Iqbal Quadir

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Iqbal Z. Quadir (Bengali: ইকবাল জেড. কাদীর) is an accomplished entrepreneur and a long-time champion of the critical role of entrepreneurship and innovations in creating prosperity in low-income countries.[1] He has taught at Harvard Kennedy School and at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Iqbal Quadir
Iqbal Quadir.jpg
BornAugust 13, 1958 (1958-08-13) (age 61)
Alma materSwarthmore College (BS '81), Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (MA '83, MBA '87)
Known forFounder of Grameenphone

"In 1993, before others imagined the possibility, and only one percent of Americans were using mobile phones, Quadir saw mobiles as productivity tools to lift up the poorest in the world."[2] Between 1993 and 1997, Quadir founded Grameenphone in Bangladesh to provide universal access to telephone service and to increase self-employment opportunities for its rural poor.

In 2007, he founded the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), of which he is now Founder and Director Emeritus.[3][4] A year earlier, he cofounded, and continues to edit, Innovations, an MIT Press journal dedicated to entrepreneurial solutions to global challenges.

For several decades, he has been inspired by the insights of Adam Smith and Joseph Schumpeter about the nature of economic growth and those of Gordon Moore (the founder of Intel) about the fall of prices for digital technologies. In particular, he has been influenced by Smith's search for processes that give rise to "universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of people,"[5] specifically to the role of communications in facilitating specialization and exchange. With the advent of digital communication tools in the early 1990s, he realized that he could set Smith's and others' insights into motion, a journey that led to the founding of Grameenphone. This story is discussed in a case study published by WDI Publishing at the University of Michigan.[6] Two earlier case studies about Quadir were published by Harvard Business School.[7] In 2013, Quadir elaborated on the importance of communications and influences of those insights in his paper, "Adam Smith, Economic Development, and the Global Spread of Cell Phones."[8]

Early years[edit]

Quadir was born in Jessore, Bangladesh. He moved to the United States in 1976 and later became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He passed his Secondary School Certificate from Jhenidah Cadet College, Bangladesh. He received a B.S. with honors from Swarthmore College (1981), an M.A. (1983) and an M.B.A. (1987) from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.


Five Nobel Laureates in Economics graced the inauguration of the Legatum Center in 2008. There was a panel discussion moderated by Quadir that involved four laureates. From left to right, Eric Maskin, Lawrence Klein, moderator Quadir, Robert Merton and Edmund Phelps.[9]
Quadir after a dinner meeting with Nelson Mandela in 2000 in the Carter Center in Atlanta.

Quadir served as a consultant to the World Bank in Washington, D.C., (1983–1985), an associate at Coopers & Lybrand (1987–1989), an associate of Security Pacific Merchant Bank (1989–1991), and vice president of Atrium Capital Corporation (1991–1993).

From 1993 on, Quadir changed his focus to his underlying aspiration, to create universal access to digital telephone service in Bangladesh and to increase self-employment opportunities for its rural poor. To that end, he founded the New York-based company Gonofone[10] (Bengali for "phones for the masses"). To further his vision, he went on to organize a global consortium involving Telenor, Norway's leading telecommunications company; an affiliate of micro-credit pioneer Grameen Bank in Bangladesh (winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize); Marubeni Corp. in Japan; Asian Development Bank in the Philippines; Commonwealth Development Corp. in the United Kingdom; and International Finance Corp. and Gonofone in the United States. He attracted these investors by complementing his vision of connecting all of Bangladesh with a practical distribution scheme whereby village entrepreneurs, backed by micro-loans, could retail telephone services to their surrounding communities. In fact, Quadir coined the phrase "connectivity is productivity" to explain the unique impact of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), particularly mobile telephones, in improving economic efficiency.[11][12]

The resulting company, Grameenphone, received a license for cellular-phone operation in Bangladesh in November 1996; it started operations in March 1997. Currently, the largest telephone company in Bangladesh with about 55 million subscribers, Grameenphone generates revenues close to $2 billion annually. With infrastructure investments of more than $3 billion, the company is providing cellular coverage throughout Bangladesh. Grameenphone's success has been lauded as a model for a novel approach to improving economic opportunity and connectivity and empowering citizens in poor countries through profitable investments in technology. According to Economist Jeffrey Sachs Grameenphone ‘opened the world’s eyes to expanding the use of modern telecommunications technologies in the world’s poorest places.’ [13]

From 2001 to 2005, Quadir served as a Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School and taught graduate-level courses of technology in developing countries. At the same time, he was also a Fellow at the Center for Business Innovation at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young (now Capgemini).

In 2005, Quadir moved to MIT. In 2007 he founded the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship. The Center is based on the belief that economic development and good governance in low-income countries emerge from entrepreneurship and forward-looking innovations that empower ordinary citizens. It supports promising entrepreneurs through a fellowship for MIT students who are committed to building and scaling ventures in the developing world. Quadir no longer leads the Legatum Center.

