Technology always wins. It has the power to drive bottoms up change. (via Economist) In medieval Europe, innovations such as spectacles, water wheels, clocks and printing had the effect of empowering people from below and stimulating economic development, often in the face of opposition from church and state. Three very interesting ventures of Abdul Qadir the founder of Grammen Phone in Bangladesh. Emergence Energy, is to establish small, neighbourhood power plants in Bangladesh that can provide electricity to a handful of homes, shops and businesses.
CleanWater, is dedicated to supplying safe drinking water to Bangladeshi villages, where arsenic contamination is a grave problem. Rather than relying on aid agencies or governments to install equipment, Mr Quadir hopes to license a chemical preparation that can remove arsenic from water and make it safe to drink. The chemical would then be distributed and sold, like salt, via a network of local entrepreneurs; Mr Quadir estimates that buyers would have to spend around $3 per person per year on the chemical to ensure a safe water supply, which is well within reach of most villagers.
The third initiative, developed by Mr Quadir’s brother Kamal, is called CellBazaar. The idea is to create an electronic marketplace that can be accessed via mobile phones—a phone-based equivalent of newspaper classified advertisements. If somebody wants to sell a bicycle, for example, they can list it in CellBazaar, where it will be visible to potential buyers, says Mr Quadir. This will also have the effect of making price information more transparent and widely available. The system is designed to be as simple as possible: it will not handle transactions, but will simply put buyers and sellers in contact with each other via mobile phone. It will be possible to access the system using just text messages. Electronic commerce could prove to have even greater appeal in developing countries, where the transport infrastructure is often poor, than in developed ones.
Changing things bottoms up is more effective.
Trying to change things from the ground up is more effective than lobbying authorities, insists Mr Quadir. “Without necessarily introducing enlightenment or new arguments, technology can quietly initiate novel ways of making things or trading them, potentially redistributing economic and political clout,” he says. Just as economists invoke the “invisible hand” of the market, he likes to speak of a technology as an “invisible leg” that can move an economy from one state to another.
And even when a government adopts a sensible policy, there is no guarantee it will be implemented. Before the establishment of GrameenPhone, for example, the Bangladeshi government’s stated policy was to promote universal access to telecommunications; but in practice not much happened. The clear success of GrameenPhone, however, prompted the government to issue more mobile licences, which led to today’s thriving market. Technology, in short, makes it possible to change the facts on the ground first, so that government policy can then follow, says Mr Quadir. Power to the people, indeed.
Andy Grove, fromer CEO of Intel once quoted, “If the new technology is compelling enough,” he said, “it will win out. When the railroads came, Wells Fargo was in trouble. When the printing press came along, the monks didn’t stay around very long. “Music, telephony, media: they’ve all faced the same disruptions, and in Mr. Grove’s view they are all going to have to adapt – or else.
Digital technology turned the music industry upside down. Mr. Grove, not surprisingly, had mainly contempt for the music industry’s early efforts to keep the digital wave from coming to shore. At the annual meeting last May, he laughingly described the line
“Technology will always win” as “Grove’s Law.