Now is the best time to create solutions for Bharat
Vidyaviniyogadvikasah, meaning “development through the application of knowledge,” is the motto of the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA). This motto has served as an apt rudder throughout the course of its history, as the institute, alumni, staff and faculty played change-makers to address the various developmental needs of India. The impact of these initiatives is incalculable and unreported. The Jawaja Experiment is one such initiative.
In the mid-70s, assisted by several volunteers and the National Institute of Design, Ravi J. Matthai, IIMA’s first full-time director, set out to help communities in drought-prone Jawaja in Rajasthan. The goals were education, empowerment and better livelihoods.
The Jawaja Experiment, which started as an educational experiment, also contributed to Jawaja’s economy. Many social entrepreneurs were inspired by it to unlock the potential of rural India. Some believe that the roots of institutions such as the Institute of Rural Management, Anand and social enterprises like Pradan lie in this unique experiment.
Of course, during the last four decades, a lot has changed for Jawaja and its super-set, Bharat. The most visible change today is the ongoing digital transformation of Bharat. According to The Economist, three people in India experience the internet for the first time, every second. Most of these newcomers are rural smartphone users who have never used a computer. India has become the world’s largest consumer of mobile internet bandwidth, growing 10-fold from last year. Google India recently announced that the search queries in vernacular languages grew 10 times faster than in English.
All of this points to one thing: The Bharat that outnumbers India 4 to 1 is getting empowered by the digital revolution. Thanks to this grassroots transformation, we believe the pace of growth for Bharat over the next decade will far exceed that over the past four decades.
With more than a billion users on the Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile trinity and the increasing adoption of open access and inclusive technologies, we believe that the unseen majority of Bharat will join the economic mainstream, creating vast opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs. There has never been a better time to create solutions for Bharat as these technologies will help overcome the traditional cost barriers in serving tough rural markets. However, our experience with IIMA’s Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) of supporting start-ups in emerging spaces through incubators, accelerators, and impact funds tells us that technology tailwinds alone are not sufficient to attract entrepreneurs to create ventures for Bharat.
There is a lot of ground-breaking work still required. While the digital infrastructure can make the economics work in favour of serving Bharat, deploying these solutions can be challenging and need a deeper level of assistance and hand-holding. In order to overcome the problems of long gestation periods and uncertain paths to monetization, a nascent space like this requires soft and patient capital, systematic nurturing and training, and dedicated effort to help these Bharat-focussed tech start-ups cross the proverbial valley of death.
This is where institutions like IIMA and its affiliates like CIIE have an important role to play—that of bridging critical gaps in the ecosystem. Just like the collaborative Jawaja Experiment, IIMA and CIIE, with initial support from Tata Trusts, are now embarking upon another collaboration, this time with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and Omidyar Network to create an enabling environment for inclusion focussed entrepreneurship. Research, studies and pilots emanating from our work will be openly disseminated to inspire and help all Bharat entrepreneurs.
This partnership—The Bharat Inclusion Initiative— is the inclusion leg of CIIE’s work, to complement our IP-focussed innovation leg—The Bharat Innovation Fund, which we look forward to unveiling soon.
We are imagining a Bharat where government services will be as intuitive and useful as new-age apps. A Bharat where the poorest can get their ration home-delivered. A Bharat where financial services such as insurance can be delivered in sachet-sized plans. We are limited by our imagination of what can be accomplished, entrepreneurs usually aren’t. We would hope to experiment, make progress and live up to our motto, ‘Vidyaviniyogadvikasah.’
Prof. Neharika Vohra, is chairperson of CIIE board and Prof. Errol D’Souza, is director at IIM-Ahmedabad.
This article presents the authors’ personal views and should not be construed to represent the institute’s position on the subject