'Village Phone' Initiative Aims To Improve Access In Developing Countries - InformationWeek

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10/31/2007
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'Village Phone' Initiative Aims To Improve Access In Developing Countries

The Grameen Foundation and ITU are working to provide affordable telecom rates to users, while giving owners income to repay loans and earn profits.

Grameen Foundation and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) have launched the Village Phone Direct Manual to help microfinance institutions and other organizations in developing micro-franchise Village Phone operations.

The move, announced this week, is aimed at spreading affordable telecommunications access and business opportunities in poor, rural communities in the developing world. It coincides with the ITU Connect Africa Summit taking place in Rwanda this week, as well as Grameen's Microfinance Partner Conference in Bolivia.

The Village Phone Direct Manual, based on the Grameen Foundation's Village Phone Replication initiative, provides microfinance institutions (MFIs) and other organizations with resources and information for independently developing a local, targeted Village Phone product for their clients. Grameen Foundation links the telecommunications sector and the microfinance sector so clients can buy a "Village Phone business. Grameen describes the offering as "a business in a box."

The owners, or Village Phone Operators, run businesses in rural villages where no telecommunications services previously existed. They rent the use of a phone to their community on a per-call basis. The goal is to provide affordable rates to users, while giving owners income to repay loans and earn profits, which allow the business owners to invest in their children's health, nutrition, and education, as well as other business ventures.

"Our past success in Africa proves that Village Phone is a viable and sustainable tool in the continent's ongoing telecommunications expansion, especially in poor, rural areas," Peter Bladin, director of Grameen Foundation's Technology Center said during a summit in Rwanda. "With the new Village Phone Direct Manual, we have a greater opportunity to expand access and create new technology business opportunities for poor micro-entrepreneurs, not only in Africa, but throughout the developing world." Grameen Foundation has also developed an online assistance center that serves as a central hub for exchanging the information and resources that organizations need to create their own Village Phone products.

The organizations plan to translate the guide into Spanish, French, Arabic, and other languages.

Grameen Foundation is a global non-profit that combines microfinance, technology, and innovation with the goal of empowering the world's poorest people to escape poverty. It has a network of partners in 25 countries. It was founded by Alex Counts, who began his work in microfinance with Grameen Bank founder, and recent Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Muhammad Yunus, also a founder and director of the foundation.

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