Development Focus Is a registered NGO operating since 2006. As a policy, we work for the development of the poorest of the poor. We have been working in very poor villages of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand. More recently, we have included very poor districts of North Karnataka and Mizoram. We have been focusing on Affirmative Action in Aspirational Districts. We have been mainly working with children and youth with community participation in areas of basic education, livelihood and protecting them from social evils like child marriage, unsafe migration, trafficking, and violation of rights. We have been implementing a project to provide digital services to rural communities by young women and men from SC and ST background. The outcome is that these young people can earn a sustainable income and provide digital services to their communities. With the government’s focus on “Digital India”, the need for digital services is increasing day by day.
There is a big divide between urban and rural India even today. Remote rural areas still lack electricity, clean drinking water, basic infrastructure, and mobile connectivity. At the same time, more and more services are being offered on online platforms with the drive for Digital India. These rural communities that are already excluded are left out from the Digital race. These services may be obtaining land records, caste-income certificates, Aadhaar cards, money transfers etc. This project is to include the excluded. It is proposed to implement this project in 24 villages of Simdega district of Jharkhand. Very poor tribal villages are selected based on criteria. A young woman or man is carefully selected with community participation in each of the 24 villages. At least 60% of the selected entrepreneurs will be young women. Over 90% of the selected entrepreneurs will fall within the affirmative action category. The selected entrepreneurs would have completed grade 10 or 12 from a rural institution. The entrepreneurs will be grouped into clusters of 8 within geographic proximity. Each cluster will have a Cluster Lead who will mentor and monitor them.
Each of the selected entrepreneur will be provided a laptop, a printer and intensive training in the use of computers and online transactions in an informal setting for the first 3 months. Many of these candidates have not even handled or operated a computer before. They are further motivated to start a business and training in entrepreneurship is imparted, to include simple bookkeeping. By the end of 3 months, they start offering both online and offline services to their community. Most of them start operating their business from their own homes but soon realize that if they have a shop in a strategic location, they can do more. By 6 to 9 months’ time, most of them will be operating from a rented shop or fabricated structure in a location conducive for their business. Each entrepreneur is provided a stipend of Rs.3,000 per month for the first 18 months. This is to enable them to meet their basic needs and give their undivided attention to nurture their business. By the end of 18 months, most of them will be making a net profit of more than Rs.4,000 from their business, some even a turnover of Rs.25,000 per month.
Each entrepreneur is linked to his or her community. At the very beginning, a Livelihood Committee is formed in each of the 24 villages where this project is to be implemented. This committee is oriented about this project and agree to support the same. The livelihood committee selects the entrepreneur for their village based on agreed criteria and offers guidance and support. The entrepreneur can look up to this committee for help and guidance when needed.
The entrepreneurs get together as a cluster (8 entrepreneurs in 8 villages) thrice each year and organize a community event. It may be on the international women’s day to question prevailing gender stereotypes, awareness on child rights, protecting the environment or any relevant issue related to social justice. In this manner, they maintain a healthy rapport with their community.
Apart from the community benefiting through access to online services and other products that were not accessible earlier, the life of the entrepreneur is transformed. From a state of being an educated unemployed, the person is a thriving entrepreneur. Other outcomes are that the marriage age of women entrepreneurs gets extended, and they are willing to negotiate with their future spouses to continue their business. Since most of the entrepreneurs are from SC, ST, OBC or minority background, they were shunned by the majority community in the village. In the initial stages, even their business could be boycotted. With support from the livelihood committee and the dire need for the services offered, this disparity is slowly bridged, and the entire community is willing to avail and pay for the services offered.
The project will be for 3 years. The stipend will stop after 18 months but close monitoring, mentoring, and reporting will continue till the end of 3 years. By that time the business will be well established, and the entrepreneurs would have gained a lot of self-confidence. The 3-year project will cost around Rs.66,35,200.