Empowerment, not aid, is what drives development, according to an entrepreneur who has increased mobile phone ownership in Bangladeshi villages by more than 115,000 in the past 12 years.
Iqbal Quadir, founder of Grameen Phone, was speaking at the Technology, Entertainment and Design Global meeting being held this week in Oxford, United Kingdom.
Quadir believes that putting people in touch with one another empowers them and fuels productivity. Top-down aid risks benefiting only the authorities, he added.
Mobile phones can change the distribution of power in society, said Quadir. They give people a voice to counter that of the authorities. Rural women who own mobile phones have a vital link to the outside world, which in certain parts of Bangladesh has changed the status of women, he claims.
But despite his success, Quadir says there remain plenty of problems to address. He is working on a scheme that would see rural entrepreneurs manage village power plants. In future, he hopes to introduce wireless Internet access via mobile phone to Bangladesh.