28 March 2006
Social Entrepreneurs: Iqbal Quadir, Using Technology to Raise the Poor
What do you get when you cross an enterprising and innovative mind, a business acumen and a desire to address social problems through practical solutions and social value creation? Well, that could very well be the definition of a social entrepreneur. They are a new breed of change agents applying their business and investment skills to the world's critical problems.
One of the most pressing global health issues is access to clean drinking water. Some 1.1 billion people are without such access, mostly the rural poor, and water-borne pathogens cause 80 percent of diseases in developing countries. It is such a huge problem that the UN has dubbed the next ten years the "Water for Life" decade. In addition, 1.6 billion are without access to electricity.
A number of innovative thinkers are trying to tackle this problem. I've featured a few in this blog. Enter social entrepreneur Iqbal Quadir, a former investment banker who first applied his considerable gifts to the social good with GrameenPhone. That venture, a microcredit program that empowered women in Bangladesh with cell phones, is now the largest telephone company in Bangladesh.
Now, he's teamed up with Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, to bring two innovations to market: the Stirling, a cow dung-powered generator to provide electricity to rural neighborhoods not connected to the grid, and a water purifier, called the "Slingshot." The devices are apparently easy to transport from village to village -- two people can carry them -- and can be used on the spot. Moreover, they can run on local fuel, thereby reducing animal waste.
"We have 200,000 rural entrepreneurs who are selling telephone services in their communities," Quadir told Business 2.0 last month. "The vision is to replicate that with electricity."
Mr. Quadir's efforts don't stop there. He's also developing, with his brother Kamal, an electronic marketplace called CellBazaar. Accessible via mobile phones, it's like a more direct, more primitive e-Bay. Quadir is using his background as a venture capitalist to invest in the social good and help rural people in his native Bangladesh and elsewhere.
"Technology," Mr. Quadir told The Economist earlier this month, "can quietly initiate novel ways of making things or trading them, potentially redistributing economic and political clout."
He is shifting power from the powerful to the once powerless, changing the equation and leveling the playing field, one issue at a time. As Quadir told Technology Review last October, "Technology allows people to rise from below."
Categories: innovation, microcredit, water,energy, socialentrepreneurs, poverty