Journey: From Infolady to Kallyani
Kallyani is a model for empowering communities through women entrepreneurship – formerly known as Infolady.
We emerge as ‘iSocial’, from our former identity of Infolady Social Enterprise Limited and also, Infolady will be known as ‘Kallyani’. This entrepreneurship model is a dynamic one, which has won several prizes over the last few years and made a visible impact by bringing socio-economic changes on the lives of the people of the rural community. As technology is constantly upgrading and updating its own stream, everything surrounding it and based on it also need to change to cope up with the need of time. We have also identified this and updated our award winning model to serve the society in a better and well-suited way. Through partnership and support from the ICT Division of Bangladesh Government, our plan is to expand first to 16 districts deploying 1,000 Kallyani’s and then gradually throughout the whole nation to deploy 10,000 Kallyani’s by the end of 2021. It’s a bold step towards fulfilling the vision of Digital Bangladesh. On the 17th September, 2016, through an event held at the DC Office, Natore, our new identity was inaugurated by Chief Guest Mr. Zunaid Ahmed Palak, State Minister for ICT Division, Bangladesh Government.
Challenging the status quo and creating the voice – was the essence behind coining the concept of ‘Infolady’. The Infolady model challenges the status quo at two levels: at individual level and social level. At individual level, the model breaks the fear and apprehension of a young woman in villages, who lives in a lower resource setting and has limited access to knowledge about the world outside the village. It is a transformation for the woman herself, she rides bi-cycle and challenges the status-quo in a male-dominated society, where it is perceived generally that riding bi-cycle is a men’s business. She takes a profession, which embraces latest information technology like laptop, internet, smart phone etc. Again, she challenges the stereotype that women can’t deal with technology. Finally, we thought, how the young woman earn from what she does, so that her voice is counted both in family and in the community.
Since 2004, the model has gone through multiple stages of experimentation, as it required significant social engineering. The Infoladies come from lower income or poor families in rural areas, with up to 12 years of schooling. They have limited job opportunities either in their communities or outside. Thus, it was an attempt to engage them in activities which are financially rewarding as well as socially demanding for the community. There is three basic characteristics of Infolady, which make her successful: entrepreneurship mindset, quick learning ability and good communications skills. Infolady invests her own money at a minimum level, which is very important for ensuring entrepreneurship mindset. There is also facility for getting bank financing at single digit interest rate, supported by the Central Bank of Bangladesh.
The basic principle of services provided by an Infolady is information with service, or information with service and product. The Infolady offers four types of services: health care service, agriculture extension service, ICT service and activation service. For example, an Infolady offers pregnancy care service to a pregnant woman, where she demonstrates multimedia content on pregnancy care using her laptop, makes regular check-up using medical kit and sells allied products like folic acid. The data collected during check-up also determines the risk level of a pregnant mother and then she connects the pregnant women with a facility. Infolady sells seeds and transfers technology to women for household agriculture. An Infolady sells service of other agencies. For example, mobile banking service offered by a bank. An Infolady also facilitates accessing various services entitled for marginalized community. She earns from NGOs for offering this service and the beneficiaries receive it free of cost.
An Infolady serves the community through forming numerous groups (housewives, adolescent girls, farmers, youths, senior citizens etc.), plans around an hour long enlightening sessions with her groups at an agreed venue, once a week. She serves citizens at doorsteps riding bi-cycle. Citizens also visit her residence for receiving services. Family members (mainly husband or brother) of an Infolady assist her to enhance the services outreach and business growth. An Infolady has a smart phone and internet connection, which allows her to update daily transaction data through an integrated system. She keeps her in touch with regionally established Hub for regular mentoring and support services for business enhancement.
The model was evolved since 2004. Initially, it was called Mobile Lady, where a young woman with a mobile phone was connected with an expert help desk. The mobile lady visited household, talked to a woman, and identified their information need. Then the mobile lady connected the woman with a doctor, agriculture expert or a lawyer. Subsequently, with the spread of internet, low cost laptop, the idea of ‘Infolady’ came. The first phase was about proof of concept, whether a rural woman can be found with three basic skills, trained and whether the Infolady can offer the services. The experiment was successful. The next phase was to test whether the Infolady can sell the services to the community citizens. The third phase was to test whether a woman is ready to invest to become an Infolady, as she earns for it. Thus, all the stages took significant time for getting to the stage of scale up.
One challenge is covering the expenditure at Dnet end, whereas the Infolady end is financially viable. Dnet is working on developing a model, where development agencies and foundations are interested to join hand to scale it countrywide. The ever-evolving Infolady model aspires to become a soulful program with a vision to ensure ‘one Infolady in every community in Bangladesh’ by the year 2020.