Kuppam made global headlines two and half years back, when HP decided to make this as a test bed for its new rural business initiative.
The project e-inclusion, is HPs endeavour to build sustainable business model towards bridging digital divide and to help rural community with the latest technology innovations and to provide employment opportunity for them.
For this initiative HP selected two places globally: Kuppam in India and Mogalakwena in South Africa.
As part of this initiative, Kuppam project called as i-community, started in the year 2001 is due to completion in next six months. The company has invested $2 million in Kuppam i-community project and it claims that the initiative has a strong business model, which will payback on its investment in two years.
Explaining the project, Anand Tawkar, Director- Emerging Market Solutions, HP India said that most of the developing countries work towards providing a few basic facilities like education, health, employment, women empowerment for their rural population. HP saw a business opportunity in this space. First to understand the basic problems of the rural people and to come out with a technology solution, to overcome that problem, he said.
HP took over 6-8 months in order to understand the problems that rural people undergo. In fact, each one of the entire i-community team of HP spent 3 days and 2 nights in one of the villagers home for better understanding of the issues.
We spoke to villagers about what do they require as a basic facility and also we asked how does they visualise Kuppam ten years from now, said Tawkar.
Interestingly, all villagers requirement were about good education for their kids, better health facilities, employment opportunity, information about various government schemes, and information about farming, he said.
The i-community program took citizen centric, holistic approach. Based on the needs articulated by the community, HP developed solutions under the domains of education, health, economic development, social empowerment and interface with government.
First, for the interface with the government, HP has developed a portal, where it talks about various schemes of the government and provides details of the eligibility criteria and online processing of the applications.Along with this,the portal even provides public grievance system, which enables the citizen to file their grievances pertaining to any department online. To access this portal, one needs to go to Community Information Centers (CICs), where a PC is attached to the wireless Internet connectivity. These CICs will be run by individuals, who charge Rs 20 per application. A villager who runs one of the CIC told that he earns around Rs 2500 every month from providing this service. Out of this around Rs 1000 will be spent on the electric power and expenses. I save around Rs 1500 every month, he added.
These CICs even store the digital versions of the important documents of the people like school certificates, land records etc for convenience and better storage, said Mr. Tawkar. The CIC charges Rs 10 for scanning and maintaining one page document in the computer system.
This business model helps citizens to earn regular money every month, said Mr Tawkar. Each CIC consists, HP computer system, wireless connectivity, HP printer, scanner and photo copier and costs around Rs 50,000.
Another initiative that made very popular among the rural women is village photographer program. HP has piloted a new mobile photography solution. Equipped with portable photography equipment, a team of women becomes the village photographers. The photographers, provide photos to the door step of the citizens. Earlier, if villagers required to take a picture of any particular occasion, it use to take 3-4 days for them to see the photos. There is no facility in Kuppam to develop a photo images.
A farmer can avail this facility if he wants to take picture of his farm land for any government purposes, he said.
The women photographers take the digital image and immediately take the print using HP printer. For electric power purposes, HP has provided solar panels.
Revenue model in this is simple. Each photo (post card size) costs Rs. 30, out of this HP collects Rs 20 for the equipment that they have provided. Another scheme is that we asked photographers to pay HP Rs 400 every month towards the photo kit. Now we are insisting women self help group to procure kit by taking loan from Banks, said Mr. Tawkar
Nelamma, who is a village photographer claims that she earns around Rs 500-Rs 1000 every month. So far, around 16 women have procured such kits. Each kit, which costs around Rs 60,000 consists HP printer, digital camera, and solar panels.
As part of its plan to create jobs, HP has opened a two seater ITes center in Kuppam. Now the company is thinking to transfer some of its low-end BPO work like data entry and formatting, from Bangalore to Kuppam. As part of this, it is expanding the center to 50-100 seater.
HP Officials said that the trial project in Kuppam had revealed that the right level of skill sets for such operations existed. This will stop the migration of educated youth to cities in finding out similar work, officials said.
On the literacy front, the company has provided linux based PCs for some schools. HP calls this concept as 4-for-1. Where four monitors are connected to one CPU. Along with the PCs, the company even provides digital version of school syllabus and some of the software mainly targeted at students. The company closely works with other organisations like Azim Premji Foundation, America India foundation, World Links on this project.
This 4-for-1 has become a popular concept. We are planning to introduce this as one of the business focus for HP. We would take this concept to other countries, said Maureen Conway, V-P of emerging market solutions at HP. The company claims that the schools can avail this facility where the cost of the four system will be only sixty percent compared to the regular PCs.(The cost of four regular PCs would be around Rs 1,20,000. In this case, HP might charge around Rs 70,000-Rs 80,000).
HP has also introduced mobile health centers in Kuppam. These travel to near by villages and provide eye-testing and tele-medicine.
The company has initiated around 25 programs like electronic employment exchange, adult literacy, herbal garden, farming information system, training centers, handicrafts program for nomadic community and directory of services in the i-community program. We cannot say all the 25 programs are popular. Among these, 11-12 programs can be replicated in other places, said HP official.
Most of the developing countries face similar issues. Several countries including China, Russia and Brazil have evinced interest to implement HPs i-community programme, in addition, some of the Indian states like Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya and Uttaranchal, said Mr. Tawkar. We are in talks with several state governments and systems integrators to replicate the solutions built at Kuppam i-community programme, he said.