Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rural Market focused fund: VentureEast Proactive fund

Update: VentureEast Proactive fund has several other focus areas. However, this blogpost only talks about the fund's interest on rural market opportunities which is the focus of this blog. More details about the fund can be had from its website.

Original Post:
After being on my own, I am now back to an employee position at a Venture Capital firm (VenturEast, Chennai). This company has a fund of 100 million dollars specifically focused on areas such as "Digital divide", "Bottom of Pyramid", etc. And the decision to join was a well-thought one. It's in order to get much exposed to different companies focused on rural markets in India and moreover to learn certain new skill-sets.

I have always supported rural market focused companies by providing strategic consulting services something that I would keep doing. Do write me your thoughts.

PS: Although my old mobile number is still alive, but you may like to call me on my Chennai number mentioned on the sidebar of my blog page.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

First time Internet experience would be through TV in Rural India

Many venture capitalists believe that the first Computing/Internet experience for rural Indians  (or broadly, most Indians) would be through Mobile. However, as I see, this is only partially true. 

DTH players such as Airtel Digital TV, BIG TV,  DishTV, TataSky etc all are already in tie-ups with India's major Internet players such as Shaadi, MakemyTrip, Indiatimes Shopping, BookmyShow (for movie tickets), Edurite (online education), MapmyIndia, multiple gaming companies etc in order to bring Internet experience to larger audience. In fact, Airtel plans to activate its Airtel Live (mobile VAS) to its DigitalTV subscribers.

Particularly women, children will get the first hand experience of Internet through these TV services. This experience makes them familiar with Mobile Value Added Services and in turn to the grand daddy of all, Computer + Internet.

Although DTH is mostly urban phenomenon so far, but services like Railway ticketing, Matrimonials, Astrology, Education, Religious services, Games, Maps,  on-demand movies, etc would be attractive to rural users and in particular to children and house-hold women. In this regard, local language is the first requirement (currently it is all in English).

So this means, TV--> Mobile --> Computer is the Internet-learning-cycle. And so, many business opportunities (new mode of distribution) exist for all those Internet companies who tie-up with these Cable/DTH/IPTV service providers.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fundamentals are very important

Why fundamentals are important? Let us take an example. Can you construct infinite things using finite things? 

hmmm .. of course: Colors. All colors are made of 7 basic ones such as "violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow orange, red" (better known as VIBGYOR). Let us explore many more examples to understand this concept. Every language is made up of few thousands of words. But the number of sentences that we can construct using those words is infinite. Similarly alphabet is finite but words can be formed infinitely. The whole universe is made up of infinite materials but they all formed from few periodic elements. Music alphabet generally consists of 7 basic sounds. Yet you have an infinite number of songs. All the infinite numbers are formed using a finite set of digits. 

Please construct few more examples before you go ahead on our discussion. In all the above examples, you can observe that finite things are used infinitely and the result is infinite combinations. 

And did you ever observe this? if you don't know the words of a language it makes no sense of sentences. Similarly if you can't understand digits then you can never learn numbers. So we can easily conclude (our original discussion statement) that, one needs to understand the basic underlying primitive fundamental concepts in your work  in order to understand thoroughly and use them (fundamental concepts) in various scenarios. 

Note: This lecture is one of the few experiments in order to teach young children on "how to learn". If you are interested in such creative way of teaching, then please write me on my gmail id, malapati.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bringing quality education to Masses

This post actually describes what I do on education front. I am generally not interested to write on what I do, but this post is an exception.

What causes learning?

First of all, learning initiation happens through the exposure. For example, if I am watching a movie wherein someone traveling by flight then I may learn about how a flight looks like or even the feeling of journey in a flight. But then I get exposed to a variety of stuff every day. Do I learn all of those? The answer is 'No'. I learn only few things which I am curious about. Depending on 'how much curious I am' about a particular thing, that much I learn about it. So, it is very clear to see that if we are interested in something then we would learn quicker and deeper. Moreover, interest makes our learning much more enjoyable.

How to identify a child's interest?

How can we understand what the child's interests are? If we can figure this out then we can encourage the kids in those stuff. We can even personalize the teaching content to each child. For a long time, I have been thinking about this. Recently I could get the answer for this interesting question. If you interact with any child for sometime, whenever he observes some stuff (interesting to him) he starts asking questions. As you answer he would ask more and more. Most parents and/or teachers discourage this process as they get disturbed frequently or if they don't have answers. Actually asking questions shows his interest on that particular object/thing.

What a child needs to learn at minimum in order to succeed in this digital-age?

Digital world is full of information (currently it is in the magnitude of petabytes) and it is much much more than any individual can consume. This means, child need not learn whole text-books that are available to him rather he should learn few concepts that are interesting to him. In particular the child must learn how to construct such concepts on his own. Here, technology/schools/parents/friends/etc may help in filtering the petabytes of information and provide qualitative information which suits his requirements. In order to utilize this aid effectively, at the fundamental outset, he must be skilled in "reading, writing, logic or arithmetic and 'how to learn'".

How to train a child to learn on his own?

I am part of a private school of 700 children (Sarojini Vidyalayam) in a rural village near Guntur (Andhra Pradesh, India) and experimenting this process in the following manner. Here, I have initiated on every week one specific day as "FUN-DAY". On this day, we conduct some interesting stuff to entertain children. One of such thing is called "Question Hour". In order to attend this class, each child is expected to bring a note (Doubts book) wherein he mentions his doubts those came into his mind during the week. These doubts could be anything like, why sky is blue? or why don't fan falls down? or why is air invisible? etc and need not be specific to their class subjects. Now assuming the classroom containing 50 children, all are divided into 5 batches (10 students per batch). Now batch-wise, that is, 10 children are to clarify their doubts among themselves. When they can't answer certain questions which will be written on teacher's notebook along with the names of the students who raised those doubts. Now the class teacher answers whatever she knows and passes unanswered questions to Principal. Question hour ends with this. Then the principal arranges a "Dial an expert" hour on the next FUN-DAY. Wherein, on a speaker phone an expert answers some of those questions to the children.

The goal of this process is to make sure that children ask right questions (obvious ones are filtered out much before it comes to the expert level). Now the expert is required to give answers filled with many more questions and provide examples/reference books/programs/etc. So that the children get the answer but then they become much more inquisitive to answer those questions (of the expert) on their own by reading the reference materials. We are considering the rewarding program for the children who answers these. Yes, learning happens through practice. So why, we have created this process in order to make the children learn on their own.

Can this process be scaled to the national level?

I am piloting these concepts at our school. Once I have matured processes, I want to use technology in order to automate and scale it to the masses across India (or elsewhere). This is what I am currently working on education front.

NOTES:

  1. Experts could be anyone who is relatively more educated. I think, technology comes at this level.
  2. Children (for that mater, anyone) learn by observing others or things around.
  3. Before inventing such system, my initial constraint was that not to disturb existing school system procedures.
  4. I am writing a book on Google tricks in order to help children to filter information on their own.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

How many people can actually read/write in Rural India?

Recently I was asked about the data (in each state) on educated population in rural India. Although government releases data about literacy rates, but I don't believe that this actually represents the people who can read and write. Say for example, consider the census of 2001. Download this pdf file, in order to get the detailed data on education in India. Here you find that both higher secondary pass-outs and graduates are 37 million. Similarly you find that 'below primary school' educated are lesser than 'upper primary educated'. Anyone with common sense predicts that number of higher secondary pass-outs should be much higher than graduates (simply because almost all graduates are HS pass-outs and moreover, drop-out rates are very high in India). Anyway let us move ahead.

