The idea sounds so simple — give women in poor, rural areas a loan to purchase mobile phones to launch their own wireless payphone business — but it’s one that could help millions of people in one of the world’s most impoverished areas gain access to the information society.

The Development Gateway Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group launched with seed capital from the World Bank, awarded on Sunday a prize to the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh for its Village Phone project, which provides women entrepreneurs with start-up capital to offer a communication service in some local 28,000 villages without phones.

The prize, worth