Entries in India (5)


The race to connect the next billion, and the business models to get there

Google and Facebook both have a mission – to “connect the next billion,” as Google puts it. This Financial Times article, “Facebook, Google and the race to sign up India,” explores the tech giants’ initiatives that are “bringing internet access to India’s masses as a way of alleviating poverty, improving education and creating jobs.”

Google, in partnership with NGO Tata Trusts, is sending thousands of tech-connected bikes to women in rural Indian villages. (In these regions, women are much less connected than men.) The bikes, loaded with two Android smartphones and two tablets, educate women about using the internet, and these women can then pass their knowledge on to other villages. Google also aims to launch its pilot technology, “Project Loon” later this year, sending balloons into the sky that will provide internet connectivity to remote areas. Additionally, the company, through a partnership with India’s railway ministry, is in the process of rolling out high-speed wifi to a hundred train stations this year.

Facebook, on the other hand, has been heavily focused on its “Free Basics” program. This program, an app that is part of the social network’s initiative, offers users of partner telecoms networks free access to Facebook and a number of other well-known sites (Wikipedia, BBC News, Accuweather, etc.) Since it’s 2004 launch, 38 countries have come on board.

Both companies’ goals are echoing those of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes an aim of universal internet access. What’s notable is that these tech giants aren’t using funds they’ve set aside for corporate social responsibility, rather they’re driving these initiatives with money from their core budgets. This speaks to their belief that connecting the unconnected is more than just a charity effort, rather that there is “solid business logic of investing in connectivity in India and other developing markets,” according to the Financial Times article, and a benefit for both companies to gain a first movers advantage in these regions.

Despite their grandeur and reputation, these companies still face challenges developing business models that incorporate their social impact efforts. Recently, Facebook’s Free Basics app was blocked by India’s telecom regulators, after they ruled that “differential pricing” by internet companies infringes on the principles of net neutrality. While the ban wasn’t targeted specifically at Facebook, it has created a major roadblock for the company. However, the tech giant isn’t ready to wave the white flag allowing Google to take the lead in this race to connectivity just yet, saying it plans to pursue other connectivity projects in the region.

-- Clara Shen


The benefits of connected farming in emerging markets

Click on image to enlargeFarmers in emerging markets are facing their fair share of challenges when trying to improve their livelihoods and increase production to meet growing demand - a lack of infrastructure and information, financial barriers and the looming threat of water scarcity and climate change, to name a few. According to a recently released report by Vodafone, in order to overcome these challenges farmers in emerging markets are turning to mobile solutions.

The report explores the successes achieved and further potential impact from Vodafone rolling out six connectivity services to India, designed to help farmers and agricultural businesses to increase yield, improve efficiency and to boost incomes and rural livelihoods, all while reducing their environmental footprint.

Vodafone's six initiatives help support information services, receipt services, payments and loans, field audits, access to local markets and smartphone-enabled services. The benefits of the services are abundant – better access to information about agricultural best practices and weather forecasts, better access to information on market prices and the ability to connect more easily with buyers, improved communication and efficiency in agricultural supply chains, a reduction in fraud and losses, better access to capital and financial services and reduced travel time and costs.

According to the report, these six services alone have the potential to positively impact the lives of nearly 70 million Indian farmers in 2020, generating over $9 billion in additional annual income for farmers – that's an average $128 increase in income for over 60% of Indian farmers.

Image source: Vodaphone

-- Yan Toh


Google and Tata approach the last mile

A common hurdle for businesses--or initiatives of any sort--seeking to reach the broad base of consumers at the middle of the economic diamond is reaching people who have been isolated due to location, mobility issues, cultural barriers, or a combination of factors. You can have an outstanding product or service, but if your intended audience can't access it, it will fail in the "last mile" of distribution.

Google and the Tata Trusts recently rolled out a new initiative to overcome the barriers to women in rural India accessing and utilizing the Internet. I enjoyed this description of the project, “Internet Saathi” (saathi meaning friend in Hindi) at Tech In Asia.

In this case the keys to the approach are a fleet of bicycles, a cadre of trainers from local NGOs, and free advice to individual clusters of rural villages provided for several days a week over a period of months. Internet Saathi hopes to reach 45,000 villages and 5,000,000 women in rural communities over the next 18 months, and we will be interested to watch it's progress. In the meantime, we'd love to know your ideas about ways to overcome the last mile barriers you are familiar with.

Image source: Tech In Asia

-- Clara Shen


How CPG companies overcome challenges to reach thriving rural markets

This recent Harvard Business Review article points out that despite a slowdown in urban demand for consumer products, rural markets are growing faster than ever in some of the world's largest emerging economies, spurred by rising wages that are helping grow the middle class in these areas.

India, in particular, is seeing this trend play out. Between 2009 and 2012, spending by India's rural residents eclipsed that of its urban counterparts by about 25%, and according to Neilson projections, consumption in rural areas is growing 1.5 times faster in urban areas.

Not only is spending increasing in these markets, but rural consumers are increasingly buying branded products, and more-expensive goods are replacing entry-level versions.

The authors, all with Accenture, undertook a study to better understand the challenges that businesses face in these markets and determined a set of market leaders who are being innovative in their approach to gaining rural market share. They found:

What sets these organizations apart is their superior understanding of how to forge viable distribution paths into the countryside, identify profitable new customer segments, earn the loyalty of channel partners and create durable ties with customers to build a strong first-mover advantage.

Rural market leaders are forgoing traditional distributors, instead relying on smaller-scale subsidiaries who carry a narrower assortment of products tailored toward local tastes. Rather than using distributors, they are using vans as a way to get products to retailers directly, and retailers are using mobile technology to order appropriate stock levels for their local customers. For micro-markets, where there are no paved roads for vans, companies are innovating by using two- or three-wheelers to deliver goods to retail kiosks. Some companies are adopting the village entrepreneurship model as a way to distribute to these remote markets; partnering with, and in some cases establishing, independent businesses that are run by locals.

One of the biggest success factors, however, is a company's ability to establish trust among its rural customers. The authors suggest that in most cases, rural markets differ from more transactional urban ones, and they demand strategies that integrate companies within a region's social fabric. Successful firms are engaging with community members to build a reputation for caring about customers, beyond just trying to grow profits.

Taking an innovative, collaborative approach to the way companies reach these consumers can help not only a company's bottom line, but also help social efforts in these regions as well.

-- Jia Yan Toh


Mutuality in the workplace, culture & values, consumer demand: Catalyst weekly content briefing

Each week we are scanning the horizon for interesting content on topics we like that we will post for your reading pleasure. These may be items that we agree with, or not, on issues that touch in some way on what we are working on in our labs. We hope you enjoy them, and that they provoke discussion and additional thought.

The full briefing, with abstracts and links to original sources, is available here.


•         Higher wages and better jobs support company growth: MIT Research
•         Digital India and empowering citizens and businesses: Microsoft CEO and Indian PM
•         The benefits of company culture integration during acquisitions
•         Values, Millennials and the modern workplace
•         Software CEO relates how the IoT can change the value chain for manufacturers
•         Market adoption of in-person mobile payments expected to reach $34B by 2019: Forrester