As there is no single source for such authentic data, I am attempting to collate from several sources in order to get a feel for media companies. The following data is a "rough" estimation from various sources (Ministry of Education, NSSO, Pratham, etc).
  • More than 70% of the population fall under rural India
  • At least 40 million people of rural India can read/write in their local language (females : 30%)
  • At least 18 million people of rural India do have familiarity with English, minor arithmetic
  • 12 million rural population can be considered for formal employment considering their interest in higher education (certificate, diploma, vocational training, industrial training, degree, etc)
  • 4 Million rural population (Females: 15%) can directly be trained for professional employment
Notes: Based on Pratham's observations, here I assume that the people who completes their school education can read/write in their local language. Similarly who completes high school education successfully should be familiar with English/arthmetic. Graduates can be trained for employment.

If you have any authentic sources in this regard, do let me know.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Baobab: a Billion dollar tree to change the lives of rural India

In India, Mango tree is planted once and reap the fruits every year. Its tasty fruits are also very much nutritious. This is the reason, the whole world is looking for importing this fruit. I am talking about another tree which is planted once and you can reap its benefits forever. How is it possible?

During my childhood, in our school lessons, I learnt that every part of Coconut trees can be used one way or the other. Now what I believe is that next generation kids will learn a new tree named, African "Baobab tree" whose every part (fruits, seeds, leaves, bark, timber etc) are much more useful than any other tree you heard of.

Yes, Baobab is a multipurpose tree and known for its swollen, hollow trunk which is most commonly used for waterstorage. The hollow trunk is also reported to be used as a tomb in West Africa for griot and the leprous.  This baobab tree's exotic fruit (6 to 8 inches, or 15 cm to 20 cm long) contain the fresh pulp (tangy, sub-acid flavour) which has twice as much calcium as milk, is high in anti-oxidants, iron and potassium, and has 6 times the vitamin C of an orange. It tastes similar to Jack fruit and so, can be processed into jams, juices and wines. Pulp can also used as a substitute for cream of tartar and moreover to curdle milk. The leaves are rich in ß carotene, and contain a significant amount of amino acids and several trace elements. These leaves can be eaten as relish, while the fruit dissolved in milk or water can be used as a drink. The seeds can be eaten fresh, dried or roasted and can also be used as a coffee substitute. The seeds produce edible oil and has a light, golden colour with a nuttyaroma and a long shelf-life.  The oil can also be used in cosmetics (including bath oil, lotions and creams) taking advantage of its natural moisturising effects. Oil-cake can be used for feeding cattle. The dried bark is used for the manufacturing of packing paper. Strong inner fibre from the bark can also be used in rope making, cordage, harness straps, strings for musical instruments, baskets, nets, snares, fishing lines and cloth. Its timber can be used for making canoes and fishing floats.  In fact, all parts of the tree are having medicinal properties.

The Baobab tree averages 25 m in height and 6-10 m in diameter.  The root system of a mature tree penetratesthe soil to a depth of approximately 2 m. It is drought hardy, fire resistant and prefers areas with a high water table.  It grows in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid tropical climates. Most interesting part is that the lifespan of these trees is about 3000 years (yes, you read correctly).  The tree is easy and cheap to cultivate and free from any serious pests and diseases. The tree provides shade, cooling the soil beneath the canopy. Deciduous leaf drop acts as a soilconditioner by providing a humus-rich top layer, improving watermoisture content and protecting the soil against erosion. In general, the fruits abscise late in the rainy season, but may persist on thetree for several months. Ripe pods, however, can be stored unopened or uncracked for a number of months inhumid climates, without refrigeration. The trees will bear pods after 8-23 years. The tree can be planted for reduction of soil erosion and to provide a habitat for many native animals, birds and reptiles.

Now coming to business part,  Rajasthan or Indian government can promote this fruit as food security for our nation. It is expected to become a billion dollar industry and also recently European union has approved the extract of the baobab fruit as an ingredient in foods in the European market. 

Although it appears that Baobab is not grown commercially in large plantations and to be planted as an isolated tree, I think modern research would look into it in order to make imperative to whole human kind. What do you say?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas

PURA is an ambitious program advocated by my dream scientist Dr. A.P.J. Kalam. However this model is fundamentally flawed. Although APJ has good intentions, he needs to understand a little bit of economics before propagating such basically flawed approaches. A simple example to illustrate the same:
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Milk delivery system
I live in a small & beautiful hill-top colony called "Bhawani Nagar" (located in Marol, Andheri East, Mumbai). Here there are around 2000 flats (perhaps, area could be of 500 meters by 500 meters). Consider the daily milk home-delivery system. Four delivery boys of a near-by milk-booth visit each home in the early morning and deliver the milk packet. What are the costs to the milk-booths? 

One-time cost: Because these delivery boys use cycle (of value Rs. 2000/- or less) as their transport, it is about 8000/- for the four boys.
Regular monthly cost to booth owner: Salary to the delivery boys is about Rs. 3000/- per month (their responsibilities are delivering the milk to approximately 500 flats on every morning, collecting the amounts, maintaining the accounts etc).

How this is transferred as a cost to the milk-consumers of these flats? Assume 50 Paise (about a US cent) for each day's delivery is charged to the flat owners. Now what is the revenue of the milk-booth on this home-delivery service? Monthly it is about Rs. 30000 (2000*0.50*30). 

Expenses on this service: Booth owner would spend about Rs. 15,000 monthly (including salaries to delivery boys, maintenance of cycles, defaults, etc). So this is a 50% profit business.
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Consider that similar service is offered in rural India for 2000 houses as was in our previous case. Assuming that 200 houses for a village, 2000 houses would be available in 10 villages. Now our model of milk delivery would slightly be modified due to the sparsely populated rural India. Milk is kept at a central location which has physical proximity to each of those 10 villages (hub and spokes model). Now the booth owner need to employ 10 people for delivery of the milk in the early morning. Now coming to the costs & profits to the booth owner.

One-time cost: Because these delivery boys use cycle (of value Rs. 2000/- or less) as their transport, it is about 20000/- for the ten boys. It is difficult to get the trained talent and so initial training costs equate to 2000/- for each delivery boy.
Regular monthly cost to booth owner: Salary to the delivery boys: Rs. 1200/- per month (their responsibilities are delivering the milk to approximately 200 individual houses on every morning, collecting the amounts, maintaining the accounts etc).

How this is transferred as a cost to the milk-consumers of these houses? Consider the fact that rural people are relatively poor and so, 5 Paise (about a US cent) is the amount can be charged for every single day of the delivery. What is the revenue of the milk-booth on this home-delivery service? Monthly it is about Rs. 3000 (2000*0.05*30). 

Expenses on this service: Booth owner would spend about 15,000/-(including salaries to delivery boys, maintenance of cycles, defaults, etc). Ideally to make this a 50% profit business he needs 30 thousand rupees revenue, however he actually makes of about 3 thousand rupees only. This makes it 10X disconnect.

-----------------------------------------------------
Conclusion: Rural India needs all those service which are present in urban India. However,  this is not economically feasible.  Rural India is sparsely populated. And so, distribution costs of services are obviously high. At the same time income of rural people is fairly low. And so, they can afford only a small part of service charges. 

