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.

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[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.