Monday, June 29, 2009

Connecting from here to there

I recently joined to gain additional insight into working on BoP topics. The site developer posted a video of an interview with a Nepalese man who worked in the Middle East. Curious, I just watched it at work (where I get YouTube connection). Sure, enough- the man worked in Qatar and did not have a good experience. The video brings a face to many of the stories my former colleague Silvia Pessoa and her Immigration Studies students discovered in their research. My own students in my 'Design for People and Planet' course investigated issues facing labors and documented further challenges they faced- high connectivity/transportation/living costs, contract disputes, health issues, abuse, and boredom.

I often wondered about what sort of life these Sri Lankan, Indian, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Phillipino and other workers left behind (in terms of Sri Lankan, I can't imagine living with with the horror going on the island). Last week in Ehklaspur, I met two women whose husbands were off working in Malyasia or in another part of Bangladesh. Recalling that my students discovered that communication for workers back to their home is often expensive and they imagined that the worker's home village or family wouldn't have a mobile or computer. I found out that yes, it's cheaper to call from Bangladesh to Qatar than vice versa (~17 taka or .25USD a minute, vs. about 3 riyal or 1 USD a minute from Qatar). However, my students would be surprised to see how connected a village could be. This one woman had a mobile, as did multiple other villagers. She spent about 300-500 taka (4.35-7.25 USD) on her phone bill (or if she's BoP [earning <$2 a day] about 3-6% of her entire salary). The woman also quoted the per minute price to Saudi Arabia and Singapore, indicating that she had some familarity of situations with people working in those locales.

Much BoP communication work resides in mobile phone work, as they are portable, can be cheap and can provide built-in infrastructure for other initiatives, such as e-Health or e-Agriculture projects. GCC cites a study where mobile phones are only owned by ~26% of the population but a large of the population uses a phone. (will cite stat later when I can confirm it). How? People have businesses renting out their mobile for others to use- allowing more of the population access to mobile technology. In design school I wasn't as interested as mobile service design and application designs (especially so the privileged can more easily meet up with someone for a cup of coffee) but this mobile work intrigues me. Additional challenge of BoP mobile work: the issue of non-literacy or low-literacy. What to know what it's like to operate a mobile phone without being able to read? Change the settings on your phone (or iPod) to a language you don't know and see how well you do. Limiting, eh?

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