July 2003

Men machines and Morena!

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 First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. – Mahatma Gandhi
  
      It's a concept people have been talking about for a long time now. Articles have been written and presentations made. Cash-rich companies have funded pilots. People have earned their doctorates studying and analyzing these efforts. Consultants have earned a fortune offering advice.

I am referring to the concept of building business ventures in low-income economies. In other words, I am talking about using the concept of capitalism to deliver the desired results of socialism.

Many such ventures have been brought into limelight by the media. They are spread across the globe and claim to have achieved impressive results.

The promoters have the data to prove their point. Micro-finance initiatives have reported impressive repayment rates and they claim to have devised a universally replicable, banking system for the poor. Stealing the limelight, for whatever reasons, are ICT -based business ventures or efforts. Everybody has read about the buffalo that got sold off through the Internet.

My company had decided to open a new location at Morena in Madhya Pradesh. I landed there with great zeal and enthusiasm.But, the place has hardly anything to talk about. No tourist attraction, no political bigwig. Life here is all about struggle and the ensuring frustration. How can people forget a place were 15 lac (1.5m) Indians live! Guess there are Morenas waiting to be discovered.

This note is not the outcome of any high-end research effort. It also does not claim to have discovered the “right” way of doing things. All my assumptions might turn out to be biased and would be of no use to others working at different locations, on other initiatives.

I dedicate this note to the fighting spirit of the Chambal valley and to the enterprising people of Morena.

It is my first day at the Collector's Campus in Morena. Armed with a b-school degree, I am confident that I can establish a network of rural franchisees, which would offer e- governance services through the Drishtee network.

Promoting entrepreneurship in rural areas isn't that tough. If it could work in Bangladesh, Morena should be easy!

The local administration is supportive. I also have, in my arsenal, a weapon called ICT. My predecessors were not that lucky.

I am still behaving as a tourist- an outsider. I learn my first lesson. My attempt to click a group of elderly women attracted a lot of negative attention. Women, asking interrogatingly about my business there, surrounded me. ” Tum kahe ke inspector ho?” “Sarkar ne kya koi aadesh nikala hain?” 'Photo kyon khincha?” “Hamne koi galat kaam nahin kiya!” (“Which department do you represent?” “Has the government issued any notice?” “Why did you click our photograph” “We have not done anything wrong?”)

Welcome…

My solution is great…but is there a channel?
My superior had briefed me on the process, which was to be followed during implementation. I had to meet the government officials and gather data. I also had to get the right kind of people to run the information centers as franchisees. Since, the franchisees would offer e-governance services, people with a notorious record had to be kept out from the network. The process had been refined after a series of implementations at various locations across the country. It was a very cost-effective way of setting up an e-governance delivery system. It allowed for participation from the local business community and provided self-employment opportunities to the educated youth.

My B-school training forced me to analyze the data gathered from various sources. The first few days were spent on this critical exercise. Most of the villages, which met our criteria of population density and connectivity with roads, did not have a telephone connection. Few did not have electricity. Some were crime-hit! So, the market size isn't that big? Or, is it big enough?

Morena entrepreneurs are of a different class. Lalit Kapoor represents the high-fliers.

An electrical engineer from Gwalior, Lalit completed a software course from Bangalore and worked with the software development arm of the same training institute. Post the bust; he was forced to leave the garden city. But, Gwalior was different. No IT-Jobs here. What did he do?

Lalit looked for innovative application of software. Areas which Infosys and Wipro missed out or did not consider profitable enough. He developed software for a sugar mill which helps trace the payment record of sugarcane farmers, sold software to the local administration for managing government scholarship programmes and software to the mandi

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