Aussie Project Takes Dumped Phones to World’s Poor
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
An Australian initiative is taking unwanted mobile phones and distributing them to some of the world’s poorest people, who are starting businesses in a bid to escape poverty.
Not-for-profit group Enable Community has already distributed phones to the tsunami-hit Indonesian province of Aceh, mostly to fledgling businesses who have set up using microfinance credit.
The group plans to embark on a much larger project with a microfinance group in the Philippines later this year.
Microcredit programs provide very small loans in impoverished areas that allow poor entrepreneurs to start businesses and become self-sufficient.
The loans are almost exclusively given to women and are used to fund all kinds of businesses ? for instance, one of Enable Community’s micro entrepreneurs in Aceh makes crispy banana chips.
Enable Community founder Matt Steine said putting mobile phones into the hands of these entrepreneurs had enormous potential to help their businesses.
“Mobile phone coverage in many of these poor countries is comparable to Australia. Three-quarters of the world’s population has some access to mobile phone coverage,” Mr Steine said.
Mr Steine, 31, left a high-flying job setting up mobile phone networks in South East Asia, the UK and Australia to start Enable Community.
He said Australians disposed of a huge number of working phones each year, which could be used to give poor people the means to pull themselves out of poverty. There were an estimated 12 million mobile phones sitting in cupboards, he said.
“It’s really about giving people the opportunity and tools to help themselves. We’ve got something that for us is waste, but for them it can be a huge help to their business,” he said.
Enable Community’s phones are already being used by about 60 people in Indonesia. Mr Steine said they were hoping to do a much larger project with the microfinance group in the Philippines, which has 140,000 clients.
Mobile phones can give these small-scale entrepreneurs more flexibility in the way they work. For instance, those in rural areas can conduct business and pay bills on the phone, saving time and money-wasting trips into town.
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