High Tech with Heart: Intel & Grameen Bank Seek to Bridge the Digital Divide

Intel Corp. Chairman Craig Barrett on May 19 announced that Intel Capital and Grameen Trust, the micro-finance-community development pioneer founded by Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, will create a business venture dedicated to social and economic development in poor communities throughout the developing world.
The initiative, which will be launched in Bangladesh, aims to bridge the digital divide that excludes many of the world’s most wanting from taking part in and reaping the benefits of the information and computing technology advances that have so quickly become a keystone in the functioning of modern economies and societies.
During his opening day keynote at the World Congress on Information Technology 2008 in Kuala Lumpur, Barrett also announced a collaborative effort with NetHope and demonstrated for the first time the new Aid Station device designed to support NGOs in their health care, disaster relief and economic relief efforts.

Intel-Grameen JV
Combining Intel Capital’s technological expertise and resources with those of Grameen Trust’s extensive experience creating economic development and income-generation opportunities at the village level, Intel’s joint venture with Grameen Bank “aims to bring about self-sustaining solutions based on information and communications technology (ICT) to help empower the world’s impoverished citizens,” according to Intel’s press release.
Adopting a private sector approach to address poverty, health care and education in developing countries, the two partners will employ the ‚Äòsocial business model’ created and made successful by Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank since its creation in 1976.
Intel and Grameen envisage numerous and varied opportunities and benefits related to information and communications technology (ICT) and entrepreneurship coming out of the joint venture, such as providing medical attention and delivering medicine to people living in remote villages and rural communities and notifying families of money transfers from relatives living and working abroad.
“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 ‚Äòphone ladies’,” Barrett wrote in a May 19 blog entry.
“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.”
“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,” Yunus says in an accompanying video.
“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.”
UN GAID, NetHope & Public-Private Partnerships
As chairperson of the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT Development, which met at WCIT, Barrett “stressed that public-private partnerships and collaboration are pivotal in achieving the world’s goals for developing countries in the coming decade,” noting that given their global reach and resources, NGOs are a key conduit for making facilitating and enabling social and economic programs.
Aiming to contribute to realizing such goals, Barrett announced that Intel was teaming up with NetHope – a collaborative consortium made up of chief information officers, senior program managers and technical experts from 22 of the world’s largest NGOs – to develop ICT solutions in support of the latter’s health care, economic development and disaster relief programs.
NetHope will make use of ICT solutions including the Aid Station PC, which was demonstrated for the first time at WCIT. Powered by Intel microprocessors the Aid Station PC is a durable, low cost IT platform built purposely for use in harsh, difficult and remote locations.
“Our members all face similar challenges in developing and delivering ICT solutions that will work in the toughest environments around the world,” Bill Brindley, NetHope’s CEO, stated in the press release. “The Aid Station PC offers the potential to deliver huge benefits to the people in the developing world, including frontline aid workers. We’re pleased to be collaborating with Intel on the design and the development of solutions that can stand up to the often extreme conditions our members face.”
Intel also signed an agreement with extreme conditions sports event planner and organizer Racing the Planet to test the Aid Station device during athletic contests in some of the foulest, hottest, coldest and windiest locations on the planet.
Intel’s World Ahead Program
The Grameen Bank and NetHope projects are part of Intel’s World Ahead Program. “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,” Barrett states in his May 19 blog entry.
“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.”

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email: huginn.muggin@gmail.com

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