On March 26, 1997--chosen because that day was the anniversary of Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan--Begum became the first participant in GrameenPhone's Village Phone Program. Now widely known, the plan offers small loans, or microcredit, that enable people in one of the world's most impoverished countries to buy cell phones and rent them, call by call, to neighbors who can't afford telephones of their own.
A decade later, instead of begging on the streets and sleeping with cattle as she once had done, Begum shares a two-room brick house with her husband, two sons, a daughter, a television set, and a refrigerator. Next door, she has built a barn, shops, and temporary housing that she rents to five poor families. Today, her banker estimates her net worth at $145,000, which may be more than everyone else in her village combined.
In Bangladesh today, the only one making real money on GrameenPhone's wireless service is … GrameenPhone.