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.

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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.

[TC-I Changemaker]: NComputing makes $70 PC for the Poor

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.

Last week, Vinay sat down (via webcast) with Stephen Dukker, Chairman & CEO of NComputing , a company that has developed a low-cost, robust virtual pc platform that enables numerous workstations to be run on a single desktop machine. While the company originally intended to
take corporate visualization products like VMWare head on, Dukker and the rest of the management team recognized early that their inexpensive architecture would be ideal for the developing world as well. Predicted by
some to be the next Google, the company has positioned itself to explode in India. Dukker took the time to speak with TC-I about the unique features of NComputing’s platform.

Editor’s update: At the writing of this interview, NComputing had just hired Raj Choudhury, formerly at BEA India, as Country Manager for India. Full story can be read here.

Vinay Ganti: Thank you Stephen for taking the time to speak with me and the TC-I community today. Let’s start out at the beginning, what exactly has NComputing set out to do?

Stephen Dukker: To break it down to its simplest point, we are offering the world a $70 PC. We have developed a means for profitably providing a computing workstation for $70 each that includes all of the necessary virtualization hardware and software – a price point we believe will finally make access to computers a reality throughout the globe.

VG: Wow, $70 for a PC seems rather incredible, especially given how much attention the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has gotten for reaching the $100 price point (NOTE: that was their goal, they are selling for $177 FOC China). How exactly does NComputing manage to provide a PC for only $70?

SD: NComputing effectively leverages the continuing trend of increasing processing power of the everyday desktop computer. A typical $700 desktop found in a home has effectively become as powerful as a mainframe. With 3Ghz of power and multiple gigs of ram, these computers usually utilize less than 1% of their processing capabilities. In essence, many desktops waste their capacity and as a result waste energy.

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From Sex Workers to Successful Entrepreneurs

We reported here on TC-I couple of months back about India’s first sex-workers bank being set up in Mumbai. A group of sex workers in Mysore have gone a step-further and emerged as successful entrepreneurs. Organized under an organization called Ashodaya Samithi, the group of 150 female, male and transgender sex workers have set up a successful community kitchen which sells lunches. The initiative recently won the ‘Development Marketplace‘ competition conducted by the World Bank [via Rediff.com]

The short-listed 75 finalists from among the 1,000 were invited to Mumbai to set up a stall, exhibit and explain their proposal to a team of jurors and convince them on their proposal. A sex worker and Ashodaya secretary Bhagyalakshmi did the promotional work. She convinced the jurors on the innovativeness, replication and sustainability of their project and made Ashodaya qualify to receive the World Bank grant of $40,000 on May 15 in Mumbai from actor and UNICEF envoy Shabana Azmi

Its interesting to note that the theme of the comeptition this year was “Tackling HIV/AIDS Stigma and Discrimination”. For the sex worker community, running a successful business not only provides them a rerliable income opportunity, but also a better chance to tackle stigma and discrimation – a welcoming side-effect.

Unitus to recieve $9 million support from Omidyar Network

IndiaWest Online reports that Unitus, Seattle and Bangalore based organization providing consulting support to MFIs, just received a $9 million grant from Omidyar Network. The grant is meant to support expansion of Unitus programs beyond India.

The article features one of Unitus partners, MokshaYug Access (MYA). MYA recently received $2 million funding from Unitus Equity Fund (UEF) and we have featured MYA in this space before:

One of Unitus’s success stories in India is Moksha Yug Access, founded by 36-year-old Harsha Moily. MYA is based in Bagalkot, a rural district outside Bangalore. The organization partnered with Unitus in 2007, its second year of operation.

“The consultancy service from Unitus brought more efficiency to our operations which translated into lower interest rates for our borrowers,” Moily told India-West by telephone from Bagalkot. “I have access to the brightest minds at Unitus,” he said.

Interview with India’s Rural BPO Guru

Its been almost three years since Businessworld India published a feature on Rural BPO, writing about a company called Lason. Lason had just just set up its first rural BPO unit in Kizhanur village, 50 km from Chennai. The unit was the brainchild of Pradeep Nevatia, then managing director of Lason India, a subsidiary of the $167-million BPO firm Lason. The company’s efforts were arguably one of the first Rural BPO experiments in the country.

Since then, Pradeep has left Lason India to start his own company called Ninestars Information Technology. The Hindu just published an excellent interview with Pradeep, highlighting his vision for the distributed delivery model and rural BPO in India:

As soon as we recognise that BPO and manufacturing are essentially no different, the problem of ‘city vs village’ would vanish. I have personally experimented ‘village BPO’ including the first-ever ‘village BPO,’ and the results are extremely good.

The cost reduces by minimum 25 per cent owing to lower infrastructure cost and manpower cost. The employees stay with their family and spend negligible time and money on travel.
The other important advantages seen are in lower absenteeism, lower attrition and strong discipline leading to higher productivity, quality and employee retention cost.

It will be interesting to see if Ninestars can give much needed momentum to the Rural BPO space.