Thursday, August 11, 2011

Your Old Mobile is A Ticket Out of Poverty

by: Melissa Fudor

Let’s do a little vision exercise: imagine your mobile phone was taken away for a month (I know it may be traumatizing). Not only would your social life suffer but a lot of business and career opportunities would plummet as well. Businesses, especially those in poverty stricken countries, rely on mobile phones in order to keep lines of communication open between vendors and costumers.

Reuter’s estimates that there are 4.6 billion mobile telephones on the planet, they are no longer a status symbol for the Western world but have become the cornerstone of economic development. This article tells the story of small convenient store owners in a remote area of South Africa that have to close shop for a day to travel to another village in order to replenish their stock, wasting both time and money in the process. Mobile phones have completely revolutionized this painstaking task by integrating a software pilot project that connects owners to useful applications for their business. One application in particular allows the owners to use their mobile phones to communicate with an intermediary person who gathers bulk requests and delivers them to the shops.

Mobile phones may be the solution for the developing world to create and build efficient businesses. Women in Wireless has paired up with the Grameen Foundation this year to donate used mobile phones to help the world’s poorest, especially women, improve their lives and escape poverty by providing them with access to small loans, essential information, and viable business opportunities.

The following is one of the Grameen Foundation’s successful stories from Rwanda…
HIV doesn’t stop Marie-Claire from running a successful mobile phone business.

Marie-Claire Ayurwanda stands on the rock foundation of the house she is building in Setwara, Rwanda, looking at the progress. “I want to finish building this house for my children before I die,” she says.

After her second husband died, Marie-Claire decided to start a business. She took a 20,000 franc ($40) loan from Village Phone microfinance partner URWEGO to open the Isimbi Restaurant. The profits from the restaurant help support the four children in her household and pay school fees. If a customer wants to make a phone call, she proudly takes them to a separate, private room where she has set up her Village Phone. Her Village Phone business was so profitable that she was able to pay off the loan for it in five months (rather than the standard six months). She is one of the top five Village Phone operators in Rwanda, generating about US$624 a year for herself and her children in a country where the average income is around US$230 a year.

She is now interested in adding a second phone that she can run in another small village. She also wants to buy a pickup truck to help others in IMPUHWE thrive economically. “People in the association have their own gardens with Irish potatoes. With a pickup, I can take the potatoes to Kigali and sell them.”
If you have an old phone lying around your electronic drawer please consider donating it to the Grameen Foundation - you probably think that ancient Nokia or Motorola is worthless, but it can make such a big difference to someone else! Please have a look at the Grameen Foundation’s website and see how you can help. We have donation bags for used phones (chargers not necessary!) at Women in Wireless HQ in Bryant Park, you can email me at to arrange a time to stop by, say hi, and donate a phone! Hope to see you soon!

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