Tag Archives: rural

RuralRelations.com – harnessing IT to help villages

Gandhiji once said India lives in her villages. The current times see a march towards converting the villages into industry land rather than sustaining the essence of villages with new technology. Pune based Pradeep Lokhande, who himself hails from Wai village (Satara), decided to dream big and reach out to the villages to realise his dreams. The result, Rural Relations, is an organisation that harnesses IT to develop villages.

Lokhande went about the basics alongs the lines of the Mahatma again:

“I embarked on a journey of discovery, to find out what constitutes the real India. Though I myself hail from a village, I knew that deep down there’s more to life than what I had seen or lived myself. I wanted to know the essence of the various traditions, cultures and soak in its thinking. It was a journey of 40,000 villages of which I have personally visited 4000, across the country. I tried to understand rural India’s administration methodologies, markets or the bazaar-haat systems and the process of the education system. In the process of my journey, I established direct contact with opinion makers in villages and started recording obscure details of the local economy. And in 1996, I made my first customers, Tata Tea and Parle to delve in the data that I had collected. Since then there has been no turning back.”

After that, Lokhande decided to take the computer revolution to the villages. The intention was not to make computer literates of people but at least to get them to touch, feel and try computers. So he began to install used computers in villages, particularly in secondary schools, where the interest and curiosity levels were very high. When he personally could not find the means and finance to provide infrastructure, he appealed to individuals, organizations and corporates to contribute used machines. Today he has been instrumental in installing 600 computers across 540 villages.

What I found most interesting in Lokhande’s philosophy was the concept of the Non-resident Villager, which he has turned into a movement to raise ideas, funds and hands for development. The idea is to get people from cities to adopt a village (typically a village that they have some past connection to), and use this network of NRVs to help the villages. “Each one of us is an NRV, for our roots do, in some way, come from the villages. So as an NRV, we can always reach out, support and contribute something to the development of rural India.” says Lokhande and it rings really true. This is a concept which is in tune with the concept of the NRI and offers a person a chance to lend a helping hand to what once gave him a life, if not in this generation, then to the generations before that. Roots matter, in India at least.

Those interested in participating in the NRV scheme can get in touch at nrv@ruralrelations.com.

Lokhande has more active concepts in execution under Rural Relations. Take a look at his next concept, Village Developers, these are over 300 trained local village youths across 9 states and most of them are connected with mobile phones and emails to facilitate all ground activities.

Or the concept of rural marketing he employs called The Rural Barometer, which is ‘experience backed by cutting-edge technology’; live, dynamic, and regular information, by region and by state, which is subscription-based to help understand the villager like never before, gain valuable insights, learn about competition, distribution and empowers one to forecast trends. Large multinationals like Hindustan Lever, Reuters, and even Microsoft have used Rural Relations’ expertise in this area.

Then there is the library movement, the Gyan-Key, which makes a library in every rural secondary school a reality. It is a unique concept – a library of the students, for the students and by the students. The library will be run by one of the girls (Gyan-Key monitor) from that village studying in class VI. Each library to start with will have minimum 150-200 books in that local language covering various subjects. To instil a sense of ownership, students will be encouraged to donate books, (regardless of their value) for ‘their’ library on their birthday, creating a feeling of belonging. The Rural Talent division is a talent bank endeavour for the villages under the umbrella.

Lokhande himself is “from very humble background” he claims and has done his graduation B.Com externally and admits to have “taken a less travelled path”. His proportions for investment of time and money are as clear as his concepts for development, “After 2000, I have been investing 40% for business, 40% for professional social activity & 20% for teaching”

I had a curiosity to find what he considered the greatest achievement ever since Lokhande started Rural Relations? To be sure, he has a clear and ready answer to that too. “In professional achievement, it’s a case study on rural relations in Philip Kotler’s book and in personal & social achievement – I have more than 6,00,000 letters from villagers & the satisfaction I see in the eyes of the students from rural areas.”

He has a team in place to handle the essentials, 13 people in office staff & 31
associates as village developers.

So Lokhande, where do you see yourself five years down the lane?

“Our goal for the next 5 years is to reach to all feeder villages of India, create 5,000 videos of changing villages & minimum 10,000 Gyan-Key libraries”

Ambitious? Not at all, if there is a will, there is not just one way, but many.

Pune engineer’s solar-powered crop irrigator covered by MIT Technology Review

Pune-based Padmakar Kelkar has developed a solar-powered crop irrigator that can be a huge boon for farmers in these times of failing monsoons and 14-hour rural power cuts.

