Iqbal Quadir: connectivity is productivity

Another way of looking at networks from Iqbal Quadir, founder of Grameen Phone and entrepreneur against poverty:

One day in 1993 [while working at an investment bank] I was working with three or four people and our computer network was connected, and we were more productive, we didn’t have to exchange floppy disks … and we could update each other more frequently. But one time it [the network ] broke down … and while I was waiting for someone to come and fix it, and during that time I remembered a time in 1971, in Bangladesh [where I grew up]…

… One time my other asked me to get some medicine for a younger sibling, some ten kilometers away, so I walked all morning to get there, and when I got there the medicine man wasn’t there, so I walked all afternoon back.

So I remembered this unproductive day when I was having another one in New York, and suddenly I put these two unproductive days side-by-side and I realised that connectivity is productivity. It’s true for a modern office, and also for any place – for an undeveloped village. Because I could have got more done if I could tell [that the medicine man wasn’t there], I was just a kid, but perhaps a productive person would have done something, if I was a fisherman I could have fished that day, instead of wasting the day just connecting with somebody. …

Today Bangladesh has 150 million people. If you waste one day per month you’ll see millions of man-months wasted in not having some kind of connectivity.

… *** …

Adam Smith said specialisation leads productivity. But how would you specialise? If I’m a fisherman and farmer, Kevin is a fisherman and farmer, how am I going to suddenly become a fisherman and Kevin become a farmer? Not until we can connect with each other. Because we must first be able to depend on each other, to be able to rely on his goods and exchange with my goods. And in order to rely on each other, we must connect with each other. So if we are neighbours, of course we can depend on each other because we connect regularly. But then, the economy is very small – just based on small neighbourhoods.

So if you must expand your economy and specialise more, you must connect in some other way – through a highway, through a river, or perhaps, through a telephone wire.

But the key point is that you must be able to connect first in order to depend on each other, and then be able to specialise and advance the economy in general.

Iqbal Quadir at the Long Now Foundation

*** At this point – about 26 minutes into the talk – Quadir tells more of the story of the founding of Grameen phone, and his analysis that underpinned his business model. In summary, he used research produced by the International Telecommunications Union suggesting that the value of adding nodes to a network is higher for countries with lower GDP – he suggests a 25x return on investment on a new phone over ten years (in terms of contribution to GDP), even before accounting for the effect of Moore’s law, which multiplies this several times over .

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