In India women are 36% less likely than men to own a mobile phone. Telenor Group’s subsidiary in India is tackling this disparity with Project Sampark. The project aims to bridge the mobile usage gender gap in rural India and address the cultural barriers to women’s access to mobile – as well as creating work opportunities for women.
Telenor piloted a product concept called the Bandhan SIM plan – a pack of two paired SIMs, one of which was to be used by a woman and the other by a male household member. When the woman’s SIM was topped up with credit, so too was the male’s SIM card. With this, Telenor hoped to overcome the cultural barriers keeping women from owning a mobile connection and encourage men to see the value of it for the women in their household. Having also determined that women retailers serve women customers more effectively, Telenor recruited a network of local women retailers to market and sell the Bandhan SIM plan.
In the 87 pilot villages in the Aligarh district of Uttar Pradesh the Bandhan SIM plan accounted for over 30% of new Telenor subscribers, and was regarded as a commercial success and a social success in breaking the cultural barriers that have prevented women from owning a mobile connection and handset. Customers report that the Bandhan SIM plan has added value to their lives and created livelihood opportunities for local women promoters. The project is now being scaled up in other parts of Uttar Pradesh.
There is also evidence that women in India face barriers in accessing mobile services due to technical literacy. To address this Telenor has also opened 270 customer education hubs with a training team made up of 50% women.
The goal of both the Bandhan SIM plan and the education centres is to empower women and develop society through affordable mobile connectivity.