mKrishi – More power at farmers’ hands

The Hindu reports about mKrishi (mobile Krishi) a mobile agro advisory system launched by Tata.  It can help farmers get personalized advise and updated information on their mobile phones about factors that may affect their crops such as weather.

Prima facie, this looks very similar to Nokia’s LifeTools that ThinkChange India reported a few days earlier.  However, there is one critical aspect in which mKrishi goes one step further. mKrishi mobile phones, that run on Tata Indicom’s network, are equipped with sensors that can read and send data about the current status of their crops.  This combined with an on-phone camera, should help agricultural experts provide specific advise experts understanding the on-field situation correctly.

According to K. Ananth Krishnan, vice-president and chief technology officer, TCS, personalised information and advice are given after farmers submit the soil nutrient and farming pattern data (The Hindu)

Further, it is also usable by illiterate farmers to make a query from a cell phone using voice-specific functions and get a response as an audio message.

This initiative has fetched TCS Wall Street Journal Global Innovation Technology Award for 2008. As I researched further to form my own opinion, I came across Ramesh Jain’s post on mKrishi.  He is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at University of Michgan, Ann Arbor and an entrepreneur.  I suppose his testimony should have better credibility than mine!

This project is truly revolutionary — it goes farther than most similar projects do.

Pizzas are good for these senior citizens

What do the words “new start-up”  and “garage” bring to your mind? The old stories about how all the tech companies started off to make today’s Silicon Valley? If that sounds a little too boring now, here is something as appetizing as a pizza. Started right here in India’s Silicon Valley by by Padma Srinivasan, 73 and Jayalakshmi Sreenivasan, 75 (as against in The Silicon Valley by a bunch of youngsters), Pizza Haven pumps in the revenues that it earns by catering to school kids and software companies (like HP, now that is some coincidence!) to running an old age home – Vishranti.

“Granny’s pizzas are a hit among the software professionals, not just because they are delicious, but also because they are sold for a cause,” said Padma.

The profit from pizzas and generous donations from some well-wishers have helped in completing the home for the eldely, named Vishranthi (Rest), in June 2008 (news from newkerala.com)

What is there to be learnt from this story? Of course, a for-profit model makes this home’s future secure. But there is a more important lesson. Sustaining a social initiative doesn’t always need a complex innovation! All it needs is for one to look around yourself and identify what they are looking for!

With the current model up and running, is the Vishranthi executive team looking for expansion? Absolutely!

“In Vishranthi, I am also planning to start an orphanage and vocational training centre for poor rural women. And again our pizzas will come in handy to finance all our projects.”

Nokia poised to help farmers to expand its rural base

Nokia is about to launch a set of “Life Tools” to be embedded in its mobile phones in an effort to expand its base into rural India. These Life Tools cater to the needs of the rural community with information on three different sectors namely Agriculture, Education, Entertainment. On agriculture, the Life Tool is likely to offer updated information on weather and market prices for the farmers produce on the mobile phone in the farmers native language.

As the old proverb goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Nokia’s datasheet on Life Tools provides an easy-to-understand picture. Evidently, this tool is developed not just to penetrate into rural India, but rather to the “rural world”.

If my everyday observation is any testimony, Nokia seems to have a wide user base at the lower economic sections of India, and this tool can be an excellent vehicle for informational empowerment of the rural Indian community. However, given that the rural buy is likely not going to buy these phones off a Nokia Priority Showroom, how Nokia is going to market this tool so that the buyer buys a low cost Nokia phone for its Life Tools rather than its ruggedness, ease of use or longer life would be an interesting point to observe. This may also be the crucial factor that may determine the tool’s success.

Social Entrepreneurship workshop and competition at IIT-Madras

The India chapter of Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society (ASES-India) operating out of IIT-Madras is set to conduct workshops running up to a competition in which the best social business plan will be rewarded. Times of India reports,

Participants must submit executive summaries of their business plans by January 25 after which around 15 to 20 teams will be short-listed and mentored.

Results of the first round will be declared on February 1 and the formal mentoring including development of prototypes of short-listed projects will commence on February 15. In all five awards will be given.[Source:

The website created for the competition, named Genesis, indicates that while prizes in the competition bring for good publicity for the winning ideas, the workshops will offer valuable lessons to learn to all the participants, who may also stand to gain from their interaction with people from IIT, Rural Innovations Network, Ashoka, Indian Angel Network, TiE – the partners of ASES-India for this competition.

UFV-CRRID partnership promises grassroot-level business development

Indian Express and Abbynews.com report that University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), Canada and The Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to “empower the rural entrepreneurs of North India.”