I had no idea what pivot irrigation is, so I looked it up in wikipedia, and to save you the trouble, I’ve copied the relevant paragraph here:

Center-pivot irrigation (sometimes called central pivot irrigation), also called circle irrigation, is a method of crop irrigation in which equipment rotates around a pivot. Central pivot irrigation is a form of overhead (sprinkler) irrigation consisting of several segments of pipe (usually galvanized steel or aluminium) joined together and supported by trusses, mounted on wheeled towers with sprinklers positioned along its length. The machine moves in a circular pattern and is fed with water from the pivot point at the center of the circle. The outside set of wheels sets the master pace for the rotation (typically once every three days). The inner sets of wheels are mounted at hubs between two segments and use angle sensors to detect when the bend at the joint exceeds a certain threshold, and thus, the wheels should be rotated to keep the segments aligned. Centre pivots are typically less than 500m in length (circle radius) with the most common size being the standard 1/4 mile machine (400 m). To achieve uniform application, centre pivots require a continuously variable emitter flow rate across the radius of the machine. Nozzle sizes are smallest at the inner spans to achieve low flow rates and increase with distance from the pivot point.

MIT’s Technology Review (India Edition) covered this a couple of weeks back (the same article also appeared as a featured innovation in DARE magazine). Kelkar’s technology was one of the featured innovations in the IITB-Alumni Association’s Innovations conference in 2008 that happens every year in Pune. (By the way, Innovations 2010 is happening in a couple of weeks – you should consider attending).

The TechReview article points out the advantages of this irrigator:

The solar panels charge the battery, and this in turn runs the machine when there is no sun. “We have run the machine 19 hours continuously without solar energy at all,” says Kelkar. The use of solar panels could be a boon for farmers in those states that get ample sunlight but not enough electricity.

Other advantages include water savings of about 30-50 percent over other pivots, zero land erosion, 30-50 percent more yield, higher return on investment, and minimum labor requirements. Compared to the drip irrigation, Kelkar’s pivot is more cost-effective. “Drip irrigation may cost around Rs 35,000 an acre, whereas my machine costs around Rs 45,000 an acre. But the cost in case of drip irrigation includes laying it out in the field every time and taking it out once it gets damaged, and you may have to spend another 15 percent every year. On a long-term basis, the cost of my machine comes out to be much less,” he adds.

Having already spent 20-25 lakhs of his own money in developing the technology, Kelkar is now looking for funding to start commercial production. One of the sources he is considering is the Government of India’s Technopreneurship Promotion Programme (TePP). (PuneTech had covered TePP about an year back.

In his efforts at finding funding, he is being helped by Pune’s Venture Center. You can see all of our coverage of Venture Center’s activities here. Thanks to @kaushikgala for tipping us. Also, you can follow MIT Technology Review’s India Edition here.

Pune’s SMSONE gets techcrunched: Mirco-local news to make Silicon Valley Jealous

Pune-based company SMSONE (see previous PuneTech coverage) has just been covered by TechCrunch, one of the most influential and widely read tech blogs in the world (as a result of an introduction by PuneTech).

Sarah Lacy, editor-at-large at TechCrunch was in India for about a month in November, and she was in Pune for a day, hosted by Abinash Tripathy. During her Pune visit, PuneTech introduced her to a bunch of local companies, and SMSONE was one of them.

Excerpts from her article:

But every once in a while I find a company that hits the trifecta: It’s addressing a big problem locally, it’s something I don’t think is offered in the US, and…. I want it. And when a product in undeveloped, chaotic, messy India can make someone in Silicon Valley feel jealous, you know that entrepreneur has come up with something good.

I’m talking about SMSONE Media, a company I met in Pune about a week ago. Like most of the impressive companies I saw in India, it’s aimed squarely at the base of the pyramid and is using basic SMS to deliver services to people some of India’s most unconnected areas. It was started by Ravi Ghate, who proudly points out that none of his core team graduated from high school, much less attended an IIT or IIM. (Typically not something you brag about in India.)

Later, the article quotes Ravi Ghate, CEO of SMSONE, on their future plans:

Right now Ghate’s operation is in 400 communities, reaching roughly 400,000 readers. He just got an investment from the government of Bangalore to boost that reach to five million readers in the next four months.

Ghate is clear that the money will be used strictly to reach more people. The company already breaks even and Ghate makes enough to pay his basic living expenses. He doesn’t care about fancy cars or clothes. It wasn’t too long ago that he was one of those disadvantaged kids, selling flags and berries on the side of the road and being told to go away. He still regularly travels between villages by bus and stays in $5/a night hotels

FYI: There’s one detail that her article gets wrong. The article says:

The economics work out like this: Out of a 1000 rupee ad sale, 300 of it goes to the reporter, and Ghate pays him an additional 50 rupees for each news story. That adds up to a nice income for a village kid

Actually, of the Rs. 1000 that an ad earns, Rs. 300 is kept by SMSONE and the rest goes to the reporter. But other than this inaccuracy, the article does a great job of capturing the essence of SMSONE.

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