Ibal Quadir may be a prominent thought leader in the world of ICT4D, but he came from humble origins. In his TED talk, Quadir tells a story from his youth in Bangladesh. One day, after his family was driven to live in a remote rural village of Bangladesh by war, one of his younger siblings became sick and he was sent out to fetch medicine. Young Iqbar walked ten miles to the next town, only to find that the doctor was not in and was forced to return empty handed. That experience had a profound affect on him. To this day, he imagines how much time would have been saved, if he only had access a phone to call the doctor. It led him to his current development mantra ‘connectivity is productivity’
Quadir was educated in the United States at Swarthmore and Wharton, where he studied finance and engineering. Early on, he worked for several banks in New York and consulted for the World Bank, but he soon began to explore a path in development. His thinking differed drastically from the of the World Bank. He came to strongly oppose foreign aid in favor of tactics that put development in the hands of the people. He became interested in the democratizing effects of technology in developing countries; especially in the application of mobile phones.
In 1996, he teamed up with GrameenBank in Bangladesh to offer phones that could be purchased with microloans to entrepreneurs in rural villages. In this program, entrepreneurs would buy a “village phone.” They would then charge their neighbors for its usage, until they could repay their loan and eventually profit. Today, the Tech Horizon Report puts the phone as an important emerging technology, but when Quadir first proposed this plan, it was called radical. According to Quadir’s theory, it would improve everyone’s connectivity, and therefore, productivity. Today, GrameenPhone is Bangladesh’s largest telephone company. The project is in more than 25,000 villages, reaching over 100 million people.
Currently, he works at MIT as the director of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, which he himself founded. This center promotes bottom-up entrepreneurship in the developing world. In addition, he also founded the Anwarul Quadir Foundation to support innovative technological development solutions in Bangladesh. He shares his ideas through lecturing, special engagements like TED talks and journals like the MIT journal Innovations that he co-founded. He has been profiled by and has written for magazines like The Economist, Boston Globe, Financial Times and The New York Times. Quadir also spoke on CBC, CNN and PBS. He preaches to the new generation of I-Dev thinkers, the necessity of including and engaging all people in economics and politics as well a empowering people to become actors in their own development.