Educating Bangladeshi Schoolkids About the Web

I've written before about our Bangladeshi version of Opera Mini, in which we partnered with Grameenphone which is owned by Telenor and a non-profit sister concern of Grameen Bank - a Nobel Prize-winning Bangladeshi institution that gives microloans to the rural poor (mostly women) to help them out of poverty. (95% of the bank is owned by its borrowers, of whom 97% are women.)

Our Asia-Pacific State of the Mobile Web report shows that the number of Bangladeshi Opera Mini users doubled between July 2011 and July 2012, with the top 10 handsets all Nokia models.

We also co-sponsored the 2011 i-Gen program, an educational program and competition designed to increase Internet awareness and lower the barriers to the Internet for more than 300,000 people across Bangladesh.

Now, this isn't just a feel-good story about showing people in the developing world how to use a browser. This stuff matters. Opera's sole business is making browsers that open up the web world-wide, so that people who don't have access to a $2000 top-of-the-range laptop or the latest smartphone can access it. For many users around the world, a browser is more than a tool to ‘browse the web’. Sometimes it's a school when you can afford none, sometimes it's the only line to an outside world shut off by an oppressive regime.

The Web Index (the World Wide Web Foundation's measure of the web’s use, utility and impact on people and nations), ranked Bangladesh in the bottom 10 countries measured. The full report [PDF] says "low-ranking countries suffer from a vicious cycle of poor infrastructure and high costs of access".

Comparison between Indian states shows that a 10% increase in mobile phone penetration rate leads to a 1.2% increase in GDP [PDF]. Similarly, access to the web increases wealth. A May 2011 report by the McKinsey Global Institute called Internet matters: The Net's sweeping impact on growth, jobs, and prosperity reveals:

  • The Internet contributes 3.4 percent to GDP averaged over the 13 countries covered by the report (21% of GDP growth for the most developed countries)
  • Most of the economic value created by the Internet falls outside of the technology sector, with 75 percent of the benefits captured by companies in more traditional industries
  • The Internet creates 2.6 jobs for each lost to technology-related efficiencies

The web makes a real, quantifiable improvement to people's lives, and that's why Opera exists.

And there is a feelgood aspect to the story: the winner of the Bangladesh i-Gen contest, Chowdhury Sadid Alam, won a scholarship and a laptop from the Bangladeshi government, and a trip to Norway where this week he beat Telenor's EVP of Digital Services, Opera CEO Lars Boilesen, Telenor employees and local students in a battle of speed and agility on the mobile Web. Congratulations!