October 2007

Phones at the bottom of the pyramid

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A look at the experience of the poorest farmers and villagers, and of the most marginalised groups in developing countries vis-a-vis the ICTs

Introduction

A rural farmer finds out the latest crop prices on his mobile phone. A village woman rents out her mobile to her neighbours, making a business out of the technology she owns.  These are compelling examples of how mobile telephones impact those who were traditionally without telecommunication access.  But these are individual examples, and perhaps do not represent the broader picture of any larger group.

What have been the experience of the poorest farmers and villagers, and of the most marginalised groups in developing countries vis-a-vis the Information and Communication Technologies?

Survey results

In a 2006 five-country study, which was conducted by LIRNEasia, researchers asked 6,269 respondents in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Thailand about their access to, and use of telephones. Those surveyed were all users at the lowest socio-economic strata in the countries, at  'the bottom of the pyramid' (BOP).  Their responses revealed many differences between users in the five countries, but more interestingly, inter-country inequalities in phone use between men and women. Indeed, the data indicates that a gender divide in mobile access clearly exists in India and Pakistan, which is less prevalent in Sri Lanka, and is generally absent in the Philippines and Thailand.

The respondents were asked about the primary phone that they used

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