Solution to this issue is by urbanizing few of the rural areas. Say, for example, create the infrastructure for 6000 urban locations. Those urban locations would in turn will provide services to neighboring rural areas. This is what exactly advocated by Atanu Dey in his RISC paper.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rollable water container : an innovation for fun and need!


During my journeys to tribal locations (or broadly, rural), many times I fall into tears whenever I see many small children/ women carrying 2-3 water pots (one on top of another).  

Looking back at my childhood, rolling a cycle tube with a stick was a great fun. I used to run all over the village while rolling the tube whenever I find little time for playing. 

It appears that these two ideas are considered in inventing the following water container Q-Drum (patented) in order to fetch water. Of course, it is apparent that this is a natural invention considering that "Wheel" was the human's first scientific invention in transporting goods. Cost of this container is unknown.

Coming to its design or technical aspects:
The Q-drum is user friendly and the uniquue longitudinal shaft permits the drum to be pulled using a rope run through the hole. There are no removable or breakable handles or axles. And it is manufactured from Linear Low Density Polyethylene through either rotational or blow moulding and has a high compatibility with foodstuffs and water. It's durability has been proven by Kaymac Rotomoulders via a 3 metre drop-test filled with water as well as extensive actual use in rural areas of South Africa and Angola.With the Q-drum, even a child can pull 50 litres of water over flat terrain for several kilometres without undue strain, and could shift the burden of water collection away from adult women to children and reduce the existing burden on the children at the same time.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Square watermelon : interesting lesson on innovation!


This blog promotes certain values. The following post from Dave perfectly fits here. 
Japanese grocery stores had a problem. They are much smaller than their US counterparts and therefore don’t have room to waste. Watermelons, big and round, wasted a lot of space. Most people would simply tell the grocery stores that watermelons grow round and there is nothing that can be done about it. But some Japanese farmers took a different approach. ”If the supermarkets want a space efficient watermelon,” they asked themselves, “How can we provide one?” It wasn’t long before they invented the square watermelon.

The solution to the problem of round watermelons wasn’t nearly as difficult to solve for those who didn’t assume the problem was impossible to begin with and simply asked how it could be done. It turns out that all you need to do is place them into a square box when they are growing and the watermelon will take on the shape of the box.
This made the grocery stores happy and had the added benefit that it was much easier and cost effective to ship the watermelons. Consumers also loved them because they took less space in their refrigerators which are much smaller than those in the US - which resulted in the growers being able to charge a premium price for them. 
What does this have do with anything besides square watermelons? There are a five lessons that you can take away from this story which will help you in all parts of your life. Here are a few of them: 
1) Don’t Assume: 
The major problem was that most people had always seen round watermelons so they automatically assumed that square watermelons were impossible before even thinking about the question. Things that you have been doing a certain way your entire life have taken on the aura of the round watermelon and you likely don’t even take the time to consider if there is another way to do it. Breaking yourself from assuming this way can greatly improve your overall life as you are constantly looking for new and better ways to do things.
2) Question Habits:
The best way to tackle these assumptions is to question your habits. If you can make an effort to question the way you do things on a consistent basis, you will find that you can continually improve the way that you live your life. Forming habits when they have been well thought out is usually a positive thing, but most of us have adopted our habits from various people and places without even thinking about them.
3) Be Creative:
When faced with a problem, be creative in looking for a solution. This often requires thinking outside the box. Most people who viewed this question likely thought they were being asked how they could genetically alter water melons to grow square which would be a much more difficult process to accomplish. By looking at the question from an alternative perspective, however, the solution was quite simple. Being creative and looking at things in different ways in all portions of your live will help you find solutions to many problems where others can’t see them.
4) Look for a Better Way:
The square watermelon question was simply seeking a better and more convenient way to do something. The stores had flagged a problem they were having and asked if a solution was possible. It’s impossible to find a better way if you are never asking the question in the first place . Always ask if there is a better way of doing the things that you do and constantly write down the things you wish you could do (but currently can’t) since these are usually hints about steps you need to change. Get into the habit of asking yourself, “Is there a better way I could be doing this?” and you will find there often is. 
5) Impossibilities Often Aren’t:
If you begin with the notion that something is impossible, then it obviously will be for you. If, on the other hand, you decide to see if something is possible or not, you will find out through trial and error.

Friday, July 04, 2008

GreenMango : Listings of consultants whom we need frequently!

I have been thinking of reviewing (for-profit) social ventures for quite sometime. This is my first review. My observations are personal and usually in terms of scalability, accessibility, sustainability and of course usability. If your social project is to be reviewed, then please send me details (to my Gmail id: malapati) along with your contact numbers. Note that I would review them selectively.

GreenMango (currently in beta) appears at the first sight as if it is a collection of websites for our plumber or carpenter or electrician etc. It has listings of consultants whom we need daily or occasionally. You can search them based on pincode or based on an area.

Each listing of these small business owners has contact numbers and is integrated with Google Map in order to locate them easily. Users can review the listings in terms of service quality, similar to a listing on Amazon or EBay. It appears that GreenMango charges for listing of a business owner, if not, I am not clear of business model here.

I had few questions for the founders who failed to respond:
  1. How do these business owners enroll? Is there any verification process?
  2. Do you goto them or they come to you or users submit them?
  3. Here anyone can review a business owner. How do you avoid spammers, or the people who compete with a business owner writing negative things?
  4. If there are 100-200 reviews about each business owner, how can a customer make a decision? I mean, do you have anything better than just rating system?
  5. Is this service only web-based? or can a user make a call, similar to JustDial's service?
  6. What is the business-model here? Is it like one-time annual listing fee?
  7. Is your platform designed for mobiles?
It appears that word of mouth advertising is the only way to reach users here. There are many coding errors or usability issues present on website (currently is in beta stage and so they must ensure that those issues will not present when they bring it to live). GreenMango has been a recipent of EchoingGreen fellowship'08. I am not clear whether EchoingGreen critically examines on scalability or its just the social motivation that they look for. In any case, if GreenMango do not ensure that the reviews are trustworthy, then this website won't be worthy.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Strategies for rural market focused companies

The following are very generic suggestions for companies focused on rural market.

Focus: The company/organization must focus on a single service unlike Drishtee or n-logue or Akshaya.
Training: Training is necessary for all stakeholders with the company (including employees, customers, vendors, etc). Why it is important? Because, in rural India you get raw talent. So they must be aligned to your requirements. Sometimes you may have to start from creating the whole ecosystem before actually scaling up your operations.
Adjusting to local needs: Rural India consists of varied cultures, variety of traditions, etc. Your model should have flexibility of adapting to the local needs.
Technology for masses: Use technology wherever is possible.
Word of mouth advertising: In rural India, people love to be your brand ambassadors and talk about all good things about your product/service if they like it.
End-to-end service delivery: You need to make sure that the consumer gets service-as-a-whole delivered. For example, if you just collect a resume and charge the customer Rs. 20, and this may not be scalable. However, you collect a resume, provide him a job having salary of Rs 5000 and collect Rs. 20000. This would definitely work with rural people. Take the case of SKS, they just not only provide capital to people but also help them in their businesses similar to venture capital companies engaging with their portfolio companies.
Emotional Attachment: Rural people keep the trust with your product/service and so you must live up to it. And to create such trust, you need to align with local communities in order to follow the trick, "trust is transferable".
Efficient distribution: Rural India is sparsely populated and so it is obvious that the distribution costs are high. Here, one needs to deploy innovative approaches in order to bring down the costs.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pocket Shower for developmental activitsts or trekking enthusiasts

I usually go for treks (interested? if you are from Mumbai or Pune, do let me know!). And I just love those visits. Moreover, I also visit Rural villages just for my own understanding of grass-root issues. During those visits, sleeping bag has been exceptionally useful. However, there is little discomfort when I love to take bath in the places surrounded by lovely green (trees). Nature makes me amazingly refreshed. I think, Pocket Shower might help for such nature baths.

