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SATYAN MISHRA

India,

In rural India, villagers live without easy access to trade, government, business, and health information. This makes them easy prey for intermediaries who control the flow of information and can demand high payments to allow villagers access to it. Satyan is building service kiosks in countryside villages to bring internet connections and ready, affordable access to information.

This profile below was prepared when Satyan Mishra was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.

Additional information on this Fellow is also available in English and English.

Fellow Sketch

Satyan is reducing the growing gap between urban and rural India. His organization Drishtee, has become one of the largest networks of rural entrepreneurs in the country, acting as the last mile both into and out of the village.

Satyan started out by creating a network of service kiosks to address the digital divide in rural India. Run by kiosk entrepreneurs, Satyan was able to help rural populations access a range of information and e-governance schemes which previously remained far out of their reach. Seeing the opportunity to leverage such a local network to service other local needs, Satyan now offers value propositions to identified rural entrepreneurs in four areas: 1) Education, 2) Kirana enterprises, 3) Financial services, microfinance, and 4) health. Drishtee uses its connection to banks, healthcare providers and others to establish flourishing rural enterprises that become the basis for economic and social sustainability in the village. 

Central to his model is his belief in the power of rural entrepreneurs to boost a rural economy. Drishtee’s evolution and Satyan’s insights have been aided greatly by information percolating up from the entrepreneurs that Drishtee supports, who are best placed to gauge shifting consumer demands and needs on the ground. Turning these entrepreneurs into role models for the community, Satyan has been building a vision of the community as a blend of social, financial and cultural sustainability. 

In the last thirteen years, Satyan has impacted over 5000 villages through the different services he offers. The kiosk model was highly successful, and is now being replicated by the Government of India through the Common Service Centre (CSC) model. At the international level, through a partnership with International Development Research Centre (IDRC), he has been able to showcase his model in Rwanda and Sudan. 

Drishtee is now identifying and implementing its integrated approach in 500 villages over the next 6 years. This is expected to result in training nearly 0.40 Million villagers, generating approximately 12,500 new jobs, mostly for women and increasing the income of these villages by nearly 10 % every year for the next 5 years. For Satyan, this is a giant step forward towards building an empowered rural India, where local communities take pride in their heritage, and display leadership and will towards solving their own problems.

*This profile was updated in February 2014. Read on for the ELECTION profile

Fellow Sketch

Satyan envisions a world where communities are empowered to achieve shared prosperity. Central to Satyan’s Drishtee model is his belief in the power of rural entrepreneurs to boost a rural economy.

Drishtee enables dynamic and motivated young entrepreneurs to start local enterprises in the field of apparel production, crop farming and processing, by organizing capacity building programs for men and women on farming and textile systems, and by establishing capital flows through local banks and micro-finance institutions. Drishtee also sets up local distribution centers, supplying local retailers through the procurements from quality entrepreneurs. With the goal of turning rural entrepreneurs into role models, Satyan has built a vision of social, financial and cultural sustainability within these communities.

Satyan’s focus is to act as a two-way platform, connecting rural groups to products, resources and services outside their bounds and vice-versa. Despite up to the three-fourths of the Indian population living in rural areas, rural areas contribute to only one-third of the national income. Such dichotomy hints at the potential growth and sustainability that can be achieved if these two separate spheres interact and collaborate. Drishtee’s initiatives are thereby oriented towards reducing the growing gap between urban and rural India and creating an established framework between the two spheres in order to tap on this very potential. 

Satyan started Drishtee in 2000 creating a network of service kiosks to address the digital divide in rural India. Run by kiosk entrepreneurs, Satyan was able to help rural populations access a range of information and e-governance schemes, which previously remained far out of their reach. Realizing the opportunity to leverage local networks to service other local needs, Satyan now offers value propositions to identified rural entrepreneurs and uses his connections to banks and healthcare providers to establish flourishing rural enterprises that act as the basis for the village’s economic and social sustainability. Layering these information channels with opportunities for entrepreneurship and building capacities has created a self-sufficient ecosystem within villages. 

