15 April, 2008

Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?

This piece in Sunday's Times Magazine follows Nokia's "user anthropologist" through a variety of developing countries and explores the ways in which people in those countries are using cell phones.

My favorite example: the "phone ladies" of Bangladesh are a oft-cited example of microfinance's (and cell phone's) success. Microlending institutions give women money to purchase cell phones and sell phone time to people living in their village. Apparently in Uganda (at least) the phone ladies also act as a kind of Western-Union-like money-transfer service. A son, for example, who has taken a job in the city can send money home by purchasing prepaid calling cards. He can call his village's phone lady and give her the number on the prepaid card. She then gives the amount of the card to the worker's family and uses the prepaid number to make calls.

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