India Uncut

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Iqbal Quadir and the little guy

Here’s Iqbal Quadir, the founder of GrameenPhone, speaking about development:
Aid from western countries has mostly empowered governments, distancing them from their citizens who are left helpless. Historically, people rose from below through technological empowerment and then they participated in their governance, leading to service-oriented governments. That's what created healthier societies with checks and balances.
Quadir isn't just some random armchair theorist, but someone who has actually walked his talk. A few years ago he chucked a lucrative career in Wall Street to start a business that has brought telecommunications to thousands of villages across Bangladesh, empowering millions while becoming the largest telephone company in Bangladesh. Stressing that "connectivity is productivity," he says:
Adam Smith wanted everyone to specialize. But they can't do that if they're not connected to each other. That's why cities grew up next to rivers and oceans.
The end of the above-linked feature on Quadir resonates with me:

With this success, Quadir unequivocally disagrees with the conventional wisdom that poor countries need aid and charity. Instead, he says, "What they need are businesses. Commerce is development."
Indeed, people often wrongly equate free markets with big, rapacious companies, but to me, free markets have always been about the little guy. When there's economic freedom, businesses spring up, consumers have more choice, employment grows, and getting jobs is easier. Inevitably, prosperity results. People have more to spend, so they spend more. More money in the economy, more business, more employment. It's a virtuous cycle.

You just have to contrast the US with the USSR or East Germany with West Germany during the Cold War to see the truth in this. Or just look at South Korea and North Korea today. If poor countries prosper, they will do so because of entrepreneurs like Quadir, and governments would be better off enabling people like him to flourish rather than putting obstacles in their path, as is so common in India. Still.

(Besides the stories linked above, Yasmin Ghahremani's feature on Quadir in Asiaweek is also worth reading. And Reuben Abraham mentions here that Quadir is doing some very interesting stuff with Dean Kamen. Much respect.)
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