Happy Birthday Iqbal Quadir: The Mobile Phone Architect of Bangladesh

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Iqbal Quadir is an entrepreneur who advocates for the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship in bringing prosperity to underdeveloped nations. With the thought that “connectivity is productivity,” a visionary started the mobile phone revolution in Bangladesh, one of the developing countries in Asia. Despite having no background in telecommunications, Iqbal Quadir founded Grameenphone in order to give 100 million people in rural Bangladesh access to the telephone. Iqbal is also the founder and Director Emeritus of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Full Name: Iqbal Z. Quadir

Date of Birth: August 13, 1958

Net Worth: Unknown

On the occasion of his 64th birthday, here are some fascinating but little-known facts about Iqbal Quadir, who was the forerunner of the mobile phone revolution in developing nations.

  1. Iqbal Quadir was born in 1958 in Jessore, Bangladesh. In 1976, he moved to the United States and later became a citizen through naturalization. He received a B.S. with honors from Swarthmore College in 1981, followed by an M.A. and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1983 and 1987, respectively.
  2. Between 1983 and 1985, Quadir worked as a consultant in the World Bank in Washington, D.C. After completing his M.B.A. from Wharton, he worked as an associate at Coopers & Lybrand from 1987 to 1989, an associate of Security Pacific Merchant Bank from 1989 to 1991, and vice president of Atrium Capital Corporation from 1991 to 1993.
  3. Iqbal Quadir shifted his focus to his overarching goal of providing Bangladesh’s rural poor access to digital telephone service and expanding self-employment opportunities. Surprisingly in 1993 when less than 1% of Americans were using mobile phones, he proposed the idea of establishing a mobile phone company in Bangladesh, where the per capita GDP was around $340. At the time, the production cost of a GSM mobile phone was roughly $500. In 1993-94, he approached Grameen Bank and pitched his idea for what he then called the “Gonofone” – phones for the masses.
  4. On March 26, 1997, Iqbal Quadir launched Grameenphone, the game-changing mobile network operator in Bangladesh. Perhaps for the first time ever, mobile phones were made accessible to the masses, including those with low incomes, thanks to the Grameenphone.
  5. In the initial days of Grameenphone, a group of Americans backed the project with $1.65 million and later after eight years sold them to get $33 million. Grameenphone stockholders include Telenor, Grameen Telecom, and Marubeni now.
  6. Iqbal Quadir left Grameenphone in 2000, and between 2001 and 2005, he served as a fellow and lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School. For someone who has a keen interest in economic theory and history, it was a difficult offer to turn down. Between 2009 and 2015, he worked as a professor of development and entrepreneurship at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
  7. In 2007, Iqbal founded Legatum Center to train and support MIT graduate students interested in starting businesses in low-income countries. As an executive director of MIT’s Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, he concentrated on generating power by employing organic means through Girguis’ fuel cells. He spent almost ten years as a Professor of Practice in Entrepreneurship at MIT.
  8. In 2006, Iqbal Quadir established Emergence BioEnergy, Inc., to build small power plants for people in Bangladesh, where 70% of the population had no access to the power grid. The March 9, 2006 issue of The Economist included a piece titled “Power to the people” that highlighted the Emergence BioEnergy project. In 2007, Emergence BioEnergy won a Wall Street Journal Asian Innovation Award. However, later it got shut down.

“I’m motivated by creating a level playing field for the world so that the weak have a chance”

The article is a part of the B’day Series where we celebrate the birthday of renowned personalities from across Industries, very frequently. The series includes Entrepreneurs, C-level Executives, innovators, or renewed leaders who moved the industry with their exponential skill set and vision. The intent is to highlight the person’s achievements and touch base the little known, but interesting, part of his life. You can see the list of all earlier celebrated tech personalities, including Mark Zuckerberg, Marrisa Mayor, Sean Parker, Andy Rubin, Julian Assange, by following this link or subscribe to your daily newsletter.

To make it more exciting, we suggest you make use of the comment section if you are among the ones celebrating their birthday with today’s featured personality.

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