Grameen Foundation Unveils New Online Center to Help Expand Benefits of Telecommunications for World’s Poorest Communities

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Grameen Foundation recently announced a new online assistance center to help microfinance institutions (MFIs) bring the benefits of telecommunications to poor communities around the world.  The Village Phone Direct Assistance Center was launched in Nairobi, Kenya during the International Telecommunications Union’s "Public & Private Sectors Partnership Forum" (PPPF-Africa 2007) conference. It features a how-to manual, a message board, customizable templates and other information that will help MFIs work independently with local telecommunications providers to develop Village Phone Direct programs for their clients. A Village Phone Direct program is already operating in the Philippines.

Village Phone Direct builds on the success of the traditional Village Phone program pioneered by Grameen Telecom—part of the Grameen Family of companies along with Grameen Bank—which has created more than 293,000 "Village Phone Operators" (VPOs) across Bangladesh. After establishing successful national Village Phone Replication operations in Uganda and Rwanda where there are now close to 10000 VPOs, Grameen Foundation developed Village Phone Direct in response to requests from MFIs that were eager to start programs in their own communities without waiting for the national program.

"Village Phone Direct gives microfinance institutions greater flexibility and control in developing these turnkey cell phone business opportunities for their clients by allowing them to drive the initiative," said Peter Bladin, director of Grameen Foundation’s Technology Center. "With this new online assistance center, they will have the tools they need to start immediately."

The Village Phone concept is simple and straightforward. Microfinance clients use micro-loans to purchase a cell phone starter kit and service plan from their local MFI and then retail the "minutes" to others in the community. In regions where the nearest phone is often more than 10 miles away, these VPOs quickly become an economic and social lifeline. The income from the phone also enables the VPO to repay the original loan and establish a viable business for their family.

Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation (NWTF), an MFI based in the Philippines has already adopted the program and is gearing up to create 500 new businesses throughout the region it serves. "Village Phone Direct is a great way for NWTF to provide better opportunities not only to its clients, but also local communities and thus contribute towards economic growth," said Raymond Serios, manager of NWTF’s Village Phone Direct program.

Via: (Grameen Foundation)

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