Author: Rana Kapoor, MD & CEO, YES Bank and Chairman, YES Global Institute
This article appeared in Business Insider India
President Abdul Kalam, first proposed the idea of ‘Smart habitation as an integration of villages and a city working in harmony to reduce the rural and urban divide to a thin line.’ With the DigiGaon initiative, an extension of India’s flagship ‘Digital India Program’, the rest of India is firmly on the path to become ‘rural cities’—the perfect villages complementing the ‘Smart Cities.’
With nearly 70 per cent of India’s population still living in rural areas, participation of ‘Bharat’ in India’s growth story is absolutely necessary for the country to be able to unlock this trillion dollar digital opportunity. Crafting a digital society that assimilates and penetrates all social spheres, is quintessential for India’s inclusive development.
India ranks second only to China, when it comes to internet penetration. It has a population of 1.012 billion active mobile users and nearly 500 million internet users. Yet, the rural internet penetration stood at a meagre 20.26% in December 2017. Empowering the rural population will play a pivotal role in ensuring creation of a crucial ‘hub and spoke’ model for the growth trajectory that India is currently aiming for. Along with the Bharat Net Programme which aims to connect 250,000 panchayats across 600,000 villages with optical fiber network, it is crucial that we deliver on the opportunity to augment our villages with comprehensive strategic planning and execution.
THE BIG IDEA: Making rural India Entrepreneurship-ready
As rural India becomes a part of the formal digital economy, availability of quality services such as telemedicine, e-education, e-health, e-commerce and skills will provide momentum to the chain of activities towards creating immense entrepreneurial opportunities for the village youth.
While we speak about villages playing a major role in India’s development agenda, unless India’s rural youth are provided with an equal opportunity to flourish, and a platform to become innovators and entrepreneurs, the country can’t achieve its goal of inclusive, high paced socio-economic growth. DigiGaon provides the fundamentals of new-age entrepreneurship – Digital capacity building, quality and affordable access to technology.
URBAN EXCLUSION: Connect Rural Market
The idea of ‘Digital India’ is a potential game changer for villages, which are expected to be the main growth centers with more rural produce and crafts being brought to the mainstream. For India’s rural youth to become disruptive change makers, we have to provide them with priority market access to village produce. According, to the UN World Urbanization Prospects 2018 report, only 34 per cent of India lives in urban areas. Thus, with a majority of the population still in rural regions, digital connectivity can be transformational for their aspirations and dreams. It will definitely reduce the push factors leading to greater urban migration thereby helping a substantial population from being excluded from basic amenities, while bringing to life a plethora of new opportunities and markets in the villages.
TECH PUSH: Revive indigenous technologies
India with its diversified culture and practices is a repository of innumerable home grown sustainable technologies in every field, be it natural dyes or innovations in food. As the UN points out, traditional knowledge, cultures and practices contribute to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment. It is therefore important that the rural areas maintain their characteristic. As the new-age technologies are gearing up to invade the space, strengthening the basis of knowledge will help the villages to go global with uniqueness. Technologies like cloud and mobility, Big Data Analytics, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), will only add value to a truly digital rural economy.
India’s digital transformation is expected to add an estimated $154 billion to India’s GDP by 2021 – leading to a significant one per cent increase in the country’s annual GDP growth rate. With DigiGaon, India stands at the cusp of an immense opportunity to become digitally inclusive, and leverage the true potential of disruptive technologies. This would not only impact globalization, but also create a digital and global footprint that can become a blueprint of success for all developing countries.
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