Wireless cottage industries: "phone ladies" of Bangladesh

A new service expansion by GrameenPhone, Bangladesh's leading cellphone company, is sparking the creation of new family businesses in the impoverished country — where there are only about three land lines for every 1,000 people.

Under a special low-priced package, it has been offering phones to village women, now popularly known as phone ladies, and changing lifestyles into the bargain. The phones are registered only in the name of women but they are also operated by their husbands and sons and shared out in the village at a few taka per call. With just one phone, the service has now become a family business in many villages, with monthly earnings averaging $170, a lot of money in poverty-ridden Bangladesh which has an annual per capita income of $368.

"This has improved our living standards and made us feel proud in every sense," said operator Masuda Begum. The phone ladies also enjoyed a bigger say in family decisions, including marriage of children, Masuda said. Many have renovated their homes with their new income and in villages with electricity they have bought color televisions and refrigerators. Some are even sending their children to the cities for school where they also have access to qualified doctors.

Link to Reuters story, Discuss (Thanks, Hal)