TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: A Wider View

In a world of cold technologies (ones that shrink the revenue pie like Linux and Outsourcing), the search is one for technologys next killer applications and new markets. The schism in the world could not be more stark: there are about 500 million users of computers spread across much of the developed world and the elite among the developing markets. This is now a saturated market in terms of technology consumption. Yes, they will continue to buy new computers, cellphones and the like, but this is an upgrade market. They have current solutions, and are looking for incrementally better way to do their activities.

And then there is the Rest of the World, spread across the worlds developing markets. India, China, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Africa, the Eastern European countries they are among todays nonconsumers. They have been left out of much of technologys value chain so far because of pricing. They cannot afford computers which cost almost as a years GDP. This is a world of 4 billion people at the bottom of the pyramid that subsists on less than Rs 100 (USD 2) a day. Technology is a distant, non-existent dream for them.

And yet, if we think about it, they are the ones who perhaps can do the most with technology because it opens up options and creates opportunities which hitherto did not exist. Computers and the Internet can break barriers of geography which have existed since time immemorial. For them, computers are not going to be an alternative, they are perhaps the only instrument for progress and growth, a passport to a better life. The problem is that the benefits of (arguably) the worlds greatest invention have so far been unimaginable to these mass markets.

The digital divide is thus a hard reality. But there is also another digital divide between the envisioners who dream about what technology can do, the technologists who understand what technology can do, the funders who have the money but do not necessarily know how best to spend it, and the implementers on the field who know what solutions are needed. These divides have prevented appropriate and affordable technology solutions benefiting the worlds poorest.

India can become the first market to try out a set of new ideas to bridge the digital divide. India is large and diverse it is in fact a collection of many smaller markets. India can become technologys next big market. There is an optimism in its people for the first time in many generations that tomorrow will be better than today. There is a positive energy as people see symbols of the New India coming up even as the old sustains and endures. Indians also have the requisite technology skills to put together the solutions.

So far, much of Indias IT industry has focused outward making India as a destination for outsourced services. The time has now come to look inward what can we do for, in the words of CK Prahalad, the India Inside. If these ideas can work in Indias villages, they can surely work in the rural areas of the worlds developing countries, opening up markets for technology which are presently invisible. The bottom of the worlds pyramid waits.

Tomorrow: Indian Pyramid Economics

TECH TALK Transforming Rural India+T

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.