Iqbal Quadir is an advocate of business as a humanitarian tool. With GrameenPhone, he brought the first commercial telecom services to poor areas of Bangladesh. His latest project will help rural entrepreneurs build power plants.
As a kid in rural Bangladesh in 1971, Iqbal Quadir had to walk half a day to another village to find the doctor -- who was not there. Twenty years later he felt the same frustration while working at a New York bank, using diskettes to share information during a computer network breakdown. His epiphany: In both cases, "connectivity is productivity." Had he been able to call the doctor, it would have saved him hours of walking for nothing.
Partnering with microcredit pioneer GrameenBank, in 1997 Quadir established GrameenPhone, a wireless operator now offering phone services to 80 million rural Bangladeshi. It's become the model for a bottom-up, tech-empowered approach to development. "Phones have a triple impact," Quadir says. "They provide business opportunities; connect the village to the world; and generate over time a culture of entrepreneurship, which is crucial for any economic development."