Wednesday, July 4

What ICT Revolution?

Did you know...

...that in 2003 the government came up with plans to provide knowledge connectivity to all the 6 lakh villages by August 15, 2007! The project was called Mission 2007...(ya that didn’t happen but I guess it’s the thought that counts!)

...(on a happier note) as a rule of thumb, 1 job is created for every 100 mobile phones. That translates to over 3 lakh jobs being created in this country so far.

Its little tit bits like these that made the book Digital India by DK Ghosh interesting to read. It's a great starter book for anyone who wants to get their feet wet about the ICT space in India. In addition to random facts, the book goes into detail about ICT projects and other innovations that have happened in India that are helping to connect the rural population. Some of these projects include n-Logue that is creating power back up systems to overcome the erratic and sometimes non-existent power supply in rural India. Or there is GRASSO that is helping improve the distribution network for agri-products. Or there is e-Panchayat that is attempting to connect all the Gram Panchayats. The list is never ending. It's heartening to see soo many people from the government to IIT professors to just about anybody wanting to find ways to help the poor, especialy in the rural areas, connect to the larger world through the help of telecommunications. They are working to bring low-cost solutions and coming up with other innovative products that overcome some of the challenges that the rural environment gives birth to.

At the flip side, after digging a bit deeper it’s also disheartening. So many initiatives. Some cater to 100 villages. Others to 5000 villages. Seems like a big number but when you consider that there's over 600,000 villages in India, that 5000 is not even 1% of the villages covered. After reading this book and others, I'm not sure that if you added up all the villages affected by these innovations, that it would add up to even 10,000 villages. That's 1.67%.

I’m not sure if we need to even do a competitor analysis while coming up with a business model for HiWEL. There is clearly so much room; the more the better. This not a race to make the maximum profit; it is a race to make a difference, together, if possible.

Looking at the job creation aspect of these innovations (which also includes microfinance btw), I’m not sure if more than 35,000 jobs have been created; even if you take into account the indirect jobs that have been created. Yes, income levels of I guess these 35,000 people have gone up and so have the productivity levels. That’s great. But it’s not enough to create a revolution or do what the IT industry did for India.

It only goes to show that there’s only so much we as individuals can do. The biggest difference and change can come from large scale initiatives which only the government is capable of doing. I am by no means trying to imply that us as individuals should not do anything because the magnitude of change may not be there. Even 1 person touched is better than 0. That's why we (me, Rashi, Santosh, and Abhishek) are here. To make a difference for even that one person.

As the Helen Keller quote goes:
"I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do."

~ Raina


Black Window said...

Hey good article. Specially the last quote.

I find it difficult to believe the thought, but I really hope you do believe in it.

The change needs to begin at some point, and its great that it did.

Shradha said...

Article was great. Very informative. Lets hope u guys move beyond just the planning phase & go ahead with some brilliant implementation (am positive u will).
The passion your team has for the subject is extremely inspiring...
I'm sure we'll all put in our few bits (whenever required) knowing you guys are heading such a great initiaive!!!
Keep up the great work guys and keep us informed...

Arnav said...

The article was insightful for sure but also makes me feel a little guilty for not doing anything about it !!!

At the same time I happen to know 2 of u personally ....and i know what u guys are capable of ...and i know that u will be the ones that will make all the difference...because a guys are doing this not out of any compulsion but out of sheer passion to make a difference to bridge the gap between the 'have nots' and the 'haves'.....
Keep us posted and keep up the good work!!

nirvaana said...

The article was definitely an insightful read. It definitely makes you wonder the scope of opportunity that exists and how much more ground we have to cover. However, there is something that I felt after reading the article that is probably worth mentioning. Although I do agree that the programs initiated by agencies only aim to cover a tiny 1-2% of the total pie. However, given the scale of the problem, I think its still a step in the right direction. If only we can successfully manage to change 1% of the total villages, can we even dream of bringing about a "revolution". A small change will arm us with the much needed confidence and hope, which would then be extended to engulf the bigger pie. What I am more keen on knowing is whether or not these initiated programs met with any success ? What is the net impact of these initiatives? If things in fact are moving in the right direction, then there is some light at the end of the long, dark tunnel!!!!

PrajK said...

Great post! btw...I was about to read it anyway before I got your email!

You're right, though. Government is very important, but reforming it is very difficult. I'm also interested in whether ventures such as these--scientific/technological approaches--can alleviate mass poverty even if gov't works perfectly. That is, can technology be used to solve a social problem?

I thought that a complaint of the IT revolution in India (as opposed to China and manufacturing), is that IT necessarily affects a small number of people. In a country like India, only so many people can perform skilled labor. So is it that the inefficient gov't prevents IT from helping more people, or is that communication technology is a poor tool to, e.g., lower infant mortality.

Please point out any mistakes I made Raina!

Neeta said...

Raina, very inspiring article! In reading it, I instinctively thought of Ghandi's phrase "you must be the change you wish to see." As we both know, having an idea and planning is key, but having the persistence to implement and get concrete results is a full time job. For results to happen, the government stamp of approval and funding for major initiatives is only half the battle -finding the dedicated individuals to see projects through from start to finish is the other half. When you talk about large-scale initiatives, I always think about "sampling" first. Experiment with the idea in a few places first, and with success that could be the tipping point that turns it into a larger impact. Teach for America ( is a program w/ the goal of reaching lower income communities in the US(not comparative to what low income means in India, but you get the analogy) - started by one person with an idea and has grown to reaching close to 2.5 million children.

So you're right can't solve every social and economic problem, but you can drive change by your own example. Good luck to you and the team!


Arun Dhar said...

One has to believe those "1% change" initiatives have some sort of ripple effect. I am always concerned about bureaucracy and its implications in slicing-the-pie when new pies are being created in each rural "town center" (is what they are calling them). But regardless, there is no reason NOT to create new jobs, new wealth, and new sustainable (as compared to one-shot relief) ways of helping the poor. Great initiative guys. Something to follow.

Anonymous said...

Nice Article.
Brings one back to earth and not get carried away while hearing about the sensex breaking the 15000 mark.
I believe investors will enter this space in a big way. The rural BPO initiative is taking off and i am sure many more will follow. But as already has been mentioned by a few below, ineffective institutions and policy may prove to be a roadblock in attracting investors, both foreign and domestic.