South Asian Voice at Davos
     on Globalisation
     on Technology

Honoured at Davos 2001
     Anant Singh
     Iqbal Quadir

Technology   Feature     

Reinventing India

Role of Internet In South Asian Development
Successful case studies
    What the Gurus say
    - Vinod Khosla
    - Gururaj Deshpande

Technology - a weapon to
fight poverty.

South Asian success     stories
   - Bangladesh  
     Village Phone
     Village E-Mail
     Village Internet
   - Madhya Pradesh State
   - TARAhaat.com
   - Several more

Cultural feature
Sadhus - Holy Men of India
- Their Beliefs
- Their Sects



Sundown Madness at Wagah Border


Heritage & Travel

Rajasthan's Forest Forts


Three Brothers & A Violin 


Editor's Note



Silk Road on Wheels

South Asian Shop

Old Prints




the-south-asian.com                            February 2001

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Page  4  of  5

Reinventing India

by Mira Kamdar


How Market-driven Solutions Can Help India’s Poor

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:

Bhaiji, 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.


Shah 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.


The 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.


Like 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.


Hari, 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.


The 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.


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