Description of Pocket Shower:

Made from heat-resistant waterproof fabric, the Pocket Shower is super compact, measuring only 3” x 6” and weighing just 4.25 ounces when zipped and empty. To use, simply fill the 10 Liter (2.6 gallon) Pocket Shower, hang it using its 20 feet of lightweight cord and two tough built-in rings, and enjoy your shower.

The shower features a compact shower head that you can use to adjust the flow of water from an efficient trickle to a free-flowing shower that lasts about 8 and a half minutes when fully open.

For a warm shower, fill it up early and let the black fabric soak up the sun during the day. And when not in use, you can use the Pocket Shower as a regular dry sack to transport clothes or sleeping bags.

We need this Pocket Shower to be adaptable to Indian conditions and moreover with a less price tag. Any grass-root innovator there?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Some numbers on SME activity, employment in India

According to fifth economic census:

As of 2005, about 26 million rural enterprises employed 51 million people, whereas about 16 million urban enterprises employed 49 million.

However, this trend seems to be changing, with rural employment in enterprises (engaged in activity other than agriculture) growing at an annual rate of 3.3 per cent between 1998 and 2005, as against 1.7 per cent in the case of urban enterprises. A change in composition in favor of the former could arrest the shift of populations to cities. A growth rate of 3-4 per cent in rural enterprise employment is achieved even if agriculture sector performs poorly. Therefore, enterprises do not depend on surplus farm income. They might have come up to cope with falling agriculture incomes. Nevertheless, healthy farm sector growth helps; a 2-3 per cent growth in agriculture output is likely to lead to a growth rate of rural employment of 5 per cent or more.

Water as fuel for a car!

Many times I dream during my night sleep. And yes, my dreams are always like the following: Reuters' Ms. Michelle Carlile-Alkhouri report.
Japanese company Genepax presents its eco-friendly car that runs on nothing but water. The car has an energy generator that extracts hydrogen from water that is poured into the car's tank. The generator then releases electrons that produce electric power to run the car. Genepax, the company that invented the technology, aims to collaborate with Japanese manufacturers to mass produce it.
Click here for more details on this claim. Also you would like to see their website.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Innovations waiting in selling Insurance policies for Rural India!

Till date most of the companies in India are always focused on urban market or at least they sell their products/services with the same models that of predominantly urban-market oriented. However, of the late, there is a slight shift due to the popularity of so called, "Bottom of the Pyramid" model.

One of the main vocal point of BoP model is that understand low-income people as your consumers and make your product affordable (units) to the BoP market. Most of the companies, these days, have started to remodel their products/services according to this principle.

However, targeting BoP market means more than this. You need to make sure your offerings suit to the local needs. That is exactly missing in Insurance sector.

Nowadays, I have come across many insurance companies selling their policies as low as Rs. 10, Rs. 25 (much less than a US dollar). This is really a welcome step. And now coming to the other innovations part:
  1. Insurance policies should be completely flexible. There should not be like separately priced like health insurance, life insurance, vehicle insurance, farm insurance etc. You price them as a combination (as a flexible percentage and choice is given to the customer). Now let the customer chooses the way he wants.
  2. Second comes from distribution aspect. Do not try to keep a separate chain of distribution. Utilize 1-2 millions telecom retail distribution chains. For the simple reason that these bring the structural efficiency in order to reduce the costs.
  3. Third comes from social angle. Most of the rural people live in joint families or at least they would love to consume services as a family. This is evident from their consumption patterns such as marriage/functions, pilgrim trips etc. So your service should consider this trick and offer them a group oriented policies. One may even consider community based policies. That would possibly become an instant hit.
In all of the above scenarios, recent advances in technology would play a great role. So insurance companies should start looking at the benefits that new tech developments could bring them.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Copyrights of the contents of this blog

For the past few days, I have been writing regularly on this blog (I do have many more blogs). Can you believe this? Even though I maintain such a large blog, I don't know to write. Due to this weakness of mine, I have not been replying to comments for long time on most occasions. One of such comment made me to write this post. That is about copyrights of this blog.

You can freely copy or distribute any of the blog-posts here and moreover you can even remix them but with one condition that you must attribute the original source. Yes, you must have guessed it by now. I am talking about Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 India License.

Firstly, I am really suprised why I did not this licensing stuff all this while. Secondly, I have removed unrelated posts here in order to make this blog restricted to "Rural India" context alone. I decided to write all my personal or business ideas in my other blog.

Services going mobile in India

I used to wonder about the business model on providing Internet service on cycle rickshaw to Rural population in India. Ultimately it failed in terms of scalability. And nowadays I hear about many services offered on move. I am listing them here:
  1. Court (Indian government's innovative thought)
  2. Hospital on vans (equipped with X-ray machine, ECG machine, basic pathological services for blood and urine test, ante-natal and post-natal services and an out-patient department for common ailments)
  3. Hospital on Train
  4. Banking
  5. Science Train
  6. Automobile Spare parts on Bus
  7. PCO (manned pay-phone service)
  8. Female on move to sell FMCG products
  9. Micro-business school on a Mini Bus
  10. Retail stores on Vans
  11. Tools on a Truck for rural carpenters, metalworking artisans, plumbers etc
  12. Computer Training center on wheels
  13. Toilets on wheels
Guess which of these would be scalable & sustainable? I believe: banking,hospital on van, automobile spare parts on bus and retail stores would be scalable. Similarly cellphone spare parts on wheels can be a potential business opportunity.

Note: I would keep updating this list as and when I find other such ventures.

Rural India lacks focused media

These days most of the big corporates are interested to enter into Rural India. Steps needed to enter into rural market are as follows:

1. Product/service should be tailored to (large, fragmented, dynamic) rural market.
2. Efficient Distribution (click on the link to see some of the models mentioned in my previous post)
3. Effective marketing : Rural India lacks focused media. This is an opportunity in waiting to have clients like: Nokia, Airtel, Coke, Unilever, ICICI, Max New York Life, Hero Honda, Nicholas Piramal, Apollo, Mahindra, and thousands of such companies who are dying to get the attention of Rural Indians.

Auomobile spares distribution in Rural India

Automobile spares distribution is a big issue in rural India. As users live in sparse locations, the service becomes very expensive (for the distributor as well as the end user). This is one of the major reason for lesser adoption for bikes, cars, etc in Rural India. Obvious solution is mobile distribution center. How?

