Telenor and Wikimedia: The internet is an equalizer

That the internet is a vital gateway for Bangladeshis to build knowledge and better their lives is not yet a widespread attitude there. Increasing coverage, affordable devices and local content are needed to make Internet for All a reality in Bangladesh.

Written: Feb 2015

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This is what Telenor Group, Wikimedia’s Jimmy Wales, Grameenphone and A2I came together to tackle yesterday, as the partners hosted an Internet Knowledge event for hundreds in Dhaka. Wikimedia founder Jimmy Wales spent Thursday with Telenor and Grameenphone leaders and members of Bangladesh’s government – both to celebrate Wikimedia Bangladesh’s 10 year anniversary and to mark the organization’s continued commitment to help spread access to knowledge for all.

At the center of the festivities was a nationally televised panel session with Jimmy Wales, Håkon Bruaset Kjøl, SVP Business Environment Management in Asia, Erlend Prestgard, CSO of Grameenphone, and representatives from A2I, Bangladesh’s government agency for internet access. The panel showcased and discussed implications of mobile operators’ and content producers like Wikimedia’s work to extend access to knowledge for the mass market.  Zero-rating Wikipedia in our Asian markets – already launched in four of six Asian markets, using mass-market retail presence and distribution capacity to spread the word, and running awareness drives to encourage seeking information and knowledge online all contribute on massive scales.

Connectivity = Knowledge

Said Telenor Group’s, Haakon Bruaset-Kjol, “Improving access to knowledge and education is a key priority for all markets we operate in, and a key driver for development and growth.”

“Mobile communication systems are well placed to deliver these benefits to the mass market. It is the single most effective delivery mechanism for knowledge and information. Around two-thirds of the world’s population has access to a mobile phone, and the world penetration of SIM cards is already higher than the global population at 7.4 billion in February 2015.”

With mobile internet and smartphones becoming more widespread in Bangladesh, new dimensions are added to the delivery system – offering services like social networking, entertainment and e-commerce.

Jimmy Wales explained the crowdsourcing power of Wikipedia – building on the collective knowledge of all its contributors, delivered universally to mass market consumers everywhere. He emphasized the continuing focus of the organization – and of operators like Grameenphone – on encouraging accelerated generation of local language content.

Everything is local, local is everything

“Local content is a driver of internet uptake and gives the digitally inexperienced more reasons to use mobile technology. One of the main reasons many people in undeveloped markets do not want to use to the internet is because there is a great lack of relevant local content in local languages. So it is crucial in Bangladesh to continue building local content,” said Erlend Prestgard. “Wikipedia opens opportunities to people who have never owned or opened a book, but who will with increasing probability have an internet-enabled mobile device in their hand.”

And at an earlier event, CMO of Grameenphone Allan Bonke also stressed the need not only to offer attractive and relevant content, but also to do so in a language that makes sense to the majority of the people in the country – key in Bangladesh.

Youth: Education is top priority

According to an OECD report from 2013, the social benefits of education are significant: people with access to education live longer, are happier and more engaged citizens. And an GSMA/MasterCard Foundation study found that education is one of the three biggest priorities in life for the young people  surveyed, with 39 percent naming it as their key priority. And just one quarter of the young people surveyed named the classroom as their primary source of information and education, reflecting the fact that many young people had left formal education as well as the current limitations of mainstream education in these countries. Friends and family were more important as an information source, named by 41 percent, while 43 percent relied on TV.

Mobile is an established and increasingly important part of life for young people in emerging markets: 74 percent of mobile owners said that it was the number one asset they owned. Sixty-three percent of youths surveyed believed that they could learn through even a basic mobile device. This enthusiasm increased when youths were actually shown mobile data and video content.

Telenor Group and Wikimedia

Telenor and Wikimedia established their partnership in February 2012. This now includes all Telenor Asia markets plus Montenegro and Serbia, covering 171 million Telenor customers as of last quarter.