Quadir coined the phrase invisible leg to describe how technological innovations change economies in terms of the distribution of economic and political influence.[14][15]

In an effort to apply his development approach to electricity production in Bangladesh, where 70% of the population does not have access to the national electricity grid, Quadir founded Emergence BioEnergy, Inc., in 2006. This and another project (namely, removing arsenic from water) were featured in an article entitled ‘Power to the people’ in the March 9, 2006 issue of The Economist. In 2007, Emergence BioEnergy won a Wall Street Journal Asian Innovation Award. After a decade of working on the development of these projects, however, he became dissatisfied the technology available and shut them down.

Current projects[edit]

Quadir and his brother Kamal cofounded bKash in Bangladesh in 2009. bKash, the country's leading mobile financial service, currently provides mobile banking and payment services to 28 million subscribers.

In 2004, he and his siblings founded the Anwarul Quadir Foundation to promote innovations for Bangladesh. In 2006, the foundation established a $25,000 global essay competition, the Quadir Prize, through the Center for International Development at Harvard University. In October 2007, the foundation made its first award to two recipients.[16] In April 2009, Stephen Honan was the winner of the second award. Mr. Honan developed an innovative way to extract arsenic from drinking water and soil [1].


Quadir's work has been recognized by leaders and organizations worldwide, with invitations to speak at many forums, including the World Bank, United Nations, World Economic Forum, and Aspen Institute. In 1999, Quadir was selected Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum based in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2006, he became the 12th recipient of the prestigious Science, Education and Economic Development (SEED) Award from the Rotary Club of Metropolitan Dhaka, for initiating universal telephone coverage to Bangladesh. He appeared on CNN and PBS and was profiled in feature articles in the Harvard Business Review (Bottom-Up Economics, Aug 2003, & Breakthrough Ideas for 2004, Feb 2004), Financial Times, The Economist, and The New York Times, and in several books. In Spring 2007, Wharton Alumni Magazine selected Quadir for its list of 125 Influential People and Ideas. In 2011, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Swarthmore College [2] and the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from Case Western Reserve University.

The 2007 book You Can Hear Me Now: How Microloans and Cell Phones are Connecting the Worlds Poor To the Global Economy by Nicholas P. Sullivan showcases Quadir's innovative work in Bangladesh.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See Quadir, Iqbal Z. ‘Entrepreneurship Training for the Developing World.’ Science. March 23, 2012. Page 1445; and Quadir, Iqbal Z. ‘The Entrepreneurial Gardeners.’ Science. June 12, 2015. Page 1179.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Clark, Andrew. 'School aims to seed the world with business sense.' The Guardian, 21 May 2008.
  4. ^ Springer, Jon. MIT's Legatum Center Unleashes Entrepreneurs, Alters Thinking About Developing Countries. Forbes Asia. 26 Feb 2014.
  5. ^ Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Great Books of the Western World, ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952), book 1, chap. 1, para.10.
  6. ^ Stuart L. Hart, “Iqbal Quadir on Sustainable Entrepreneurship: Getting to the Root of the Problem” (Ann Arbor, MI: WDI Publishing, a division of the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, March 2017).
  7. ^ Daniel J. Isenberg et al., "Iqbal Quadir, Gonofone, and the Creation of GrameenPhone (Bangladesh)" (Harvard Business School, No. 007-099, March 2007). Bhaskar Chakravorti and David Lane, “Looking for Opportunity in Adversity: Iqbal Quadir and Grameenphone (A) and (B)” (Harvard Business School, Nos. 810-075 and 810-101, March 2010).
  8. ^ Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, March 2013, p. 67.
  9. ^ See Rob Katz, Next Billion, Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship Launches, October 8, 2008.
  10. ^ Isenberg, Daniel J., et al. 'Iqbal Quadir, Gonofone, and the Creation of GrameenPhone (Bangladesh).' Harvard Business School. March 12, 2007.
  11. ^ Quadir, Iqbal Z. 'For the poor, connectivity means economic opportunity' in The Wireless Internet Opportunity for Developing Countries by Wireless Internet Institute, United Nations. 2003. Page 27.
  12. ^ He's Got Connections. Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs. GetItStarted. Fall 2004.
  13. ^ Sachs, Jeffrey. The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. New York: Penguin. 2005. Page 264.
  14. ^ Quadir, Iqbal Z. ‘The Bottleneck Is At the Top of the Bottle.’ The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs Vol. 26(2) Summer/Fall 2002. Page 10.
  15. ^ "Power to the people". The Economist. 9 March 2006. p. 37.
  16. ^ KSG, Quadir award prize for innovations in Bangladesh Archived 2 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Harvard University Gazette website.

External links[edit]