Satyam has created a mobile auto showroom cum service center, which can be taken door-to-door in a Bus, called Edow. This bus will be equipped with everything an auto dealer needs, a display area, a workshop, a sales office and systems, hi-tech display systems and high speed connectivity. It expects demand of 40,000 for such buses in India.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What iPhone-3G means to Rural India?

iPhone 3G is creating waves across the world that it's a very cheap device. Let me discuss from Rural India's perspective.
  1. It costs 8400/- + taxes, however one has to add up the Internet usage cost. It may make up Rs. 800-1000 per month plan for two years. This means, device would costs about 30000/-. Now guess, how many people can afford this price gamble? Try from this hint, there are about 300,000 blackberry users in India.
  2. As each user will have to purchase unlimited data plan along with the device, this will increase the broadband user base.
  3. Touch screen phones are more relevant to Rural India if you consider data services. Because language could be the local one. Larger keypad can be created as an application.
  4. More icons kind of look and feel makes people to be comfortable with the handsets in order to increase data services adoption. For example, enable voice and visual way of browsing
  5. Camera, MobileTV, Video on Demand, VOIP, GPS are the things which would drive this iPhone market in Rural India. Good business model is by charging each service separately.
  6. Many full-scale services, targeting rural mass, would emerge such as e-health care, banking, ticketing etc.

Strategies for rural Indian market

Recently Anisha has shared her insights/experiences in her new job. Some of those points I would like to mention here.
Till recently, a large part of marketing was done targeting the urban consumer, and with most marketers having no prior exposure to the rural audience, they are applying the same rules to connect with this completely different segment. The mistake that most companies make while chalking their rural strategies is to treat the rural consumer as an extension of their urban counterpart.
You can't do this because their life style is entirely different from the urban counterparts.
The other common mistake is to treat rural consumers as a homogeneous mass without segmenting them into appropriate segments. The most relevant point to note is that this segment is extremely fragmented and spread out over a large geographical base. The cultural and behavioral differences vary not just from state to state but from village to village. Mapping out this difference in consumer behavior is the key to any successful rural strategy.

From buffaloes to beauty parlours:
Farmers verging on retirement, sensing the decline of their own profession, are encouraging their children to enter different vocations. Around one-fifth of rural households now generate their primary income from a salaried job or a small business. Besides small village shops, loans are being taken for novel business ideas like beauty parlors, popcorn machines, spice factories, tailoring shops et al. A villager equals farmer is true no more as life has moved beyond farming and agriculture.
Farming is one of the source of revenue however, it is true that rural youth are looking at alternate sources of revenues (because farming is a seasonal activity and so, during the other seasons they take up other revenue generating activities). However, most of them are employed with unorganized sector.
Don’t just sell dreams, tell them how to live their dreams:
Thanks to the television having made substantial inroads into rural homes, villagers have also learnt to dream. Everyday they are exposed to images of ordinary people scaling extraordinary heights. This has given them enough hope about their own future, but where they flounder is the way to go about it. It is here that measured approach consisting of small actions, one step at a time, finds better acceptance and credibility. Actions where outcome can be measured from time to time and results are visible in the near future. So, go ahead and sell them dreams, but at the same time give them a solution and a formula for it to materialise.
Yes. Let us say, if you wish to a sell a insurance policy for a farmer. You can sell it only when he understands how to make use of it at its best. This is where social aspects also comes. While training the farmer, you need to relate the service to his social life.
Not just economic but emotional security:
Even though they are receptive to new ideas, they do not readily dash into new ventures. They do not only want economic security but also emotional security. They are likely to welcome innovation that satisfies their sense of security. If they feel that a particular idea will help them improve their economic position or their social relationship, they will accept it. Selling a product to them is not a cold commercial transaction (but) an agreement of trust between the marketer and the consumer. And companies that live up to the trust that this consumer places in them will benefit immensely in the long run.
Rural people are much more social than their counterparts and this makes the difference. This is the reason you need to have local alliances.
Their children are like stocks in a portfolio:
It’s always known that family ties are very strong in hinterland, but the difference is in the proportion of family budget that is being allocated to children, especially the male child and his education. Son’s education in a private school is like a stock market investment that is bound to yield returns far greater than any other investment. Any marketing effort that appeals to this agenda is bound to catch his immediate attention.
This is a recent transformation. As farmers do understand that there is not much money can be made from farming. They shifted their whole investments on children education. Particularly, southern states are much more advanced in this regard compared to northern ones.
Sharing risks and rotating savings:
This insight is the basis for the success of all micro finance ventures in rural India. A simple model that lends on the back-up commitment of small groups has minimised risks and reduced bad debts to near zero percent (certainly doesn’t need the intervention of the finance minister to help institutions recover their money)! Some of the other industries that can leverage this to their advantage are insurance schemes that offer group products and innovative saving schemes.
Particularly health insurance is a low hanging opportunity here. Rural Indians have to be treated as families rather than individuals. Most services are shared among the family. For example, if one member purchases a mobile, it is like whole family purchased it. Rural marketers should get this point while putting their business models.
Community empowerment & inclusion:
The rural communities have not been empowered in the past. So they do not participate in the development process. A participatory model that mobilises the community and makes it responsible for its own well-being is bound to find greater success. The attempt should be to turn villagers into entrepreneurs and keep the ownership of the various projects with the community. Given the vastness and diversity of the geographies involved, marketers would do well to leverage the potential of villagers themselves by creating entrepreneurial communities. Make them an extended team of your business and let them grow with you. A last word of caution, the companies entering the rural markets must do so for strategic reasons and not for tactical gains.
This is in order to maximise the market. We have to ensure that development aspects of our efforts should be implicit.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Water from Air

Problem: As part of evolution, a 100,000 years ago or so, humans learnt that Food is the primary need. I believe, his first innovation is in the thinking that storing the food enables him to have it during odd environment conditions such as rainy, cold, etc. After he found a way to store food (pickle is the foremost innovation in this regard), the next biggest problem for him was to get drinking water. So he wanted to be near water channels, first to get water and second to kill an animal which reaches for water (later for farming purposes). If you observe the history, the whole civilization was all sided by the river beds. Such a oldest problem, which has been known for many thousands of years, human is still struggling to get water (one more hidden variable here, that is increasing population).

Current scenario: I can't resist myself without crying whenever I see rural women spend their most part of life in just fetching the water from near by wells. In many villages, one single well is served for 5-10 villages. A woman carries multiple pots (one on another) is a typical scene anywhere in those villages. And if you feel like it is just a concern of rural problem then you are grossly mistaken. When I used to live in Chennai (or Madras), a queue of hundreds of water pots near every public tap is a very very common scenario.

Is it not silly, if you feel that: water, water everywhere but nowhere a drop of it to drink. Yes, most of part of the earth is water, however 97% of it is salty one. Does it not sound like a technical problem?

Australia, UK, US, etc are spending billions of dollars on installing desalination plants, wherein salt water is converted into fresh drinkable water. What is that in this process which makes it billions of dollars cost? It is for the energy which is required during the reverse osmosis process in order to apply pressure.

What I believe is that out-of-the-box techniques are needed in order to solve the problem for billions of people. One such attempt is this "Water from the Air".

Did you ever observe that if salt is placed outside then it contains a small pieces of stones. Yes, it is after capturing the water from the atmosphere. Many technologists believe that there is a river running in the air everywhere including desert places. Using this philosophy, Aquasciences have developed a machine to produce 600 gallons of water in a day at the cost of about 7 cents (or about 3 Rs) per litre. This technology is used by American Soldiers in Iraq where the cost of logistics of bottled water is running pretty high. You may love to see the following news clip covering this technology.



Unfortunately in India, till now there are no large scale attempts in this regard. And yes, this post is about my lifetime ambitions to solve these basic problems of humans such as food, water, etc.