Satyan maps villages across various districts by identifying existing functional groups such as farmer clubs and SHGs or by establishing these groups if they do not exist. Such groups are organized under a local progressive leader, with whom PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) programs are carried out to identify core problems and solutions within the region. Drishtee proceeds to work on resolving gaps in the four major areas of 1) Education, 2) Kirana enterprises, 3) Financial services, microfinance, and 4) Health. 

The success of Satyan’s initiative has always been dependent on the number of livelihoods that Drishtee helps create and support. In the last thirteen years alone, Satyan has impacted over 5000 villages through the different services he offers and has had his kiosk model be adopted by the Government under the Common Service Center (CSC) model. Drishtee is now identifying and implementing its integrated approach in 500 villages over the next 6 years and is expected to train nearly 0.40 million villagers, generating approximately 12,500 new jobs and increasing the income of villages by nearly 10% every year for the next 5 years. For Satyan, this is a giant step forward towards building an empowered rural India, where local communities may take pride in their heritage and display leadership towards solving their own problems. 

INTRODUCTION

In rural India, villagers live without easy access to trade, government, business, and health information. This makes them easy prey for intermediaries who control the flow of information and can demand high payments to allow villagers access to it. Satyan is building service kiosks in countryside villages to bring internet connections and ready, affordable access to information.




THE NEW IDEA

Rural villages in India are often cut off from the outside world; without any local government outposts, it’s hard for villagers to find accurate information about government benefits, trade and exchange rates, or health care. To help bring these isolated villages into the global information network, Satyan has created a system of service kiosks where people can access public internet terminals and receive information pamphlets at low cost. The kiosk owners are drawn from the local community and selected for their civic-mindedness to ensure that villagers won’t be overcharged for accessing information. Satyan trains and helps each kiosk owner, providing him with capital, holding his hand, and monitoring his progress. Public demand determines the range of products and services offered, which may include government data, agricultural data and commodity prices, medical and health information, insurance products, and photo facilities. Although the initial model is a one-way, service model, bringing city goods to the countryside, Satyan sees a future for a two-way channel, where rural products and services are made available to the urban population.




THE PROBLEM

The Internet has led to increased global connectivity, linking people from all over the world and contributing to the free flow of vital information across borders. For many, the Internet is the easiest and most affordable way to access information on such important topics as politics, health, agriculture, and business. In rural India, though, few people have felt the advantages of the Internet. Most people do not have their own private home connections, and so used to rely on government-funded public information and service kiosks to learn about these topics. However, many of these old kiosks were staffed by salaried government workers, who had little incentive to provide good customer service or help confused villagers understand how to use their services. Despite their enormous potential, many of these old kiosks have been discontinued in recent years because they were never successfully integrated into the local communities.

Without these kiosks, people have few alternatives for finding information. The long distances between cities and villages create an information gap that give rise to middlemen, who make their living by controlling the flow of information. They demand high sums to dispense the same information to rural villagers that urban dwellers can access for free on their own private Internet terminals. Since Indian villagers have no alternative way to get this information and often don’t even realize that this information could be obtained elsewhere at lower cost, they end up spending much of their limited resources on these inflated costs.




THE STRATEGY

Vital to the plan is that kiosk owners think not only about revenue but also about the good of their customers. The kiosks are staffed and owned by village locals, who view the kiosk as more than a money-making venture but also as a way to help the village.

Kiosks generally are only financially viable in villages with at least 1,200 families. Before setting up a center in the region, Satyan has to get permission from the district authorities. Satyan’s team then carries out a detailed feasibility survey that looks at a village’s telecommunication situation, its literacy level, and its ability to pay for kiosk services. Once Satyan is satisfied that a village could support a kiosk, he, in co-operation with the local governing body, CSOs and other organizations, begins a search for local entrepreneurs interested in running and owning the kiosk.

