By Solomon Darwin
During World War-II, hundreds and thousands of migrant workers risked their lives and returned to their villages from Burma during the Japanese bombing. We are now fighting a different war and people are risking their lives to return home to their villages. Villages are home to approximately 70% of the Indian population.
Migrant workers, whoever they may be, in times of crisis and distress, return home. Villages offer four value propositions that cities cannot. They offer community: sense of belonging, coexistence, and the comfort of extended family; ecosystem: relationships that meet one another’s needs; natural resources: access to sources of life; brand value: identity, legacy, lineage.
Separation from people’s natural habitat may produce income but not happiness. Villagers can generate adequate income via the use of digital technology. For example, in this increasingly connected world, young people in villages can learn coding and programming from firms like Salesforce, Amazon, Nvidia, Adobe and Microsoft. Some of these firms can also offer job placements. UC Berkeley is working with many of these firms in coming with new business models that create value for the whole business ecosystem. Uneducated weavers and artisans can access global markets by uploading their products to on-line platforms and selling their products and having their bank accounts credited instantly. This eliminates middlemen and costs and redundancies that save time and offers speed to market. All this can happen without villagers leaving their villages or towns.
To orchestrate this effort, UC Berkeley started the Smart Village Movement three years ago. This can only happen when individual inhabitants are connected to the global ecosystems via open innovation platforms that are a) frictionless, b) risk-free, c) mobile-based, d) user-friendly, e) transparent, d) equitable and e) offer real-time data on demand. Villagers need freedom and empowerment to create value for others and capture some of that value for themselves as income. This requires new thinking. This promotes real organic growth that is sustainable versus free government programs, schemes, subsidies and handouts.
“A community empowered by digital technologies and open innovation platforms to access global markets.”
UC Berkeley’s Smart Village Movement promotes the Digital India initiative and Niti Aayog’s policies to achieve sustainable development goals. The bottom-up approach is employed in developing practical scalable and sustainable solutions by engaging villagers on the ground with high-level decision-making officials of state governments, global businesses, startups, and universities. Berkeley is currently working in several states in India and is on the mission of developing scalable and sustainable models.
The writer is Executive director, Center for Corporate Innovation and Center for Growth Markets, Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley