Intel and Grameen: Bringing technology to rural, impoverished communities through social business

Intel and Grameen: Bringing technology to rural, impoverished communities through social business

By Craig Barrett (former Chairman and CEO at Intel) on May 19, 2008

Traveling the world it is not uncommon to see poverty and people living in conditions that are almost unimaginable. It is especially striking when you see young people with seemingly no hope to get an education that might allow them to rise above the barriers that poverty imposes. Our World Ahead program has been focusing on the issue of how technology might help the poor attain a better education and improved health care. To date the effort has met with notable success in places as diverse as Egypt, Brazil, India and Lebanon. People are getting better health care where only limited resources existed before. Young children are experiencing the internet and an opportunity for life changing education. You can see the changes real time and feel the impact. It makes you know that you are doing the right thing.

While education and health care are rather straightforward to influence it is always more challenging to attempt to lift people out of poverty. Any effort has to be more than a simple handout – it has to be sustainable and consistent with basic needs and environmental circumstance.

The effort by Grameen and Muhammad Yunus which provided microfinancing to poor villagers in Bangladesh is a classic example of a successful and sustainable program to allow the poor to help themselves. Often utilizing cell phone capacity that was purchased wholesale and then resold at the local level, villagers (often women with little or no education) were able to make a comfortable living. The program is a model for local economic improvement and was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2006.

Building on the Grameen experience, Intel has decided to form a joint venture with Yunus and his Foundation to bring computers and the internet to rural impoverished communities. The business model is remarkably similar to the Grameen ‘phone ladies’. Financing will be provided at the local level to allow individuals to buy computers, printers and internet access. These individuals can then act as a village resource to sell services that would not otherwise be available. Initially services such as telemedicine, simple financial transactions, education and training and others are envisioned. The service business will be entrepreneurial, sustainable, and a benefit to the local community.

Here Prof. Muhammad Yunus, Founder & Managing Director Grameen Bank, Nobel Peace Laureate speaks about this joint venture:

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Our intention is to treat this as a social business. Loans will be repaid, funds will be reinvested in more microfinancing, and the intent of the JV will be to help people, not make a profit. If successful, poor people who might never have had the opportunity to outgrow poverty will become small business owners and self sufficient. Intel’s benefit will be twofold. First there is the indirect benefit that ultimately there will be future customers for our product who would not have existed without this program. And secondly, there is the knowledge that we are doing the right thing to help those in need of assistance.

Personally I am excited about the prospects of this JV. We will be helping people that our technology might never otherwise touch and doing it in a way that is sustainable. If successful, it is something that we can all be proud of.