New Mobile Phone Program to Bring Economic Lifeline to Rural Rwanda

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Grameen Foundation and MTN Rwanda form new joint venture.

With the nearest telephone sometimes six miles away, a mobile phone is more than just a means of communication for rural communities in Rwanda; it is an economic lifeline. To help spur greater telecommunications access for villagers, Grameen Foundation, a global non-profit organization that combines microfinance with new technologies to empower the world’s poorest people, and mobile network operator, MTN Rwanda, are launching an innovative new venture: Village Phone Rwanda. Through its signature product, Tel’imbere, Village Phone Rwanda will provide affordable telephone access in places where there is no access to public communications and where power supplies are either unreliable or nonexistent.

Deputy Director of Grameen Foundation’s Technology Center David Keogh and Per Eriksson, CEO of MTN Rwanda, will formally launch Village Phone Rwanda on June 20, 2006, in Gashora (Bugesera District). Other dignitaries expected to participate include the Honorable Minister of Local Government, Social Affairs and Good Governance, Mr Protais Musoni, and other senior officials from the Government, as well as current Tel’imbere business owners.

“Village Phone Rwanda benefits not only the individual business operator, but also the surrounding communities,” said Alex Counts, Grameen Foundation President and CEO. “Projects such as this are excellent examples of how microfinance can help the rural poor escape poverty and develop self sustaining businesses that can benefit the entire community and together with other operators create a network that can aid in the economic development of these countries.” A proven poverty reduction strategy, microfinance gives very poor people access to financial services and a path out of poverty.

Village Phone Rwanda is partnering with local microfinance institutions to help rural individuals purchase the equipment kit needed to start “Tel’imbere” businesses. They take “micro-loans” to buy the equipment and Village Phone Rwanda provides special airtime rates to them. Some 50 Rwandans took part in a one-year pilot program which ended in April 2006, and there are currently Tel’imbere operators in ten villages. Operators will soon be available in 14 of Rwanda’s 30 districts, and over the next three years, Village Phone Rwanda hopes to create 3,000 new businesses throughout the country.

Echoing Mr. Counts’ sentiments, Per Eriksson said: “Affordable, accessible communications is vital to Rwanda’s development and MTN Rwanda is proud to partner with Grameen Foundation to create Village Phone Rwanda. This is a proven partnership model that is good for development and makes good business sense, and we recommend that it be replicated in other developing countries where there is a need for telecommunication services in rural areas.”

Inspired by the pioneering work of Grameen Telecom in Bangladesh, Grameen Foundation and MTN Uganda launched the first Africa-based Village Phone program in Uganda in 2003. MTN Village Phone has created more than 4,200 village phone businesses across Uganda, with over 100 new businesses being added each month.

Based on the success of the programs in Bangladesh and Uganda and the Rwanda pilot, Grameen Foundation also developed a Village Phone replication manual, the only step by step guide to replicating this successful program in other developing countries. In addition two studies on the economic impact of the Village Phone programs in both countries are currently being conducted.

Village Phone Rwanda Launch Schedule

Date and Time: June 20, 2006; 10:00 am to 1:00 pm

Location: Gashora, Bugesera District*

The event will close with a visit to a Tel’imbere Operator where the first official call will be made. Following the launch, there will also be an opportunity to visit the businesses of additional Tel’imbere operators.

*Transportation will be provided for press wishing to attend with advance arrangement.    

About Grameen Foundation

Grameen Foundation is a global non-profit organization that combines microfinance, technology and innovation to empower the world's poorest people to escape poverty. Founded in 1997, it has established a global network of 52 partners in 22 countries that has impacted an estimated 11 million lives in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Middle East. The Foundation sprang from the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh and Dr. Yunus, the founder and director of Grameen Bank, is a founding and current board member of the Grameen Foundation. For more information, please visit http://www.gfusa.org.

About MTN Rwanda

MTN Rwanda started 1998 and has 60% local ownership and 40% is owned by MTN Group in South Africa. The company is providing voice and broadband data services based upon the GSM and the WiMax technologies. The MTN services today cover approximately 80% of the population in Rwanda. For more information, please visit http://www.mtn.co.rw

Contacts:

Liselle Yorke

Grameen Foundation

202-628-3560, ext. 128

Arthur Asiimwe

MTN Rwanda

+250-08-307-071

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Liselle Yorke
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