Give us a mobile

SmartMobs via Reuters reports a remarkable experiment is microlending in India.

Grameen Bank, famous for pioneering micro-credit programs in Bangladesh, has launched a new idea to empower the poor: arming beggars with mobile phones so they can sell a roving service for cash, reports Reuters.

Beggars would need to be a member of a Grameen Bank project to be eligible to get a mobile phone. Each mobile phone will cost them 8,500 taka (80 pounds), repayable over two years in interest-free installments. They also are responsible for paying a subsidized monthly service charge of 152 taka.

“We won’t ask them to stop begging immediately but would encourage them to ask people they stretch hands to if they need to make a phone call,” Barua added.

“The money the beggars will get from calls would give them an extra income — from which they will use a part to reimburse the cost of the cellphone to the bank.”

The cellphone project would primarily target beggars in the rural areas where they earn much less than beggars in the cities, he said.

Grameen Bank believes its latest venture will be widely accepted and could change the lives of many of the country’s beggars.

The bank will also provide 500 taka in cash to each “cell-class” beggar so they can sell snacks, chocolates, cookies and nuts for additional income.

Earlier the bank offered mobile phones to rural wives and mothers for commercial use that not only assured them enough money to survive but enabled some to earn an equivalent of $300-$400 a month, enough to buy land and even buy vehicles and start cattle farm.

Currently, there are 75,000 women, known as “Phone Ladies”, with Grameen mobile phones across the country.

Ownership of mobile phones is still low in impoverished Bangladesh, a country of 130 million with per capita income of $444.

There’s an excellent short history of the Grameen Bank’s work here. It’s amazing how one man, with one idea can transform the life of so many – especially those who society has effectively written off.

According to Trend Watching targeting the world’s rural poor is set to explode as a marketing discipline. “Sachet Marketing” can be defined as

serving up your products, services and loans in affordable portions, sachets or sizes, so that consumers get to know and like your brand.

But still making a good return through the massive volumes you can sell this way. For instance:

In India, Unilever successfully markets Sunsil and Lux shampoo sachets sold in units of 2-4 dollar cents; Clinic All Clear anti-dandruff shampoo sachets at 2.5 rupees each; and 16 cent Rexona deodorant sticks. In Tanzania, Key soap is sold in small units for a few dollar cents.

It’s a new variant of good old capitalism.

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