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Internet Saathi: Changing Lives at Grassroots

While the Internet Saathi program is great with some really inspiring stories something Google needs to seriously consider is providing a marketplace or enabling transactions. It’s heartwarming to see how much empowerment and goodwill the program has brought about in the villages.

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“Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu Guru Devo Maheshwaraha Guru Internet, Guru Saakshaat Param Brahma Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha”  says an excited Prasad of Bramhani Village, Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra. His wife Aparna has set up a sanitary napkin unit in the village. Prasad feels till the time he has access to the internet, pointing to the smartphone in his pocket,  he has access to a world of opportunities. His wife Aparna, literally a star in the village says thanks to her learning the internet, she now has access to a world of opportunities. Noteworthy is setting up a sanitary napkin manufacturing unit in a remote village is not small feat. Aparna says her learning how to browse the internet changed her world and the world of those around her.   

Internet Absorption in Rural India

Today, India has the 2nd largest active internet user base of around 390 million. On an average 40 million new users are coming online every year, and there has been 4X growth in rural internet users since 2012. Women adoption of Internet has now gathered momentum and 45% of Internet users will be women in the next three years.

According to Google, voice is emerging as the preferred mode of input for new internet users with a 270% annual growth in voice searches in India.  Online video is now mainstream: and accounts for 75% of all mobile traffic -- YouTube today reaches - 245 million unique users per month (Comscore). Interestingly Youtube is the place where new skills are now being learnt.  Majority of the Internet users today are Indian language users - this number is expected to reach 500 million in the next two years.

The Next Billion Users

A part of Google’s Next Billion users, Internet Saathi is targeted at women in rural India.  Every Internet Saathi is sent out to villages with a smartphone and tablet for a minimum of two days every week for over six months to create awareness about the benefits of the internet. They ensure adequate training is provided to use devices till women are able to independently use the devices and the nuances of the internet. Once the Internet Saathi has completed the training in a cluster of three villages, she moves to an adjoining cluster villages where she further trains women to get online. Training of women and the community at large is ensured by involving local NGOs and groups as trainers.

Google provides the devices and training and Tata Trusts with its vast network of NGOs help us to recruit these saathi’s and execute the program in these villages

Inspiring stories 

Take the case of Rama Devi of Village Vempalle, District Kadappa, Andhra Pradesh.  She participated in the Internet Saathi Program by training 1210 beneficiaries in just 6 months. She belongs to an economically weak and traditional family where for generations they have been practicing farming and her husband is an auto driver by profession. When she was unsure about taking up the task, her husband motivated her to attend the training session. He also helped her in understanding the usage of smartphone and internet by learning it from his colleagues from work. Her husband helped her in household chores and looked after the kids so that she could focus on her training and work. 

Today she has a smartphone and can bring difference in the lives of many other women by teaching them the use of internet and smartphones to find information about health, food, rights, government schemes, agriculture and much more. It’s surprising for her that she is now able to surf through internet to know about different practices about farming, blouse designs and bangle making.

Even the male members of villages seek her advice on various internet & technology related matters and come to her door step to learn about better farming practices. She has trained 600 farmers about organic farming and has motivated them to stop using inorganic fertilizers. She reached out to the women federations to teach them about internet and its uses. She helped people in using better practices of tailoring and other stuff to generate income of their own, making bangles and other crafting work which in turn helped them to earn money. She has even approached government schools to educate the children about internet and introduced them to digital world. The highlight of her journey is that her husband is now identified as Ramadevi’s husband which was not the case earlier.

There is another story I found particularly inspiring of Rohini Shirke. She has been running a small honey bee-keeping unit since 2015. A one woman operation. In 2016 she was introduced to the Internet Saathi Program. After her association with the programme, she realized the power of Internet. She created her email ID and WhatsApp ID to promote her product and now accepts orders online.

She is using Internet to learn the best practices for healthy beekeeping and honey collection processes. Rohini is now creating a website to further boost her business. Her visits to neighbouring villages while training women on Internet helped her create a strong network and is further helping her generate more business as she could engage with people and convince them about the quality and purity of her product. She has trained 1000 women on internet literacy.

Internet Saathi

The program is running across villages in 18 states of India with a coverage of 208000 villages. There are around 58,000 trained internet saathis and according to Google close to 22 million have already benefited from the program. Google plans to expand the program to reach 300,000 villages across India, covering 50% of the villages in India in the next few years

The Last Word

While the Internet Saathi program is great with some really inspiring stories something Google needs to seriously consider is providing a marketplace or enabling transactions.  It’s heartwarming to see how much empowerment and goodwill the program has brought about in the villages.

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.

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Puneet Mehrotra

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

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