Friday, November 14, 2008

Combating rural shrinkages with IT


As the urban-rural divide in India keeps growing, technology will play a pivotal role in bridging the gap

Sriram Raghavan,
President, Comat Technologies

The economic empowerment of rural India is much talked about. There is no one who confesses ignorance on the subject; on the contrary everyone speaks about the rural-urban divide. The good news is that there is agreement on the need for the economic empowerment of rural India. The reality, regretfully, is otherwise. Rural India is still waiting in the ranks to participate in India’s economic revolution. A recent visit to the hinterland provided first-hand exposure on how industrious people could be if they were presented with the right opportunities. For instance, 40-year-old Khan, who owns a small house spread over a quarter of an acre is content staying back in his rural surroundings as a ‘tractor driver’, while his brother works in Kolkata. Although he earns barely enough to educate his children and feed his family, he would not consider moving elsewhere as long as there were employment prospects in his village. And if there were sufficient job prospects in his area, his brother would also return to their village. He is hopeful that opportunities will be available to the people of his village soon. If training were available (“where are the ITIs?”), Khan stressed, he would himself find a better job. People cannot be prevented from migrating to urban areas in search of opportunities as this is a real and global phenomenon. Since the invasion of TV and information overload, aspirations among rural folks have grown. An ‘opportunity giant’ needs to be created to satiate their desires. If we address this and improve opportunities in rural areas, villages will turn into small towns, small towns into bigger ones and these into cities. There is no “rural urban divide” in such a continuum.

“Rurbanisation” can be achieved through the creation of better job prospects in these areas. Delivery to rural India amongst the old economy industries is plagued by problems of infrastructure, roads, permits, laws, sops etc. In contrast, ‘new economy’ opportunities that are technology intensive can be better delivered through the information highway and be moved out of the big cities into towns and large villages. Citing C.K. Prahalad, who opens his best seller The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid with, “If we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as a burden and start recognising them as resilient & creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers, a whole new world of opportunity will open up.” There is huge opportunity in moving back-end work relating to government services to rural areas. A foremost challenge for governments is the digitisation of records and this itself is a huge opportunity to be performed and delivered locally. Governments can provide incentives that’ll enable creation of digital repository of public records. This alone will keep thousands of rural graduates employed.

The government can also provide subsidies for connectivity, procurement of ICT infrastructure & training infrastructure that will allow for businesses to move out of cities. While governments recognise that moving work out of big cities & towns is the answer, they tend to stop at tier two & three towns. These kind of opportunities can be provided at any level and if the right incentives are in place, real opportunities will emerge. It won’t be long before businesses start to outsource their work and before long we will see rural India transforming into the back office for urban India. Collaboration towards genuine Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) to reach out to rural masses who are even today oblivious to the dramatic transformation technology can bring about is the answer to “Rurbanisation.” For PPP models to succeed, it’s important to have progressive & decisive partners. We have already seen this with the governments of Karnataka, Uttaranchal, Haryana, and several others. Clearly, it’s time to seize this opportunity and launch inclusive initiatives that will energise our rural economy.

For more articles, Click on IIPM Article.

Source : IIPM Editorial, 2008

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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