Meet Sathi Akhter, known in her village in Gaibandha district as the 'Infolady'. Armed with a laptop, internet dongle, printer, digital camera, basic medical equipment, she sets off on her bike to attend to house calls from her villagers.
But what does she do on her house calls? From blood tests to filling-in forms, she provides a myriad of ICT-enabled services to her literacy-challenged community.
In exchange, Sathi earns a living for her family, but more importantly, she feels empowered.
Brainchild of D.Net, a development organisation, the 'Infoladies' project gave ICT training to rural young women to handle basic issues pertaining to health, education, agriculture, job search and legal aid among others.
But the women needed to arrange the funding themselves to purchase the equipment, which more often than not involved pursuing informal channels and exorbitant rates.
Thanks to an agreement signed yesterday among National Bank Ltd (NBL), D.Net and Fair Price International, the aspiring 'Infoladies' can now obtain easy loans from the bank.
Bangladesh Bank allocated Tk 10 crore for the project, and NBL will disburse the loan on the central bank's behalf.
Ananya Raihan, executive director of D.Net, said his organisation aims to introduce 15,000 Infoladies to all union parishads by 2016.
Each Infolady needs Tk 1.5 lakh for the equipment, so around Tk 275 crore in loans is required to reach the target, he said.
“This is not banking, this is an initiative that helps to build people's self confidence and faith,” said Atiur Rahman, the central bank governor who is willing to refinance hundreds of crores of taka for such causes.
He suggested D.Net guide Infoladies so that they pay back their loans timely, otherwise banks will be put off from extending loans to them.
“Sky is the limit for such innovative work.”
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, the organisation funding the 'Infoladies' project since 2005, asked private or public sectors to work in unison as nongovernmental organisations are not endowed to meet all the needs.
“The project is a 'win-win' initiative: it not only empowers women but also gives out essential information to those in need,” she said.
Parveen Haque Sikder, chairman of the executive committee of NBL, said no nation or state can prosper without active participation of women in economic activities.
“Repression of women will be excluded only when they will be empowered.”