPhone’s Village Program. She received a small loan to buy a mobile phone and rent its use. This individual phone provided a connection for nearly 10,000 people. Villagers would travel extreme distances to access information and communicate with the outside world. Begum’s in-house operation quickly became a highly profitable business. She has since received additional micro credits to diversify her business by building a barn, shops and temporary housing that she rents out. Through her entrepreneurship, she has become the wealthiest person in her town with an estimated net worth of $145,000.
Over the past 10 years, this model has been recreated to include nearly 200,000 village phone operators (most of whom are women known as “phone ladies”), for communal mobile phone access. The project met the need of these rural communities and has successfully lifted thousands out of poverty.
However, in more recent years, communication infrastructure has widely developed and cell phones have become much more accessible. As a result, the demand for these communal phones has largely decreased and minimized Grameenphone operator’s profit. In 2006, phone operators earned an average of less than $70. Begum’s phone rental business now makes an average of $22 a month. She explains that without her other businesses, she could no longer afford this sole business.
The initial success of the Grameenphone’s Village Phone Program and eventual decline shows the rapidly evolving environment in the ICT4D field. Consequently, ICT projects must properly adjust their focus to meet the needs its recipients and accelerate development for poor populations.
To read more about Laily Begum and the Grameenphone’s Village Phone Program, click here.