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India 2.0 — Reverse Migration

In a digital world geography is history. More work opportunities in smaller towns will lead to a new revolution of reverse migration

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India lives in her villages” said Gandhi. Yet our model of development has resulted in overcrowded, polluted megacities, denuding rural areas of talent. The smog in Delhi, the crowded roads of Bangalore, the floods in Chennai just speak of the effects of overcrowded megacities. Reverse migration may just be the perfect solution for India 2.0.

Think about it. A good broadband connection can make a non-existent village or town as close to New York as New Delhi is to New York. In 2007 I had written a story about reverse migration and how broadband connectivity has the potential to create digital factories in rural India. It’s 2016 and I recently witnessed this happening.

Gold in Rural India
I am just back from a visit to Tenkasi, a small city in rural Tamil Nadu, located in the foothills of the Western Ghats. It is part of Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, not too far from India’s southern most tip. The city besides having lush green fields, waterfalls and coconut trees, also has the software development centre of Zoho which employs 150 people. The centre is not a part of any software park or economic zone. It is simply the brainchild of Sridhar Vembu, CEO, Zoho who has set up this facility in what used to be a fruit and pulp factory.

Talent Pool
Interestingly most of the 150 people are from local areas. This is important as it shatters the myth that talent is only available in cities. Tamil Nadu has approximately 500 engineering colleges. Most of the engineers end up with jobs in the big cities. Zoho was able to tap into this talent pool of engineers who were happy to have the option of working close to their homes rather than in big cities.

“What started out five years ago as a small team of three engineers has blossomed into a team of over 150 people, located in beautiful rural surroundings near Tenkasi. In an industry where companies have come to believe that the only location that matters in the cloud is few square miles of downtown San Francisco, we are proving that a determined and sincere group of people can build path-breaking products anywhere,” says Vembu.

Made In Rural India For The World
So what has Zoho managed to develop with this rural workforce? It is the industry’s first context-aware helpdesk software called Zoho Desk which uses customer data from past interactions to deliver better customer service. Interestingly Zoho’s closest competitor is Microsoft. “This is made in rural India, made for the world,” says Vembu. Which essentially means that the local engineer is competing with a Microsoft engineer in San Francisco.

India 2.0 Rural Or Urban
It’s a winter evening right now and as I look outside the window I can see the smog and the traffic. There must be thousands of people who are here simply because they don’t have any other choice. Given the choice of working closer to their hometown I wonder how many would really be here contributing to the already overloaded infrastructure. There must be at least 5000 cities like Tenkasi spread across India. In a digital world geography is history. Can more people like Vembu come forward and lead the new revolution of reverse migration.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Puneet Mehrotra

Puneet Mehrotra is an author and columnist who loves inspiring people and writes on business and technolog

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