Building Code To Break Poverty In Bangladesh

Teaching people in the third world how to code seems to be a growing trend that may just help to break the world-wide poverty cycle. Danish-based microfinancing operation CodersTrust is starting to do just that with a test group of 100 Bangladeshis.

“Nine out of 10 coders on sites like oDesk suck,” says CodersTrust co-founder Ferdinand Kjaerulff. It’s a problem he and cofounder, Skype angel investor, Morten Lund wanted to solve. They saw a big opportunity with coders in the third world and created their microfinance organization to give those below the poverty line a chance at better education, starting with Bangladesh.

CodersTrust works by first identifying people on oDesk who seem to have a good work ethic. The founders then approach them about going into the program and offer them a micro loan of $2,000. The loan comes in increments tied to their progress. For example, they get paid a certain chunk each time they pass certain classes via Code Academy. Coders can then start to pay back the loan as they start to improve their skills and earn more money.

The organization is backed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank to supply the funds needed while Bangladeshi candidates learn programming skills.

“It takes time to get an education so those living below the poverty line are going to be thinking of how to find their next meal, not taking classes if they can’t afford to learn,” says Lund.

One in four people in Bangladesh currently make it on less than $2/day. That’s more than 39 million people living below the poverty line on a daily basis. All they need to break out of their circumstances, according to Kjaerulff, is a laptop and to understand English.

Kjaerulff was running a software development startup at the time he came up with the idea for CodersTrust. He’d previously served as an officer during Iraq, supplying Internet and education to the people there and so understood how much of a need there is for education in the third world.

oDesk merged with Elance late last year, making it the biggest player in the digital temp industry, which is expected to grow to $2.7 billion this year. While it does offer online skill tests, the main mission is to simply provide the workers, not give them classes or a way to improve. That leaves the 500K Bangladeshis on the site without much support.

Grameen has distributed microfinance loans to over 24 million Bangladeshi women for things like goats and small businesses. With the help of CodersTrust, it can now give a leg up to anyone with a desire to code. This, Lund says, is the way for those in Bangladesh making $2/day to start making $10/hr instead.

This is just a test program for now, but Lund and Kjaerulff say they hope to get about 100,000 people on the platform and expand to more Middle Eastern countries in the next couple of years.