Partnership to nurture SME entrepreneurs

In what could be a significant boost to the Rural BPO industry in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Cisco Systems is partnering with the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) and Tiruchirappalli Regional Engineering College – Science and Technology Entrepreneurs Park (TREC-STEP) to nurture and support ICT entrepreneurs in the country [via Economic Times]:

In the three-way partnership, SIDBI will provide financial support, Cisco would aid in technology and the incubator TREC-STEP would help in mentoring. The partnership is targeted at the micro, small and medium enterprises segment. It has been rolled out on a pilot basis in India.

TREC-STEP is an award winning small-business incubator local in the south Indian city of Trichy. Since its establishment in 1986, it has excelled in promoting technology entrepreneurship in the region. Given the broadening focus on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), it would be worthwhile to consider setting up well-functioning business incubators in every district in India.

2008 Manthan Award Winners – ICT and Development

Prerna announced the acceptance of nominations for the 2008 Manthan Awards back in March, and Livemint.com now provides highlights of the innovative winners. The full list of winners can be found here.

On first glance, I was amazed by the sheer number of categories (there are 13) and the diversity of tech products out there. Here are a few personal favorites, but I encourage you to look through the list to get the full view:

  • Wall newspaper – broadcast sheet pasted on the walls of milk cooperatives and Panchayat buildings in 40,000 villages, targeting the rural and low literate
  • Safal National Exchange of India Limited (SNX) – pursuing a One India One Market vision, creating an opportunity for small farmers to gain access to national markets through negotiating prices in a transparent way that eliminates as many intermediaries as possible
  • Lipikaar – an e-localization method that allows typing in 16 different languages using a normal keyboard, making it extremely user-friendly for non-English speakers
  • Learn with Fun – making maths an enjoyable subject through satelitte communications in a vernacular language, to reach out to rural areas where drop out rates are high

There are seemingly endless ways to marry technology and development, and these winners provide just a taste of the current landscape.

[TC-I Call to Action]: NASSCOM Foundation Social Innovation Honours

NASSCOM Foundation, the CSR branch of NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Service Companies), is launching a Social Innovation Honours award.

The annual Honours aim to showcase projects that demonstrate best practices through exemplary use of ICT in areas of social transformation. This honour is a celebration of innovations that bring about social change and development through the application of cutting-edge technology.

There are categories for non-profit, for-profit, and government organizations in India to enter their projects for consideration. If you have a project that uses cutting edge technology to affect education, health, employment, or the environment, this may be a great opportunity to share your success. Applications can be submitted from now until October 20, 2008. The winners will be announced at NASSCOM Foundation’s Leadership Summit in February 2009. You can find more details here and download the application here.

Digital Green: ICT and a Participatory Framework

SciDev.Net brings attention to Digital Green, a project that uses digital video to disseminate information to small and marginal farmers in India. Recently, Digital Green won the culture category in the Stockholm Challenge Awards. According to its website, the project originated from Microsoft’s research team in India. Working with GREEN Foundation, the project is explained by the following:

The system includes a digital video database, which is produced by farmers and experts. The content within this repository is of various types, and sequencing enables farmers to progressively become better farmers. Content is produced and distributed over a hub and spokes-based architecture in which farmers are motivated and trained by the recorded experiences of local peers and extension staff. In contrast to traditional extension systems, we follow two important principles: (1) cost realism, essential if we are to scale the system up to a significant number of villages and farmers; and (2) building systems that solve end-to-end agricultural issues with interactivity that develops relationships between people and content.

Essentially, the project is a way to spread useful information to even illiterate farmers, using networks that they can trust (i.e. other villages, farmers in similar situations). The short documentary below further explains Digital Green’s work.

Cellphones and Development

Recently, the NYTimes featured an article entitled, “Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?”, in which it highlighted a new wave of “human behaviour” research funded by cellphone companies such as Nokia in order to tap into less developed markets. The author of the article centers around a series of conversations/interactions with Jan Chipchase, a “user anthropologist” for Nokia, but I will highlight the larger trends presented in the article instead.

According to the article, Asia and Africa are at the cusp of a new wave of technological improvements and access that potentially stand to benefit a significant portion of the poor, underprivileged population (we have highlighted a few key trends here – InternetSpeech, SMS for Blood Donors, Quarter Million Internet Capable Phones, LifeLines Education, Cellphones as a Social Epidemic, and CureHunter). Small improvements in terms of access, suggests the article, can generate exponential returns:

Today, there are more than 3.3 billion mobile-phone subscriptions worldwide, which means that there are at least three billion people who don’t own cellphones, the bulk of them to be found in Africa and Asia. Even the smallest improvements in efficiency, amplified across those additional three billion people, could reshape the global economy in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

To get a sense of how rapidly cellphones are penetrating the global marketplace, you need only to look at the sales figures…Eighty percent of the world’s population now lives within range of a cellular network, which is double the level in 2000. And figures from the International Telecommunications Union show that by the end of 2006, 68 percent of the world’s mobile subscriptions were in developing countries.

How exactly do cellphones contribute to development, you may ask? Well, according to development specialists and business scholars Robert Jensen, cellphones have been proven to augment income:

Robert Jensen, an economics professor at Harvard University, tracked fishermen off the coast of Kerala in southern India, finding that when they invested in cellphones and started using them to call around to prospective buyers before they’d even got their catch to shore, their profits went up by an average of 8 percent while consumer prices in the local marketplace went down by 4 percent.

In fact, “a 2005 London Business School study extrapolated the effect even further, concluding that for every additional 10 mobile phones per 100 people, a country’s G.D.P. rises 0.5 percent.” Further research by the World Resources Institute, which, in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation, published a report entitled, “The Next Four Billion,” has found that poor families invest a significant amount of their savings in the information-communication technology category. Here are further details from their findings (more after the jump): Continue reading

Headlines Digest

We have decided to condense the headlines to be posted once each workday. Please comment here, if you prefer the Midday and Evening posts.

  • Global Warming and Energy: P. Chindambaram speaks on measures taken by India to combat global warming. In similar news, in Haryana the government has granted a 27 crore contract to a company to build a 6MW biomass power plant.
  • Technology’s Pluses and Minuses: InfoDev new working paper on technology in health highlights both opportunities and challenges with regard to medicine. Also, the Ministry of Rural Development has called out state governments to provide transparent and effective means for their people to express grievances to the government. On the other hand, the advent of computer-aided design has made it difficult for Chirala saree weavers to remain competitive.
  • PPP: The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) with the help of the private sector will setup up mini tool rooms to encourage the development of those products that will help small and medium size enterprises work more effectively.
  • Education: The UN will train Indian statisticians via the Internet. Another education article has reported that OBCs have won their 27% quota.

Business Incubation Grants – Call for Proposals from infoDev

infoDev is accepting proposals from organizations under an initiative titled “Promoting ICT-enabled Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries through Business incubation.”

Throughout the developing world, innovative entrepreneurs are working to establish businesses that are “ICT-enabled”—offering ICT services or utilizing ICTs as a fundamental aspect of their business model. Business incubators focus on helping entrepreneurs to build competitive businesses through the early, high-risk stages of development. The infoDev Incubator Initiative supports business incubators as well as business incubator networks in developing countries with financial and technical assistance.

There are three categories: start-ups in IDA countries (which includes India), international working groups targeting women, youth, and high growth ICT enterprise development, and regional networks on business incubation. Proposals are due April 15, 2008.