Budget 2017-18 promises 1.5 lakh gram panchayats with high-speed broadband service by the end of the year. This may invite a range of reactions. Someone might say “Really? This looks like an impossible task to achieve.” There might be yet another section saying “Rural poor need jobs, not technology”.
While there could be varied opinions on this development, it is worthwhile to discuss as to how companies can leverage this opportunity and participate in the rural digitalisation drive.
According to a report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 36% of the online population in India belongs to rural areas. The rich media content accessible through internet data services such as social media, chat, video, email and apps have almost replaced the traditional services like SMS and voice messages. With global information just a click away, this will further shrink the urban-rural divide.
Introducing technology and digital innovation in rural locations is not something new in CSR. Several organisations have been using information technology for rural development projects. With digitalisation becoming a national agenda, this initiative is likely to gain greater momentum in coming times. Better and faster access to internet will bring in a plethora of advantages to rural population – right from e-commerce and internet banking to availing benefits from study programs and government schemes. Companies can strategically focus on educating people and making them well-versed with digital technology and benefits of using the internet.
While CSR brings in the core advantage by sharing a strong rapport with the community, companies also have this massive rural outreach through its suppliers, channel partners and customers in villages and small towns. This provides us with an opportunity to adopt a 360 degree approach by educating all our rural stakeholders and achieve the best outcomes from the drive.
It would also be important to thoroughly understand the apprehensions and fears existing in people’s minds that make them averse to digital transformation. Collaborating with like-minded organisations and digital experts can help build a robust plan of action and effective implementation strategy. Organisations can invest in building capacities of local institutions who exercise better influence on locals and are likely to yield faster results.
The task to digitalise rural India might seem mammoth, but the fact is that no transition has ever been smooth. And yet, with ‘change’ the only constant factor, it is essential that new ideas and techniques be embraced to yield maximum benefits. What organisation need is meticulous planning and systematic implementation on the ground. Today, rural digitalisation is a national priority and the faster we act, more effective will be the outcomes.
Pearl Tiwari is the Director and Chief Executive of Ambuja Cement Foundation, the CSR wing of Ambuja Cements Limited. In a professional career spanning over 30 years, Pearl has been associated with the not-for-profit, educational and corporate sectors. Pearl joined Ambuja in 2000 and ever since has been at the helm of nurturing the Ambuja Cement Foundation that has expanded from a fledging team to nearly 400 development professionals, with a pan-India presence active in 21 locations across 11 states.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
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The CSR Journal Team