Transformation of urban lives by the ‘internet’ has been talked of, and well documented. Nearly 700 million Indians live in rural areas. Empowering them using technology is bound to change their lives for the better.
For anyone in urban India, who has had to obtain a document from government officials, it is natural to run pillar to post for few days, bribing officials, before getting the document. Imagine how it would be in rural areas. Illiteracy, and poverty are major culprits that prevent many deserving individuals from access to government welfare programs. (Irony is that the programs are supposed to be targeting such people!)
A few entrepreneurs in India have succeeded in improving lives of our rural folks through internet.
Sriram Raghavan, 36, once built software for U.S. corporate clients. Now, backed by U.S. venture capital and undeterred by acts of violence against his outlets, he is succeeding where others failed: providing Internet services that villagers actually need, and making a profit from their micropayments. “We’re democratizing information services,” he says.
Raghavan’s company, Comat Technologies runs 800 kiosks (called Nemmadi, “peace of mind” in Kannada, the state’s official language) out of Bangalore, in southeast Karnataka. Though customers rarely pay more than 15 rupees (31 cents) at a time for Comat’s services, its revenue has grown from less than $1 million to $15 million in the past five years.
Amir Alexander Hasson, a Cambridge, Mass.-based technology entrepreneur started First Mile Solutions in 2003. He developed technology that allowed hardware attached to a bus to upload data wirelessly from village computers and then connect to the Internet when the bus got to the nearest town. When the bus returned to the village, it connected to the local computer again and dropped off the data, like a virtual post office.
However, there was not much demand.
“Villagers don’t care whether you have a computer with Wi-Fi,” says Hasson. “They want to know if this thing can find them a job or help them get fertilizer.”
He started United Villages, that provides e-commerce services to Indian villagers via cell phones.
Another of India’s biggest rural business success stories is Drishtee. (drishtee.com) They have been successful at initiating several services in various parts of rural India. Services include, education, employment generation, women empowerment, health services, promoting rural artisans, micro finance and banking. This are just a few examples of how internet penetration in rural India has improved lives.
All these efforts are directed toward achieving social and economic development of rural India.