Mobile Services - Voice Calls

Mobile is revolutionary. Yes, it will have profound effect on human development process. In order to indicate this, I am attempting to write detailed posts on Mobile Services and this one is the second post. Wait for many more posts on this series.

Mobile is known for voice calls for decades. Typical features such as the following are already available on most mobiles.
  • Caller ID (more details such as name or number or other identification marks)
  • Reveal caller id (caller needs to input his/her number in order to continue the call)
  • Call forwarding (when you are busy/ no-answer/ selective/ every time),
  • Call waiting (with a recorded message of receiver or music is played)
  • Call hold (plays music for the receiver on hold)
  • Call blocking (automatically rejecting the numbers of your dislike, specifically, IVR calls or the unloving last call)
  • Conference call
  • Call recording (both sides)
  • Automatic call receiver
  • Call tracing
  • Missed call alerts
  • Speed dialing
  • Repeat dialing (busy or otherwise)
  • Automatic/selected call return
  • Caller tunes
  • Distinctive ring tones depending on callers
  • Priority calls
  • Scheduled silent mode
  • Do Not Disturb (send a busy/ unreachable signal to the receiver)
  • On a single mobile phone, one may maintain multiple-numbers to differentiate their purposes.
  • When you make/receive a call, you may see the notes on your counterpart such as recent calls time stamps, text notes you have taken etc
Many many more ...............

Future outlook:
  1. Managing the above features using typical Web 2.0 features such as labels (family, office, school friends, etc)
  2. Usage statistics patterns over Internet (on mobile).
  3. Number masking: Celebrities may have a number to give it for temporary purposes and later to discard the masked number
  4. Scheduled call : a call is made on scheduled time, plays a pre-recorded message and rings on caller side as well
  5. Pay for incoming calls : For selected callers, receiver may bear the cost
  6. Uploading public telephone directory into the mobile (for caller identification purposes)
  7. Random calls: If you feel bored of waiting then you may enable random call to receive a call from an unknown person (who would call to a fixed number in-order to reach you but without the knowledge of your number)
  8. At a time, call multiple numbers of a single person to get him/her for sure
Issues:
Network busy or signal unreachability does hurt this voice calls service.

Update:
Video Calls:
This case is very similar to voice calls. I don't detail much other than mentioning the following.
Recording of the calls (both sides)
Exchange of data during the call and management of this data interacted
Photos of the video call
Picture-in-picture
Video conferencing
Most of the Voice call features are applicable.

PS: This is an indicative post and not a complete listing. Please do write your thoughts in this direction.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Laptops for very cheap prices!

Note: These are not regular laptops. Though they have most features of regular ones, but you may love to call them, mini-laptops.

At last, OLPC has done one thing good. It has generated a lot of "noise" about the unleashed market. Because of this Asus has started a Eee PC which had been under microlense of media whenever OLPC is covered. Obviously, as media shouts about Asus laptops, more of them sold in the market (currently it is hovering around 1 Million). This has made all the standard laptop manufacturers to take a worthy note of it. And now this is about to benefit the customers. Instead of pricing low-weight, less-size laptops as 3000 USD or above, for the first time many companies quote the prices below 1000 USD. Another interesting point here is that, these companies are looking for alternate operating systems such as Windows XP, Linux, etc. instead of throwing (the worst) Vista operating system to the customers headache.

According to Wired magazine review:



Definitely, price is one of the catchy point for urban-poor/students. However, if the manufacturers wish to target rural rich customers, then they must tweak the laptops to perform under "rugged" conditions (temperature, dust, water, etc) and possibly should include technologies like WiMax.

My favorite among these is MSI Wind notebooks. How about yours?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Why mobile penetration in Rural India is slow?

Now everyone is sure (may not be as much as I am) that mobile is a revolutionary thing and it would effect the person even who sits at the bottom of the pyramid (that includes every baby, poor, rich, old, female etc on the earth). However Indian carriers such as Airtel, BSNL, Vodafone, Tata Indocom, Reliance etc could not find a way reach rural Indians. They all want to make sure that peasants on their roll but without a clue.

Although rural people are more social and so, would obviously love the Mobile compared to their urban counterparts. So what's stopping them? Let me look at the reasons behind the less penetration in Rural India. Clues are mentioned in the bracket.
  • Although mobile appears like a easy thing to use, for most of rural Indians it is a tough nut to crack (training is needed)
  • keypads are very uncomfortable (keypad should have common standards and language one is much comfortable to educated people)
  • Good plan, in turn selecting a service provider, is virtually impossible to decide (easy plans are needed)
  • Electricity outages/load shedding makes it a relatively less useful one (good battery power is needed)
  • Signal unavailability (towers are needed)
  • Affordability of the service (keep the plans using the data the way they use it)
  • Data services are not targeted at right audience (rural semi-educated)
Reach me, to find a clear-cut solutions. My contact details are on the top of the sidebar on this blog.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Some attempts to penetrate into rural markets : a look at Rural distribution systems

Rural India lacks proper distribution systems. For example, observe this: even though unprecedented growth in mobiles exist in urban India, but rural India remained with marginal growth. And in order to cross 100 million subscribers mark, each of these Mobile service providers: Airtel, Reliance, vodafone, BSNL, Tata Indicom, etc know very well that its all about how to catch rural peasants. Here, obviously rural distribution channels become the key.

The following sector-wise distribution details (of various corporates) describe the recent attempts/strategies followed in India:

1. Telecom Sector: Recently Airtel and Samsung have tied up with IFFCO to sell their mobiles and services. IFFCO is (the world's largest) Indian farmers co-operative of fertilizers. It has about 37,000 member units spanning all-over India. Some of the other telecom giants & DTH service providers are looking at dying PCOs as a channel of distribution.

2. Automotive sector: Hero Honda wants to change the rural market dynamics which is hovering around 10% (of households owing a two-wheelers). Its strategies include selling during festive seasons, tying up with new dealers, providing finance with local co-operative institutions (guess the number of such institutions, it is 1,08,779). Meanwhile, Bajaj is launching a Bike, specifically to suit rural Indian youth needs. It is setting up 20 outlets in affluent, but severely underpenetrated, rural districts. Moreover, it has created specialist dealerships for rural markets, called 'Rural Dealerships'. Bajaj wishes to train the sons and daughters of village VIPs, who are also the opinion makers and thought leaders of their respective villages. Bajaj’s non-banking financial arm, Bajaj Auto Financial Ltd (BAFL), is trying to involve the rural self-help groups (along with specific controls, on this micro-financing, to avoid the end-buyer not to use the credit amount for other purposes).

3. FMCG sector: Indian part of Unilever, HLL, sells its goods through rural women who become its sales-representatives. These women are trained by HLL and usually supported by Microfinance or local self-help groups. ITC has created a supply chain infrastructure something called "e-choupal" system. E-choupal is run by an agent, typically covers about surrounding 10 villages (within 5 KM radius).

4. Financial Services sector: More or less, all the banks are using at agent-based model as the typical branch-based model does not work here due to cost economics. Some of these banks including ICICI are looking at tying up with micro-finance institutions and local self-help groups (or creating them if already do not exist). Many banks have solutions for Mobile-based services to reach rural consumers directly into their hand. ICICI has gone further in tying up with large corporate majors having significance presence rural India and providing loans/banking services to their distributors/traders and also it is working in tandem with postal department.

