Rediff has an interview with Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT-Madras, with whom I am working on our thin clients project. Prof. Jhunjhunwala talks about his vision for rural India:
Although I don’t dream only for rural India, rural India comes first in our dreams. Rural India is where 700 million people live. India cannot be fully enabled unless these people get enabled.
In the eighties, till companies like Hindustan Lever after being beaten by Nirma decided to go to rural India and make FMCG products work there, the market for such products was only urban India. But after that, everything changed.
In the same way, the telecom market is largely in urban India, and in the minds of most of the operators, money cannot be made in rural India. We, on the other hand believe that it is possible to not just provide telephone and Internet connections in every village profitably but use that connection to drive not just health and education in the village but also the rural economy.
We believe that telephones and the Internet can have a larger impact in rural India than in the urban areas.
We strongly believe that the per capita GDP of rural India can be doubled in the next 8-10 years using Internet as the starting point.
What is needed for rural micro enterprises to flourish are four very important components. One is finance. Here, what we are planning is using the Internet kiosks in the village to bring banks to rural India. That is our first job, and that is where our ATM machines costing just Rs 40,000 as against the ones available in the market now for about Rs 900,000, will play a role.
Second important thing for any micro enterprise to flourish is, training, information and support. Here, our video-based training can be used to train rural youth.
The third thing that they need is, buying, selling and delivery of goods; that is, logistics. We are looking at using the Internet again to not just buy and sell, but provide logistics support.
The fourth thing that is required is sharing of risks. It is here that insurance schemes that share risks will play a major role. I will give you an example. ICICI has developed a product which links repayment of loans based on measurement of only rainfall in a district.
These four components will significantly enhance rural India. So, all that we are developing now, the Internet kiosks, the ATM machines, the medical diagnostic kit, etc. are directed towards achieving what we dream of; that is doubling the rural GDP by providing education, health facilities and promoting entrepreneurship.
Also take a look at some of Prof. Jhunjhunwala’s presentations.