The selected candidates undergo a 16-day entrepreneurial development and computer training course and carry out a need-based survey to determine the demand for specific cost-saving products and services. The average cost of setting up a kiosk is Rs.85,000, out of which the future owner initially contributes Rs.15,000. Whatever cost the entrepreneur can’t cover is covered by loans from the State Bank of India, a nationalized bank, or ICICI, the country’s largest private bank.

The typical entrepreneur has usually completed 10 years of schooling. Because it is, in part, a private, for-profit business, kiosk entrepreneurs are encouraged to provide the best possible service to attract villagers to come back again and again. At the same time, because kiosk entrepreneurs are all locals, they do not exploit their neighbors the same way that outside information-peddling middlemen do.

Satyan plans to extend the lower start up costs as incentives to draw in more woman applicants to become local entrepreneurs. The kiosk is established in a prominent location—the building of local government headquarter, the intersection of major roads, the weekly marketplace—and serves 25-30 surrounding villages or around 20-30,000 people.

The kiosk entrepreneur runs his kiosk independently, but Satyan monitors the venture to ensure that it remains beneficial to the community. The kiosk provides access to information like government records, agricultural data, and health insurance; help in filing of applications for licenses, certificates, compensation, and benefits; commodity product rates in different markets; education such as computer courses, distance learning courses, and the Indira Gandhi National Open School (IGNOU). The computer education courses have particular significance in that Satyan anticipates that Indian companies will soon be outsourcing business to contractors in small towns and villages. Before entering a region, Satyan enters into a grievance redressal commitment with the district authorities to ensure a prompt response to both complaints and certificate requests filed through the kiosks. He also requests that the District Collector (the local administrative officer) nominate a point person in each government department so that the kiosk entrepreneur will have someone to refer to when necessary.

With easy access to a global communications network, the villagers have the information necessary to effectively auction their land, agricultural machinery, bullocks, equipment or other durable commodities without the involvement of intermediaries. According to an impact assessment, eliminating the intermediaries has resulted in a 3 to 5 percent increase in the farmers’ income.

“In pipeline” is a rural e-commerce service that removes intermediaries from the lives of village producers like artisans and craftspeople, enabling them to demand a better price for their products. The pilot will be launched in Assam.

At present, Satyan has helped create 309 kiosks in Haryana, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Assam.




THE PERSON

Born to a middle-class family of Bihar, Satyan has always has a strong bond with his ancestral village in Madhubani. At the age of 8, he saw how a successful watershed management project near his village changed the lives of the villagers. The project blockaded the wild river in the village, preventing floods and providing river silt to enrich eroded land. The withdrawal of international funds brought the project to an abrupt end, and put the villagers back in the same situation they’d been in before—farming eroded land while always being threatened by floods. The rural poverty Satyan saw around him in his childhood had a strong influence on his thinking today.

Satyan’s father died while Satyan was in college in Delhi, leaving Satyan responsible for his family’s upkeep. He started tutoring young students to earn enough to take care of his family. A computer-related job sparked his interest in the Internet’s capacity to benefit rural Indians, so when he was invited to be part of a Madhya Pradesh state government e-governance project in 1999 he seized the opportunity. The Gyandoot project, started in 1999, used salaried state government to provide government information through information kiosks. Unfortunately, the employees did not do enough to promote the service, and villagers did not know how to use the centers. Satyan proposed using trained rural entrepreneurs to run the kiosks. Being locals, these entrepreneurs could better connect with the villagers and would be more likely to promote the kiosks rather than letting them languish. The idea seemed to work, and 309 kiosks are now operating throughout the country.

The Gyandoot model won the Stockholm IT Challenge Award of 2000, and in 2003, Satyan’s Drishti model won the Development Market Place Award (World Bank).

Down the road, Satyan hopes to run a kiosk of his own, ideally in his native village of Madhubani. Satyan lives in New Delhi with his wife and daughter.




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