5. Soft drinks: Pepsi and Coke have mastered something called "Hub and Spoke" model. Using this system, initially the goods are transported to hubs (towns) from the plant and later the stock is transported to spokes (using all types of transport vehicles: Cycle, Rickshaw, Auto, hand-cart, camel-cart, etc). They also use annual haat and village fairs.

6. Pharma sector: Nicholas Piramal has focused on general practitioners, to cater to rural markets to increase its penetration with a field-force of 800 people. Most of the pharma companies are looking at post-office as their distribution platform. Some of these companies conduct health-care workshops in the rural areas by tapping the local doctors.

7. Medical Care: Telemedicine is the direction for all the top hospitals in India are headed to. ISRO, Narayana Hrudayalaya, SRMC -Chennai, AIMS -Kochi, Apollo hospitals, Aravind Eye hospital, etc have championed this telemedicine system using VSAT/WiFi/BroadBand/etc for the past 6 years.

8. Consumer Electronics: LG has set up 45 area offices and 59 rural/remote area offices. Samsung rolled out its 'Dream Home' roadshow which was to visit 48 towns in 100 days in an effort to increase brand awareness of its products.

9. Media: Newspapers are sold using auto-drivers, boat-drivers in Kerala.

Other sectors will be updated later.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Importance of psychology in medical treatments

I usually do experiments on myself. And yes, I do enjoy those. Here, I am disclosing one of such experiment.

Rural people for that matter, most people on earth, care about their health a lot. It is their weakest point. When a person is healthy he takes all sorts of risks and believes that he can do anything on earth, however, the case is different when that very same person falls ill. That's it. All his courage becomes a mirage. His/her whole world starts falling and life becomes very difficult. He/She looks for support everywhere and from everyone.

Claim: I believe psychology plays a profound role on our health. If you believe that you don't have a health issue even when you suffer from that problem, then it is very likely that you recover from it by 50% without any medication. This is true with most typical problems such as Fever, Cold, Cough, Headache, etc.

My experiments in this regard: For the past 11 years, I have been practicing as follows. I always believe very strongly that I am healthy enough and do not get any health problem. So it is usual that I don't get any health problem. Even when I get a health problem, I just ignore it and do not think about it. This has made me to recover from those health problems very quickly, within hours or few days. This is the same case even when I had Malaria.

For all those people who don't buy my argument, please do experiment on yourself (of course, you should trust yourself while such experimentation).

Structuring the unstructured -Opportunities everywhere!

Recently I gave this presentation in a barcamp held in Mumbai. It is not containing full details that I want to project. However it gives a glimpse of my thoughts.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Almost free refrigeration using earthenware pots: A radical innovation for peasants


Refrigerator is very expensive?? no problem. Purchase a Zeer (see the picture). Mohammed Bah Abba is a grass-root innovator who invented this pot-in-pot cooling system and now, it has become extremely popular in many african countries, including his native country, Nigeria.

Science part comes here:
The pot-in-pot consists of two earthenware pots of different diameters, one placed inside the other. The space between the two pots is filled with wet sand that is kept constantly moist, thereby keeping both pots damp (slightly wet). Fruit, vegetables and other items such as soft drinks are put in the smaller inner pot, which is covered with a damp cloth. The phenomenon that occurs is based on a simple principle of physics: the water contained in the sand between the two pots evaporates towards the outer surface of the larger pot where the drier outside air is circulating. By virtue of the laws of thermodynamics, the evaporation process automatically causes a drop in temperature of several degrees, cooling the inner container, destroying harmful micro-organisms and preserving the perishable foods inside.
Now coming to the developmental economics, every year many farmers all over India, due to lack of proper preservation systems, sell their produce at throw-away prices. It is true and in fact, I was grown-up my whole life listening to those horrible stories such as 1 Kg of vegetables for 15 Paise (0.01 USD) or 25 paise. Then the farmers throw them on highways as they cant fetch the price of transport. Surprisingly, at the same time, in a 100 KM near-by vegetable market in any town/city is sold at Rs. 20 per KG. There are many reasons for this unbelievable difference in the price. Some of these are:
  1. Farmers take loans for the purchase of seeds, pesticides, health issues, family ceremonies etc from local people who pressure up for repayment as soon as the crop is ready for sale. (Possible solution for this issue is institutionalized micro-finance)
  2. They don't have preservation systems. (This is where, possibly, Pot-in-Pot system would be helpful)
  3. They are often mislead by middlemen. (Update of market prices would be greatly helpful, and many telecom companies are working on this)
  4. Farmers don't have enough investment to take it to the near-by city market. (ITC e-Choupal kind of systems are helpful in this regard ).
Clearly this is a business opportunity to sell these pots in various sizes. Anyone listening there?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Financially viable rice husk power generators in rural Bihar

Power generation from agricultural residues is nothing new in this country. Coming to power generation from rice husks, Thailand has been proactive and have two decades of experience. However, in most of these projects, financials are what makes them not so interesting when those are to be scaled up.

Recently Ernst & Young has come out with a report which estimates renewable energy installed capacity in India would become 20GW by 2012 and this makes it, the third largest RE market in the world.

Recently two Indians (one of them is a student from Virginia, US) from Husk Power systems (HPS) have come up with a viable business model to produce power by burning rice husks. There are many advantages in such models:
  1. Optimal utilization of wastage, both rice husks and ash
  2. Reduction in carbon emissions
  3. Less dependency on fossil fuels
  4. Reduction of wastage in utilizing the power
  5. Stability of power
  6. Regional control over distribution
  7. And of course, not the least, possibly lower cost
Coming to this Swades movie type HPS project, running at 95% capacity, a single village setup would gross about $22,500 a year - but cover their cost of operation when running at just 40% capacity. Each plan can be staffed by three villagers: One to feed around 100 pounds of rice husks into the generator each hour, one to maintain the equipment, and one to collect payments from customers. Currently it has piloted in two villages in Bihar.

Villagers will require pre-payment for all electricity generated, and they will spend more to wire the village using double-insulated wire that is more difficult to illegally tap into than standard wire. Since electrical meters cost $10 to $15 each, and an average household will consume only about $15 to $18 of electricity per year, Husk Power will instead use a $1 circuit breaker to distribute electricity to a branch line serving four or five households. A Husk Power employee in the village will conduct a basic energy audit to determine how much electrical load the branch of houses will need and will install a circuit breaker that allows only that much current to reach the houses. Any illegal tap or other excessive consumption will trip the circuit breaker, cutting off power to all four or five houses, giving the community an incentive to work together to prevent excess consumption.

Update:
There are many other power generation projects based on rice husk. Some of them are:
  • Agni Energy Services, Hyderabad
  • BHEL in Punjab
  • Nahar Spinning
  • Shivalik Power & steel, Chattisgarh
  • Kalindi Power, Chattisgarh
  • Vandana Vidyut, Chattisgarh
  • Indo Lahari, Chattisgarh
  • Laxmi Rice Mills, Punjab
  • Ankur Scientific Energy,
  • Hindustan Motors, West Bengal
  • Usher Agro Ltd,Utthar Pradesh
  • Amrit Bio Energy and Industries,West Bengal
  • Non Conventional Energy Development Corporation of AP
  • IISc, a research project
Main difference between these projects and HPS project is that HPS is purely based on rice husk where as the rest of those companies use other fuels as well. Moreover, all of them are supported by government, but not HPS project. Complete details on HPS project is available in this ppt file. A video is shooted in the village to have some comments from the villagers.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

What/when all these services will emerge from a Mobile phone?

