Little has changed in the villages of India in the past decades. Yes, schools have been built, but many still lack teachers and appropriate teaching methods. There are phone lines in many villages, but getting a dial tone is still a challenge. Electricity supply is at best intermittent. Health care is still limited in its availability. Entertainment is limited to radio or television, if it all the electricity is there.
India’s villages are dependent on agriculture for much of their sustenance. Drought is a common occurrence across much of India. As a result, villagers, for the most part, remain a poor lot – the per capita income of India’s villages is perhaps no more than Rs 12-18,000 (USD 240-360) per annum, as compared to the national average of Rs 25,000 (USD 500).
Perhaps, most important, the opportunities available to the people in villages are not dramatically different from what they were many years ago. Villages in India are where you live if you have no other option.
And yet, India is in its villages. 70% of Indians live outside of the urban areas. Even as there is one India which is racing ahead with optimism towards the future, there is another India which seems to be stuck in the past. If India has to progress, there is little doubt that India’s villages have to progress, too.
Transforming Rural India is a challenge that should focus the best of Indian minds – it is perhaps the single biggest barrier to making India a developed country, and achieving the 10% growth that CK Prahalad talks about. India’s villages need disruptive innovations to make the giant leap forward.
In this series of Tech Talks, I want to discuss the role that technology can play in transforming Rural India. Of course, one can argue that what the poor need is food, water and electricity, more than technology. It is an argument we have been making since our Independence.
India’s solution so far has been myriad poverty alleviation programmes and employment schemes. Corruption is not the only reason they have met with limited success. The question to ask is have they changed or enhanced people’s skills, and exposed them to new worlds. To that, the answer is a resounding No.
I agree with Digvijay Singh, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, when he says that people are not the problem, they are the solution. In India, we have always been weighed down by our numbers. After all, with over 700 million across 600,000 villages in India, it is no small measure to upgrade quality of life for so many. And yet, unless we think of ideas which work with the village as a unit, there will be no universal transformation.
The time for incremental innovation is over. India needs creative solutions to start a revolution which can take its villages fast forward in time – creating them economically viable units and growth engines, harnessing the power of the villagers, and opening up new horizons with the promise of a better tomorrow.
Tomorrow: Village Visits