“India needs entrepreneurs at the grass roots level, and our partnership with CRRID allows us to fuel business start-ups and the development of SMEs outside the city centres, in the areas that need it most,” said Professor DJ Sandhu, UFV President’s Advisor.

A quick look at the university’s website to find out what the nature reveals some of the ways means of intervention this partnership will possibly employ.

…for example, students enrolled in UFV’s BBA degree at SDCC will be able to work with research faculty at  CRRID to implement projects aimed at uplifting businesses involved in such industries as agriculture and agrifoods.

In a way this partnership is similar to Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme (TISES), a partnership between TATA sons, UC Berkely and Cambridge University. Continue reading

Information sharing improves earning capacity of farmers

About 138 farmers in Pune stand to gain in their productivity today thanks to their membership to Abhinav Farmer’s Club. According to a report in Business Standard, Dnyaneshwar Bodke, using his education in Horticulture Training Center founded the club to share his knowledge on farming exotic fruits, vegetables and flowers to his fellow farmers in 2004.  Funded by National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD) and Canara Bank this club since then seems to have transformed into a peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform in which farmers brainstorm various aspects of farming. As a result, the sophistication of their farming methods and their productivity seems to have vastly improved.

“Traditional farming compelled the farmers to wait for the required weather conditions to start farming. But, since we do our business in greenhouses and sheds, we are able to control the conditions in which the crops grow. That’s the reason why we are able to excel as we don’t have to depend on nature for the right time to begin,” adds Bodke.

How has this helped the stakeholders? Apart from earning bounties to the farmers, this has also provided employment to over 700 others in the periphery.

The numbers are there for all to see. In 2007, AFC produced 13.2 million flowers and some 250 tonnes of vegetables. Its yearly turnover is a little above Rs 10 crore. Farmers affiliated to the club use drip irrigation and operations in the farms are labour intensive. This keeps their costs under check.

The example set by Abhinav Farmer’s Club along with and the now famous e-Choupal initiative by ITC seems to support the point that access to information is probably the best way to empower the rural India – a point valued by Comat Technologies, a successful social business earlier covered by ThinkChange India.

First XLRI Conference on sustainable development

The Social Entrepreneurship Trust and Social Initiative Group for Managerial Assistance (Sigma) of XLRI, in association with Ashoka and Indianngos.com has planned its first XLRI Social Entrepreneurship Conference. The conference is scheduled to be at XLRI Jamshedpur on January 31st and February 1st 2009.

The theme of the conference would be “providing access for sustainable development” while its purpose is to showcase innovative social entrepreneurship ventures by individual entrepreneurs, NGOs, corporate executives and government agencies.[source The Telegraph]

Face-to-Face with Comat technologies

TC-I Fundwatch has recently reported a Rs. 60-crore investment by Omidyar Network and Unitus Equity Fund (UEF) on Comat technologies, a profitable social enterprise doing business with the rural poor.

The CEO of Comat technologies Sriram Raghavan recently talked to NASSCOM Emerge Blog and offered some good insights into Comat’s success in becoming a profitable social business.

Sriram’s answer to one question explains the business model of Comat technologies succinctly.

Q. Your own business is built around the Rural Business Centres. What exactly are these?

SR: It is a very simple concept. The rural business centre is primarily an access point for rural citizens, where we use technology to deliver different kinds of services – only those that help improve the quality of life in villages. We don’t want to sell soaps and consumer goods.

I’ll give you two examples. Take government certificates such as birth, death, land and property related papers. If you have to get one from the taluk or the district office, you have to go to that particular office, wait in a long line and follow cumbersome processes. We deliver it to the village directly – it takes about five minutes for the same cost, i.e., Rs. 15 per certificate. This makes a very big difference to the rural consumer.

The other area we are in is education. There are teachers in rural areas, but the quality of education is very poor. Our centres bring live classes from best teachers in cities who broadcast their lessons online, much like the erstwhile UGC programmes. Except that here, we have two- way interaction and the students and teachers can speak to each other.

Sriram Raghavan also shared a few of his experiences with rural consumers that can come handy to a new social enterprise venturing into the villages.

In a typical agrarian set up, income generation is a twice-a-year cycle – unlike in urban areas where we earn monthly salaries.  It is important to bear this in mind as you have to position your product around this insight.

With a turnover of Rs.55 crore while improving the lives of about 10 million rural inhabitants, there should be little doubt about the success of this unique business model. But the best aspect about the venture is that it has identified one critical handicap of the Indian villages and working successfully towards eliminating it. Better said by the man himself.

