Internet access to gain information and contact loved ones is rolling through Bangladesh one bicycle at a time.
Info Ladies bike into villages with Internet connected laptops, allowing local women to Skype with loved ones and look up information. The project was created in 2008 by D.Net, a development group, and other community organizations. D.Net recruits women who are usually undergraduates from middle class rural families and trains them for three months in computer, Internet, printer, and camera usage.
After training, D.Net arranges loans for the Info Ladies to buy bicycles and equipment for their rolling Internet cafés. The Info Ladies then charge about $2.40 for an hour of Skype time.
The Info Ladies don’t just sling Internet services, but also informational sessions for teenage girls about HIV, contraception, and menstrual hygiene. They also discuss the proper use of fertilizers and insecticides with farmers, help villagers write complaints to authorities about problems with government services, and check blood pressure and blood sugar levels. And for an additional fee of 12 cents, the Info Ladies have been known to help fill out college applications.
Today, there are about 60 Info Ladies working around Bangladesh. D. Net’s Executive Director Ananya Raihan is aiming to have 15,000 women trained as Info Ladies by 2016.
Those 15,000 Info Ladies would have a huge impact on getting the 147 million Bangladeshi Internet access. Currently, only about 5 million people have Internet access in the country.
D.Net modeled Info Ladies from the 2004 project Mobile Ladies that sent rural women into villages with working mobile phones. That project had played a role in helping more than 92 million Bangladeshis get cellphone access.
Chelsea is a former newspaper reporter who has spent the past few years teaching English in Poland, Finland and Japan. When she wasn't teaching or writing, Chelsea was traveling Europe and Asia, sampling spicy street food along the way.