Nazma Akhter's father was too weak to work, and her mother was a beggar. But Nazma did not want to depend on others for her family's survival. She continued studying and finally got an opportunity to be the breadwinner with the job of an 'Infolady'. Last month, she earned Tk 18,942. Infoladies, women with laptops and other gadgets on bicycles, are an innovative model of ICT-based rural women entrepreneurship that evolved through various action research and projects of D.Net (Development Research Network).
“Now I don't need to ask for help to others,” Nazma said while sharing her experience at a workshop organised by D.Net on "Promoting Infolady for building inclusive information and knowledge system" in the capital on 24 March, 2012.
There are 53 Infoladies in the country who earn on an average Tk 14,000 a month. Some of them even earn more than Tk 50,000 per month, said an official of D.Net. The Infoladies helped 48,740 people directly and around 40,000 people indirectly with different types of services from December 2010 to March 2012, said Mosharrof Hossain, deputy director of D.Net.
Infoladies help people to access various information, as well as make curriculum vitae, send and receive e-mail and take part in video chatting, said Hossain. They also give some other services such as filling in forms for various purposes, taking photos, checking blood pressure, blood grouping and providing computer training. They are basically equipped with a laptop, an internet modem, a digital camera and other primary medical equipment for examination, and a bicycle, he said.
Ananya Raihan, executive director of D.Net, said his institution plans to spread the Infolady concept all over the country. “We want to see at least three Infoladies in every upazila by 2015," he said. The project can become more successful if banks come up with loans to help purchase equipment for the Infoladies, Raihan said.
Responding to him, Bangladesh Bank Governor Atiur Rahman said the central bank will make an allocation of Tk 10 crore to be disbursed through commercial banks for the Infoladies. The governor said the loan will be given at 9 percent interest for purchasing equipment and providing training to the Infoladies, while the banks will get the money from the banking regulator at an interest rate of 5 percent. He also requested the donor agencies and commercial banks to allocate money for the Infoladies from their corporate social responsibility fund.
Sanjida Sobhan, governance coordinator of Manusher Jonno Foundation, said the Infolady project has opened up a window of opportunity for the educated rural women. "They are changing the country both culturally and socially," she said.
Reeti Akhtar, an Infolady of Gaibandha, said people respect her. When there will be Infoladies in every ward of a union parishad, the vision of “Digital Bangladesh” will be materialised, said Reeti, who earned Tk 12,055 last month for her services to villagers.