HarVa is a rural start up that primarily focuses on skill development, BPO, community based farming and microfinance.
ICTpost Media Action
India’s cities are experiencing development at a very rapid pace. Businesses are growing, as is infrastructure and income levels. However, by and large the rural population of the country has been left out of the process. The number of poor people in the country has not decreased much in the past few decades; in the 1970s the number was at 321.3 million, and by 2005 it was only down to 301.7 million. The figures also indicate that many people migrated from rural areas to urban areas, thereby contributing to urban poverty as well.
Official figures from the planning commission also reveal that the composition of ‘poor’ itself has been changing and rural poverty is getting concentrated in agricultural labor and artisanal households and urban poverty in casual labor households. The Planning Commission reports that agricultural labor households accounted for 41% of rural poor in 1993–94 as well as in 2004–05. This indicates that the ratio has not have not changed significantly over time.
However, at the same time, a critical issue in assessing employment behavior of the economy is the growth of employment in the organized sector vis-à-vis the unorganized sector. Public debate on this issue is conducted on the basis that unorganized sector employment is generally of low quality while organized sector employment is of high quality, and the focus of attention is on whether employment has increased in the organized sector.
HarVa – “Harnessing value of rural India” – is a company that aims to take urban opportunities to rural India. The philosophy behind the venture is that while many companies in urban India are losing their competitive edge because of rising costs, rural India has been left largely untapped. There is great potential in developing the skills of people in villages, who reside at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’.
HarVa is a holistic approach to job and value creation in rural India. The company has a four-armed approach: rural BPO (Business Process Outsourcing), microfinance, tele-health centres and agriculture. HarVa’s approach seeks to involve and engage entire farming communities as opposed to simply establishing an office in the area.
Rural India has the tendency to become a land of missed opportunities. Those who go to school find themselves with no significant job prospects except farming. Many farmers have small pieces of land and no real knowledge of new farming techniques to improve their yield. There is hardly any infrastructure in villages. Women are married off young, and spend their lives taking care of the family. There is always a desire to migrate to urban areas to earn more money but often the only jobs available in the cities for them revolve around driving, cleaning, cooking and so on.
Technology has widened the digital divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. People derive both social and economic benefits from these linkages. Internet helps to end isolation by allowing people who are geographically distant to partake in the information revolution. Information and communication technology (ICT) has become, within a very short time, one of the basic building blocks of modern society.
Establishing a new office in a rural area is very challenging because village communities are tight-knit. Team HarVa faced a lot of skepticism when it entered Teekli village, especially since HarVa was looking to only employ women at the XPO. Many family members felt that these jobs might take the women away to bigger cities such as Gurgaon, Haryana. However, with the support of the local panchayat, and a woman sarpanch (leader of the village council), slowly, the village came around.
HarVa advertised for job positions and arranged trainings for those interested. An impressive 500 women applied for positions, later the list was narrowed down to 200. External trainers were brought from Gurgaon to explain computer systems and software to the women. At first they were made to familiarize themselves with laptops, CPUs, sockets, and later with using the internet. HARVA uses proprietary software along with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, which were all part of the training. Finally, 50 women were chosen to work at the office.
HarVa XPO employs only women as the company feels that women are less likely to leave their post in search of a new job. It has also been observed that because many families live in a ‘joint-family’ system, women are able to come to the office for a few hours in the day without much objection, as there is someone at home to cover for them. The shifts are 5am-1pm and 1pm-8pm.
As a result of this employment directive there is a socio-economic churning in the village as women become earning members, often earning the same or more than their husbands. Depending on how many hours they work, the women earn anything between Rs 2500 to Rs 7800 a month. This extra income, coupled with the fact that it is a women-only office has made HarVa a ‘safe’ site. On the weekends, some children come to the office and the mothers are able to teach them some computer skills. This way, the community gets to engage with the company.
The HarVa experiment has proved once again that there is virtually a limitless talent pool across rural India. The main challenge lies in training people in technical skills and creating infrastructure. However, there are other rural BPOs (most notably, Desi Crew in South India), which also operate, in the same sphere. However, this market is nowhere close to being saturated.
Projects that seek to create employment in rural India often concentrate heavily on promoting arts, crafts and other local traditions. This project can be classified as a step in the right direction of bridging the digital divide. Already, HarVa has trained 200 women who are bringing income to their families, which is comparable (and in certain cases, more) than what their husbands earn. Replication across rural India will not only introduce technology to the countryside but also increase purchasing power.
Increased internet penetration and computer literacy will help the company expand its scope of work experimenting with computer related programs and workshops to increase farmers interest in technology and development.