Tuesday, August 28


~ Raina

On my morning commutes from Defence Colony to Okhla I pass a mini-slum. The slum is along a small stretch of the main road. I can see the people in the slum getting ready every morning. They’re on the sidewalk brushing their teeth or taking a bath. The women are over a fire cooking something. The whole process of us waking up and getting ready – something we do behind close doors, the slum dwellers do in public with hundreds of cars and eyeballs passing by. Getting ready in public has become a part of their daily routine and something they seem quite comfortable with.

There’s something else I saw the other day: children squatting on the sidewalk shitting (excuse the not-so-pleasant terminology or description). There were three kids just sitting arms length from each other just doing their business. On the sidewalk you could see other people’s “doing” from earlier that day or maybe previous days. The sidewalk was dotted by it. It was almost grid like. The children are sitting there attending nature’s call with a bottle of water right next to them to wash, oblivious to the hundreds of car passing by. There was someone else’s pile of shit next to them but they didn’t seem to care. This is their bathroom. From what I could see, the sidewalk was almost full. It made me wonder where the kid’s next bathroom will be when the sidewalk would be too full to use. It made me wonder if anyone ever cleans it.

In my mind I remember thinking, “Eww!. How can they not care that so many people are passing by? How can they just do it out in the open like that?” Haha…

It’s funny how we get used to some things and some environments. Places that are completely unacceptable for us to even walk through are living grounds for others. The worst is how we drive past these places and don’t even for a second think about what we’re witnessing. It has become such a part of our lives to see the slum dwellers live their lives in the open. We have so openly and quietly accepted it.

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Monday, August 27

In the Holy name of Market Research!

~ Santosh Srinivas

Click below to listen to my lame attempt at Podcast (don't laugh :) )

Someone once quipped "Market Research (MR) can establish beyond the shadow of a doubt that the egg is a sad and sorry product and that it obviously will not continue to sell; as after all, eggs won't stand up by themselves, roll too easily, are too easily broken, require special packaging, look alike, are difficult to open and won't stack on the shelf". But the stereotyped MBA school of thought cannot emphasize enough the ceremonial need for MR as a precursor to any prudent marketing decision. Though I am notoriously known to be highly opinionated and pugnacious on any subject matter, I would like to tread on the safe mid-way at this juncture and not subscribe to either extreme views. Well, the reason, in the name of MR I got to travel to the exotic North East - a straight out unblemished paradise of India. Though the dual purpose of Swati's and my trip to Arunachal Pradesh was to first-hand document customer pain-points and to conduct the quarterly monitoring and evaluation of schools where our LS have been deployed, the trip turned out in many ways to be an eye-opener, both personally and professionally.

Personally, though I was gushing to drive through the breathtaking and harmonious hills of Arunacahal Pradesh, the routine enduring 10-14 hour drive along the steep hair-pin curves took its toll after couple of days. Treading through aromatic greens of the tea plantation, savoring hot masala chai and boiled eggs at a height of 14000 feet, meditating in the tranquility of Tawang monastery, pleasant moments with the bustling army jawans at the Jaswant Ghar, and of course admiring the adorable tribal women - was certainly enthralling.

On the other hand - overlong wait in Assam border for military escort to go across the insecure Bodo terrorist dominion and the later convoy trip cutting through the dense jungles with burnt vehicles and blown-away bridges along the way, losing our way back from Palezi due to low-visibility and subsequent harassment and humiliating interrogation by a drunk army major and his brotherhood for the apparent reason that I could not prove my identity and purpose of the visit, and hours of helpless entrapment due to car breakdown amidst no-man's land with no connectivity whatsoever - unveiled the clouded wilderness of North-East.

On the professional front, it was a hodgepodge of Good-Bad-Ugly experiences -
The Good

  • At most of the schools, we got to meet all the stakeholders of LS - district education officials, teachers, students and community members
  • Stakeholders were so enthused about the benefits of the LS for themselves that they made written recommendations and requests to government for sanctioning additional LS
  • At one of the schools, the headmaster though had zilch knowledge of PC, had championed the cause and had set clear directions on how to best utilize the system
The Bad

  • Tacit mandate from the government to select a few schools even when they did not fit the LS site selection criteria
  • Seldom utilized LS due to variety of reasons - technical breakdown, power supply shortage, lack of teacher with basic computer literacy and extreme weather conditions
  • No basic troubleshooting guide and technical support contact details with the customer
  • Abysmal HiWEL brand awareness
The Ugly

  • Instances of misuse of LS for pornography content
  • Cases of pirated software installations
  • Services offered by HiWEL - Community mobilization, and Monitoring and Evaluation - were not timely and of much value
Overall, the multi-fold insights from the trip, have so far helped us in making a few marketing decisions,. But as we draw conclusions from the trip, I accede with David Ogilvy who said "I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination".

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Check out some pictures from some of the places we've been so far...

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Rural Kiosks

~ Raina

Intel has committed to rolling out 1 lakh kiosks across India in the next couple of years. Microsoft has committed to 50,000 of them across the country. These kiosks will provide a number of services including:

  • Government services such as access to land records and birth & death certificates
  • Health Services such as referrals to hospitals
  • Agricultural Services such as online consultation
  • Communication Services such as email and chat
  • Commercial Services such as digital photography and matrimonial services
  • Entertainment Services such as music and movies
  • Desktop Publishing
  • Education content such as language literacy

There is a lot of hype around these rural kiosks. But, you have to wonder… is the hype really valid?

What is the point of these kiosks? Essentially it is to help bridge the digital divide. This will help decrease the asymmetry of information between the poor and the rich. A farmer can find out if he’s getting a fair price for this produce or a young job seeking youth can research various options when trying to figure out what to do. This information helps generate higher incomes, which I think we all can agree is a good thing.

Most of these kiosks run on a franchise model. So a local person would run these kiosks and pay a royalty to the parent company. In return the parent company would provide the necessary hardware, software, and support. Currently there are about 15,000 kiosks throughout India.

Right now, there are a handful of companies that are into this space. The problem is that all of these companies do everything themselves. So that means they develop the hardware as well as the software that goes on there kiosks. If they provide job placement services, then they also set up the back end operations to support that. There is just no specialization hence no one becomes really good at anything.

These companies have to put resources into developing the hardware and software, conducting market research to figure out what exactly the needs are, finding a local entrepreneur to run these kiosks, etc. Trust me this is not a cheap proposition; especially if you want good, capable people to do the work.

These inefficiencies increase cost. And the revenue from these kiosks is currently quite low. Though, 82% of the kiosks report profits, most of them make less than Rs. 2000 per month. This goes to show that though some the services are being used by the population, the services provided need to be more relevant. More research needs to go into what the needs are and how technology can really help these people move up the economic ladder.

Luckily, it seems as though the trend in this space is moving towards the positive end. Microsoft has already started developing an OS for these rural kiosks and is working with individual software vendors to come up with software and content to put on the rural kiosks. So some specialization is starting I guess. But that is just the beginning; the problems are many. Lack of infrastructure such as frequent power outages and no internet connectivity are rampant in rural areas. If a person can’t read, then what will a kiosk do for them? A lot of the current content is in Hindi or English, which can be quite irrelevant in many parts of the country.

The time right now is not to just delve into the problems but to figure out the solutions. We at HiWEL are trying to do just that.

Details to follow...

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