In rural Bangladesh, dozens of women on wheels are biking into remote villages and hooking up poverty-stricken families to the net. Thanks to ‘Infoladies’, tens of thousands of people are connecting with social media, chatting to loved ones, and getting government services.
The project is the brainchild of a local development company called D.Net and was formally launched in 2010. It grew out of a previous program that used ‘Mobile ladies’ to hook rural villages up to the wider world with mobile phones. Then along came the Infolady association: young, educated women from rural backgrounds who bike into isolated villages with a laptop, giving people the chance to get online. But that’s not the only service they provide. They also dish out advice on health – including taboo subjects like contraception and HIV – agriculture, and help communities access badly-needed government services.
But Bangladesh’s Infoladies aren’t doing charity work. Although D.Net trains them, these women on wheels are young entrepreneurs who –as well as giving out free advice – charge for other services, including Internet time. The government has also stepped in. In 2012, Bangladesh’s central bank agreed to hand out interest-free loans to help Infoladies foot the bill for their own equipment.
Rural communities in Bangladesh don’t have easy access to services. This applies particularly to women who are not allowed to travel outside of their homes, and also for disabled people. That’s why it’s important for Infoladies to educate women on health care – like hygiene, preventing sexually transmitted diseases and childbirth – so that women can make more informed decisions. Expecting mothers can become more aware of what precautions they should take. Infoladies also take pregnancy tests to women who don’t normally have access to them.
People living in rural areas can’t access the Internet and cannot afford a laptop. But Infoladies take the Internet to these people and help them communicate with their relatives living abroad through video chat. Many also have videos stored on their laptops describing how to resolve agricultural-related problems, for example. They also educate people on government entitlements and how to claim them.
Infoladies work in remote areas, making a bike very convenient given the condition of the roads. Bikes save time and don’t cost fuel. Every day an Infolady travels about 10km to visit people at their homes. They also educate groups of about 12-15 members at an agreed venue once a week using videos and other tools.
We have guidelines for choosing Infoladies: some of the traits we look for are motivation, eagerness and communication skills. We choose women for the job because they can get inside households easier. We also interview their families, because it’s important for Infoladies to have their support. They’re trained in health, agriculture and IT. We equip them with a small laptop, an internet connection, digital camera, and a mobile phone. Some of these women may never have seen a laptop in their life so they need hands-on training.