I believe that mobile is one of the most revolutionary thing happened in our lifetime. It would become the key enabler in the process of human development (socially/economically). The reason for this are the following services, which would be available on a mobile sooner or later if unavailable now.

Note : All the following services would never be available on a single mobile phone. Any subset of these services would be sold in the market. So it means, one will keep multiple mobiles.
  • Voice/Video Calls (local/national/international)
  • Documentation/Video Recording/Audio Recording - Blogging, Remotely updating office work, Softwares- Word/Excel/Powerpoint/etc, Creative Designs such as drawing,
  • Messaging/Chat/File Transfer- one to one, group messaging, group discussions, automatic notification, RSS feeds,
  • Alarm/Watch/Timer -
  • Mirror -
  • Radio -
  • Mouse -
  • Search for person/object/location details - where, who, what, how, when-, object identification through photos,
  • TV -
  • Music - Tune identification through audio recording, songs for download on iTunes kind of platform,
  • E-Commerce - size fitting, ordering groceries, Insurance policy, Photo-prints,
  • Ticketing or Booking - Air/ Train/ Bus/ Car/ Movie/ Hotel/ Events/ Any professionals' appointments/ etc
  • Video/Audio on Demand - Movies, Story telling for children, Live video/audio streams
  • Access to content on web - Videos/ Images/ News Papers/ Magazines/Horoscope etc
  • Friendship/Dating networks
  • Matrimonial services
  • Stocks/Investment
  • Navigation systems - Maps, Diksuchi,
  • Banking
  • Location based payments (similar to credit/smart card) for uses such as parking lot fee, AVM, Pay autowala (firstly it calculates out the what is the prevailing rates in Mumbai and then payment), ..
  • E-Books
  • Teaching/Training - E-Pen, Live streaming lectures, Materials such as Lecture notes, Presentations, Audio/Video Lectures,
  • Interactive Gaming
  • Diagnosis - Temperature, BP, Pulse reading through Stylus
  • Scanning - paper/photo,
  • OCR -
  • Barcode Reader
  • Projector
  • Object Location Identification - RFID
  • Dictionary/Encyclopedia
  • Translation (Text/Voice)
  • Voting
  • Survey/Quiz/Feedback/Complaints/examination systems
  • Application filing - Jobs, loans, admission, other government services,
  • Remote access - Computers, Mobiles, TV, Fridge, Micro oven, Electric switches,
  • Identification - Software Key, Digital signature, Finger print scan, password,

However, there are certain limitations to mobile which are the reasons for having limitations on the number of services. These are:
  • Display size - May have TV/Monitor output.
  • Memory - Remote storage may be used
  • Processor performance - May use resource of another remote high performance computer
  • Battery power
  • Keypad - A foldable printed paper type wireless keypad may be used
  • Interoperability
  • Signal reach - signal boosters may be used
  • Environment
  • Water/Heat/Cold/Fire/chemicals issues
  • Standing - Physical stand may be used with flexibility in height & width
NOTE: This article will be updated for more details on each of these service. Typical details are mentioned in the following.

When is the service expected?
Whether the legal framework is ready?
Technology background
How can above constraints limit a particular service?
What are the driving factors?
What would be the possibly business models?
What are current and future developments in that arena?

More details:
Personal use/Office work would possibly drive the penetration of mobile services. Possibly adult and filmi content would drive the videos and images businesses. TV on mobile - Currently technology is ready and government is making its framework. Radio on mobile is already exist. And the number of channels -.

TO BE UPDATED & of course, I love to hear your comments on your take on these services.

Social Inclusion and Financial Inclusion

Currently there is a lot of discussion going on about "Financial Inclusion", all the governments and other international organizations are sincerely attempting to do something about it. In general, the poor prefer social inclusion more than financial inclusion. This is evident from the fact that in many villages in India, still have the local punishment for certain crimes is through social exclusion.

Indian government has been trying to tackle this problem through reservations both in education and jobs. Private organizations do attack this social inclusion problem through promoting financial inclusion. Clearly, financial inclusion is the first step in this direction but this alone can't end the social exclusion issue. Better education, freedom to pursue own interests may end this social evil. Most importantly, this problem can't be solved through reservations. First of all, government should not disturb this natural process. Otherwise the problem could further be worsened.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Two Indian health-care service models that I love!

Aravind Eye Hospital is one of the largest eye-care network in the world. However, that is not the reason for my love and mentioning it here. Aravind Eye Hospital in many ways competes with Sankara Nethralaya, which is also a very large eye-care network and has huge following from as far as Bangladesh (patients travel all the way to the southern city, Madras or recently known as Chennai). Both of these hospital systems have best technology, good number of doctors, very good processes, good follow-up, very good infrastructure etc. However, the business models that these two adapted are radically different.

Sankara Nethralaya is a typical hospital with better amenities, charges the customer relatively less and largely runs on two financial reasons. Firstly, it is the volumes that reduces the cost here and secondly it is a non-profit Hindu trust, so it attracts donations from Hindu community all over the world.

Aravind Eye care system is very innovative in covering up its finances while treating the poor at low cost. Its model is like this: patient is charged based on amenities that they would avail during the treatment. It means, if you take up expensive ward to be in then you would be charged at premium. And on the other hand, the poor can be low-cost ward in order to be charged less for the treat. What does this mean, the rich are provided better amenities and in turn pay up premium charges which also pay up the poor who may not be able afford surgery costs. And moreover large volumes in number of patients makes the hospital infrastructure better utilized and in turn, costs are further reduced.

Because of this innovative business model, which can be described as BoP in practice, it started attracting the number of social capitalists all over the world. One of them is Google Foundation. It has recently funded this organization while expecting profits on its investment.

Another bit of interesting piece is that Aravind Eye Hospital in Pondicherry has interesting treatment for Myopia. They teach certain eye-exercises for about a week and if one practices for few months it would definitely show a clear difference in eye vision.
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For a long time, I have a lot of reservations on ethics in medical profession. It is basically outlined as following. If a person has more issues with his/her health, then it is beneficial to the health practitioner. So it is likely that modern medical professionals may not provide right treatments by keeping the problem alive for more number of days (and/or increase the problems) in order to increase the revenue. Few other reasons are making this problem even deeper such as the number of health professionals is abysmally low and the cost of health education unbelievably expensive. It is obvious that the system would produce more corrupt practitioners because honesty may not pay their cost of education. It is just a simple Return on Investment issue. For example, if a patient enters into a hospital having fever, then he may be treated for fever but his treatment procedures might lead to other health problems whose symptoms may appear after few months/years. This is very practical way of thinking because, there are no audit procedures exist in the health industry, in general. In many places, I did find this kind of attitude particularly in rural India among health practitioners.

So I was looking at business models in health services wherein
1. if a patient is treated quickly or rather aptly then it should benefit the hospitals financially.
2. it should be like less number of patients should lead more revenue to the hospital.

Satisfying these two basic objectives, Narayana Hrudalaya has recently started a unique health care service model to cover large number of poor peasants in Karnataka (a state in India). Yashasvini is a health insurance program covering 2 million farmers costing each of them 10 Rupees (0.25 USD) a month (Government is also a partner in this program and it is unclear how much is its contribution, apart from providing infrastructure). Here, as numbers are very large, they are able to get the volumes which are cutting down the cost dramatically. Moreover, it also led to the efficient use of technology.