Page 4 of 5
by Mira Kamdar
How Market-driven Solutions Can Help
If India is truly to benefit from its
unique position in the global information technology boom,
it must grow beyond being primarily a source of highly skilled workers able
to sell their services at deeply discounted rates into being one of the
largest potential markets for information technology related products and
services in the world. India remains a country where there are only 0.21
personal computers and 1.86 telephones for every 100 people. But then 71
percent of India’s people do not have access to basic sanitation.
Under these circumstances, simply
dropping a computer into a remote village will do nothing
to help India’s poor. At the same time, the market status quo is perfectly
capable of continuing to churn out internet millionaires in Hyderabad while
villagers fifty miles away have no toilets or running water. Fortunately,
new initiatives that make creative use of digital technologies to meet
practical development needs, and that offer market-friendly incentives for
doing so, are possible.
Consider the following scenarios:
a farmer in one of India’s poorest states, Madhya Pradesh, used to
have to accept whatever
price a local middleman would pay for his grain because he had
knowledge of current
market prices. His family barely eeked out a living. Their lives had
not improved in several
generations. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the local patwari,
or land records man, was
threatening to take away their land, claiming it really belonged to
a neighboring landowner.
Thanks to a scheme introduced by the government of central Madhya
Pradesh, Bhaiji was able to get a
copy of his title to his land from the local intranet center
for an affordable 5 rupees. He is
also now able to check grain prices on the current market
and negotiate fair prices for his grain. His family is now secure on
their land and confident
of their ability to hold onto their livelihood.
Banu is a widow who used to have no source of income to feed herself
or her five children.
Like most women in her village, she is illiterate. Like most widows,
there is an insuperable
stigma against her remarrying. She lives in a remote village with no
telephone. A representative of the
Grameen Bank, well known for its micro-lending schemes
to the poor in Bangladesh, especially to poor women, approached her
with a proposal: They
would give her a cellular phone on loan. She could use it to charge
her fellow villagers for
calls, repay the cost of the phone, and keep the balance. Now Shah
Banu has a reliable source of income
for herself and her children, and she has become a respected
and singularly important person in her village.
Gujarat milk cooperative system is well established. Producers bring
their milk to a central
collection point where it is measured and its butterfat content
evaluated. Volume was
easily determined. Butterfat content was less easily determined, and
producers complained they
were being cheated by fraudulent assessments. Moreover, they were
not paid until the
butterfat assessments were made, a lengthy process, and often had to
wait for long periods
without knowing exactly how much they would be paid. Then,
computer-based assessment equipment
was introduced allowing the milk’s butterfat content
to be accurately assessed on the spot. The corrupt middlemen were
eliminated, and the
producers were issued a payment chit within a few minutes of
delivering their milk.
many pregnant women in Dharavi, Mumbai’s biggest slum, Shalini
suffers from anemia.
Her meager diet is simply too low in iron. Shalini is now getting
iron supplements thanks to
a UNICEF program supported by WebMD. Outreach medical workers
at Mumbai’s Sion Hospital are tracking Shalini’s and others’
response to the iron supplements
program for WebMD’s internet service linking health care workers
across the digital divide.
They are also able to access data from similar efforts to improve
maternal health around the world, and
integrate it into their own local initiative.
12 years old, lives in one of Delhi’s worse slums. He attended
school up to third grade, then dropped out
to help his family eek out a living collecting and selling recyclable
plastic discards. His father is in poor health, and may soon have to
give up his job driving a three-wheeler
rickshaw in the far suburbs. His mother died soon after the birth
of Hari’s 2-year-old sister. If his father has to stop working,
there is no way Hari can provide for the
family. Luckily, Raj Shah, a successful software engineer settled in
Austin, Texas, has started a computer programming
training school in Hari’s slum, using donated
used computers from American companies upgrading their systems. Hari
has enrolled in the school, where he
receives free training and a hot lunch every day. He is also
learning English, and improving his reading and writing in Hindi as
well. His new skills will be in high
demand in India’s booming information technology sector.
village of Kizhur in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu is home
to a community of weavers going back untold generations. Their
traditional product is handwoven lungis, the traditional male
garment of South India. In recent years, as wearing trousers has
become more popular, it has become more and more difficult for the
weavers to sell their cloth. Then they were approached by a
representative of PEOPLink, an internet e-commerce initiative that
links producers around the world directly to market, about supplying
a nearby sewing cooperative with their handwoven cotton cloth for
making placemats, napkins and tablecloths for sale on the internet.
The sewing cooperative is doing a brisk business on PEOPLink’s web
site and needs more cloth to keep production up with increasing
demand. A deal was struck, and the weavers of Kizhur are now able to
sell as much cloth as they can produce.
© 2000 - 2001 [the-south-asian.com]. Intellectual Property. All rights reserved.