Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Grameen Phone

My recent post on telecommunications and gender development cited a Vodaphone study done on differences in economic growth rates and cellular phone use received some validation today. The Bangladesh Journal has recently discussed a domestic telephone company, Grameenphone, which recently lowered the costs to cellular users in Bangladesh.

Grameenphone has a project called the Village Phone Program, which actually brings call center employment to poor rural areas.

"The program facilitates women borrowers of Grameen Bank to the GSM technology through the village phones. They become effectively mobile public call offices. This not only provides rural poor with new, exciting income-generating opportunities, but it also helps to enhance the social status of women from poor rural households."

Doing a regression analysis of this trend might be made more robust by incorporating an existing cell-phone/rural-urban ratio index. Examining the cellular penetration rate in conjunction with the rural-urban population distribution could give an index that reveals the success of programs like Grameenphone. If a country has a high rural/urban population ratio coupled with a high cellular phone penetration, then a country might be making progress. It could still be, though, that most of the cellular users are in the population core only, so a high index could actually hide rural-urban cellular use.

From Moneymatters:

"The elements that have made GP model work in Bangladesh are: 1) an existing for-profit telecom company already doing business in the country; 2) a clear market need, based on a large rural population with extremely low teledensity and a need to communicate with urban markets and émigrés in other countries; 3) a reliable way to identify literate resellers with good credit and record-keeping skills; 4) a viable currency and banking system. "

Moneymatters argues, then, that cellular use requires a form of literacy, so we would therefore expect high cellular use to correlate well with the gender development index.