Please welcome Jaikumaran and Santosh Choubey into the Fellowship!

U. Jaikumaran is transforming the role of agricultural labourers in India. He believes that agricultural labourers have a crucial role to play in building a strong agricultural sector. However, their potential role in contributing to this sector is hugely under estimated; uneducated, inevitably poor with no access to opportunities, labourers are perceived as a hindrance for agriculture development. To this end, Jaikumaran has created “Food Security Army” (FSA), to unify agricultural labourers, upgrade their skills, increase their efficiency while simultaneously promoting mechanization and bringing dignity into their profession. FSA is based out of Thirvananthapuram.

Jaikumaran’s vision is that professional agriculture services should be available to every farmer.  “Food Security Army”, as the name implies, is a highly organized and easy to mobilize professional agricultural labour force. By organizing labourers as agricultural service providers, Jaikumaran is able to address the multiple social and economic challenges they face. First, it brings their transactions with the farmers into a formal economy. Secondly, it allows for the regulation of price, protecting both the farmers and the labourers and eliminates any gender discrimination (as normally women laborers get paid up to 50% less for the same work).  

Jaikumaran has done a lot work on appropriate mechanization of agriculture: testing, improving and spreading innovative agriculture machinery. When he was setting up his present station with the farm to test out innovations he decided to create a unit of women who would be trained to use the machinery and would be able to provide services on the stations farms. It worked very well, and that was a first step for him to start conceptualizing the model for the Food Security Army, where similar services would be available to every farmer.  

In the past two years, Jaikumaran has been working full-time on FSA and was able to convince multiple stakeholders about the importance and viability of this idea. He now intends to spread this idea across the country, engaging universities, schools, government and the corporate sector to be part of this model that will change the scenario of the food security in India.

For Jaikumaran, the Ashoka Fellowship means that “My vision “Food Security Army for Food Security” is socially recognised and accepted. In the mission ahead to prepare ‘Food Security Army’ throughout the world, now I am not alone, but the whole nation is to participate through Ashoka. The greatest civilian honour to ‘Food Security Army’. Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.”

Santosh Choubey has been elected as a Senior Fellow. He wants to ensure that the rural youth will be equipped to take opportunities that come with the Information Technology and mobile revolution. He is committed to bridging the skill and IT gap between urban and rural India and creating local opportunities for the rural youth. To that end, he started the All India Society for Electronics and Computer Technology (AISECT) in 1985.

Today, AISECT has become a robust IT Training and Educational services network with an unrivalled spread of over 8,500 centres across 27 states and 3 Union Territories. AISECT has worked with close to 1 million students through a host of skill enhancement programs and generated over 10,000 entrepreneurs in the country. 

Recognizing the language barrier in accessing IT, AISECT kept content development in local languages as its priority. It established a full-fledged cell of academicians and professionals to constantly update and design new content in Hindi and other local languages. AISECT pioneered IT content in Hindi and has to its credit more than 100 Hindi IT modules and a widely read science and IT popularization magazine 'Electroniki', that has a circulation of over 30,000 copies a month. AISECT has also developed ‘e-gyan’, a multi-lingual website to conduct computer literacy programs in nine Indian languages and an e-learning platform to conduct online software, hardware or vocational programs with available ICT facilities. 

AISECT’s unique value proposition arises from the breadth of its offerings that leverages its IT infrastructure. Its penetration and credibility in rural areas has helped it partner with a number of Government and private players to offer IT enabled services in rural India. AISECT’s partnership with the State Bank of India allows these centers to act as business facilitators and correspondents. Several centers facilitate rural citizens to open new accounts, access loans, make deposits and withdrawals. Together with SBI, AISECT also launched a scheme to benefit rural migrants to facilitate cash remittances to their homes. AISECT has also partnered with Government and private institutions to create access to insurance and telecom. AISECT is also an agency of the Government of India to implement e-governance initiatives through common service centers (CSCs). The centers also facilitate citizens to pay telephone bills and taxes, apply for various government services, access pension, land records etc. AISECT has set up over 5,000 CSCs in the States of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. They have also been working with the Government in various developmental initiatives and also provide training under various Government Schemes. Most importantly, AISECT centers also act as placement agency connecting rural youth to local opportunities.  

Santosh had the following to say about the Fellowship:

"I am extremely delighted to be elected as a Senior Fellow at Ashoka. Positive change in society can be amplified only if there is collective action. The Ashoka Forum is a great step in the direction of cross country collaboration, best - practices exchange and synergistic action. To me, this fellowship is yet another recognition of the fantastic work being done by the thousands of rural AISECT Entrepreneurs across villages in India. I look forward to an intellectually stimulating and meaningful time with the Ashoka Community."