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The Plugged-in Village

To uplift the poorest citizens of one of the world's least developed countries - that was the idea behind the Grameen Bank, which was started in Bangladesh in 1976.

Bangladeshi women were able to obtain "microloans" (some as little as $50) for enterprises such as weaving or the production and sale of milk, eggs, or vegetables. The idea took hold and has been replicated in many other countries.

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Now Grameen's founder, Muhammad Yunus, has come up with a new project: to put at least one cellular phone in each of Bangladesh's 65,000 villages within six years. The bank is sharing the start-up costs with three companies from Japan, Norway, and the United States.

For the village person responsible for the phone, it represents a living (he or she would set up a public office at which customers would pay per call). For others, it means having a link from one village to another, and not having to rely exclusively on the notoriously unreliable government phone company.

Having given the "poorest of the poor" an opportunity through its loans, Grameen now wants to help them take better advantage of it by staying connected. Another good idea.

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