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October 23, 2014

The story of Laily Begum & Grameenphone’s first SIM

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To Laily Begum, 18th March was a life altering day. “I can still recall the day vividly as I went to the Grameen bank and purchased a handset worth Tk. 12,500/-. They told me it is a Nokia phone with which I could make local and international calls but it would require me to pay an additional Tk.6,500/- for a SIM card, and so I bought one. Then I took it to the tea stall. I haven’t had to bear with the burden of poverty since. Now we have a house and I sent my two sons to school. One is already a barrister while the other scored A+ this year. And I have been able to get my daughter married to man from a good family as well” said Laily.

Her husband Atik Ullah who once could barely make ends meet by working in the fields and at the tea stall is now leading a much solvent life. The couple who will see their wedding anniversary of 25 years next year is now living life struggle free by looking after a cattle farm and working in the sand business. That tea stall has now been transformed into a hotel. It has been rented out and provides an alternate source of income for them as well.

However their lives were not painted with this scenario 18 years ago, when Atik Ullah worked desperately to try to earn a proper living for the family. To bring a little more prosperity to the family, he opened up a tea stall in the street in front of their house and created a Grameen bank account for his wife. Their lives continued like many other low income families who fought to live each day as it befall them.

 

During those dire days, they got an offer from Grameen bank to purchase a ‘Polli Phone.’ No one opted to buy a handset at such a high price and many laughed off the idea. But for some reason Atik decided to get one and so on 18th March 1997 he bought a Grameenphone SIM under his wife’s name. And this was the first Grameenphone SIM to be sold, as the mobile operator celebrates its 5 crore subscribers this month. This completely altered Laily Begum’s life. It brought them prosperity and she was recognized as the first Grameenphone subscriber from the leading operator. The phone is no longer used for business purposes but is now used to make and receive personal calls; they no longer have to install an antenna on their tin shed roof for reception. However, Atik is not pleased with the 3G speeds in his locality and brought this to the attention of the Grameenphone CEO during the ceremony.

When inquired about the beginning of their business, Atik said that after they made the purchase, Grameen bank officers trained them every morning and evening for one or two hours during the first month. “In two month’s time, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke to me and inaugurated my shop and I invited her to have ‘begun bharta’ (egg plant) at my house. Dr. Yunus was also beside me during the inauguration”

Laily Begum said that it took them 6 months to make profits from the business. Initially they would charge Tk.5 per minute to make a phone call and the same rate applied when they received calls; they would make payments in the amount of Tk.4000/- per month to Grameen bank. “Back then they would take Tk. 2 and 60 paisa per minute to make calls and Tk.2/- to receive calls. Since fewer people had phone numbers, the number of customers was also less. This gradually increased and we even had to take the phone to people’s homes at 2 or 3am in the morning as we would get phone calls from abroad.” said Laily. Eventually they would make about Tk. 25-27,000/- a month, while the bill would come to about Tk.22-25,000/-

The couple dissolved this business in 2007. During this time, Sophia, the Queen of Spain visited Bangladesh and assured their son of employment. “You will go far” she told Laily. Today they see her blessings turn into a reality. Atik said that they dream of sending their son to Spain who has completed his Masters in Law from a private university.