All these years, rural India has been isolated; they have been “informationally disabled”. It is now time for a change and we want to ensure that.

[TCI-Changemaker] CSIM: An NGO to groom social entrepreneurs

The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with interviews with people we believe are at the brink of something special but have for the most part been overlooked by the mainstream media. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab.

In this edition TCI-changemaker focuses on Prof. K.L Srivastava, chief Coordinator of Center for Social Initiative and Management (CSIM) Hyderabad. A charitable organization cum learning centre that first started in Chennai, it has quickly spread to Bengaluru and Hyderabad and Mumabai with an aim to groom professionals from various fields to be social entrepreneurs by providing affordable and non-intrusive training programs. Badhri explores the Hyderabad wing of this unique organization and the gentleman at its helm in this conversation.

Badhri: Prof. Srivastava, Thanks for taking time off for this interview. Before we discuss about CSIM, can you please quickly outline your professional and educational background?

K.L. Srivastava: My pleasure. I grew up in a village in UP and completed my B Tech (Agricultural Engineering) degree from the GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology in 1966, and M Tech (Agricultural Engineering) with specialization in Soil and Water Management from IIT Kharagpur in 1972. Some of the positions I have held before joining CSIM in 2006 are: Associate Professor at the Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, Bhubaneswar; Senior Scientist, Natural Resource Management, ICRISAT, Hyderabad; Consultant, Indo-Dutch APWELL project on participatory irrigation and rural development; and Natural Resource Management Specialist in some NGOs in Hyderabad.

Badhri: How did you come to be part of CSIM?

Prof. Srivastava: I have always believed that we can achieve equitable and sustainable development in India in a free market economy by strengthening the citizen sector. Due to my interest in social entrepreneurship, Corporate Social Responsibility and management education in the social sector organizations, I acquired knowledge in these fields through self study and also by joining several discussion forums. While working with PRDIS (an NGO dealing with agriculture and rural development), I started working as a guest faculty at CSIM in 2005. Subsequently, I was invited to take over as the Chief Coordinator of CSIM in June 2006.

Continue reading

After Fab India, its XLRI’s turn

ThinkChange India had earlier covered Fab India’s innovative business model for bringing the riches right at the doorsteps of the skilled and isolated rural weavers. A similar opportunity now knocks the doors of  tribal artisans of Jharkhand.

Parichay, a non-profit founded by six first-year MBA students within the XLRI Jamshedpur campus, has inaugurated its ‘Design and Learning Centre’ not only to promote the traditional artforms native to Jarkhand, but also to improve the skills of the artisans to create products tailored to modern tastes.

In what seems to be a well co-ordinated effort, Tinplate Company of India Ltd has provided the initial investment, Kalamandir, a local based NGO, has agreed to offer the necessary training and Parichay would market the products the artisans would design. One of the founders of Parichay has summed up the idea to The Financial Express

Essentially the idea is to provide a more sustainable and non-migratory livelihood to our artisans who are currently facing a lot of trouble pursuing their crafts

While the three-way partnership between a school, a non-profit and a for-profit organization to uplift the rural poor is commendable, achieving sustainability is critcal. The best way to achieve this is probably to devise an exit strategy by training the artisans in due course in marketing and entrepreneurship.

A (micro)creditable partnership

India Post has inked an agreement with National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) to facilitate micro-credit to women-run Self Help Groups (SHG) in eight states and north eastern states.

In this strategic partnership, India Post will lend the unparalleled reach it has gained into India’s remote villages and the credibility as a reliable family insurer through its various life insurance schemes to provide a big boost to NABARD for achieving its purpose of “facilitating credit flow for promotion and development of agriculture and integrated rural development.”

The latest agreement is inked after the resounding success of the pilot project that was implemented in Tamil Nadu as highlighted in Microcapital.org

This project was first implemented in 2006 as a pilot project in a number of post offices in two districts of Tamil Nadu…It was extended to three additional districts and all post offices in these five districts are currently participSo far, 165 SHGs have received these loans, for a total loan disbursement of Rs 1.35 million (USD 29 thousand). Additionally, 2,900 SHGs have been formed to create credit linkages with 2000 post offices in nine divisions of the state.

A presentation in India Rural Business Summit organized by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) provides finer details on the pilot’s working model, and metrics.

On the whole, India Post’s credibility among the rural and urban poor as one of the least corrupt, and hence the most reliable government organization, extensive reach, and success on a smaller  scale implementation seems to leave only the possible problems due to scaling up to worry about in this initiative.