Mobile phones for micro-entrepreneur social networks in India
August 29th, 2005

Information For Development reports on the use of mobile telephones to help individual women and to build social capital in India. (Thanks, Rich!)

The Foundation of Occupational Development (FOOD), based in Chennai, India, began the Inter-City Marketing Network project in April 2001 to help poor women in urban areas increase their incomes. FOOD worked initially with some 100 existing women’s selfhelp groups representing between 1,000–2,000 women and their families. An initial survey of these groups indicated that while many women derived a small income from producing goods at home (food products, soap, repackaged food items), they were generally weak at marketing their products and finding customers. Typically, they sold their products to visiting middlemen and made little profit from their work. FOOD provided training in marketing and the use of “social capital,” encouraging these groups to focus on production, marketing, or both. It also provided each group with a cell phone to facilitate contact between production and marketing groups, and between groups and customers. This is a simple way of applying widely available telecommunication technologies to a traditional micro-enterprise sector with a very high proportion of women’s participation. While the cell phones were initially provided by the project, today all groups buy their own phones and pay for all calling charges. The target groups comprise of the local female artisans and semi-skilled workers who are currently living below the poverty line in and near Chennai.

The goals of the network are to link women micro-entrepreneurs from different urban areas in order to exchange goods and develop new markets for their products. The groups trade in over 100 basic products, including soap, cooking oil, washing powder. Communication between the groups is maintained through mobile phones which are used to receive and place orders for goods with other groups in the network, and to compare prices across the region.


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