BOTTOM OF THE PYRAMID IN PRACTICE 95
who leapfrog traditional development problems such aspoverty, illiteracy and social inequalities, and who over-come the “digital divide” (Arunchalam, 2002; Egglestonet al., 2002, Keniston, 2002). Empowerment, economicgrowth, skills development, and ease of service deliveryare routinely cited as the goals of ICT4D projects.Kerala,thestatewhereAkshayahasbeenimplemented,is a particularly interesting state in which to investigateICT and development. It is well known for the strengthof the Communist Party of India–Marxist (CPM) in thestate government, and for sustained social mobilizationtied to high levels of social development (Ratcliffe, 1978;Parayil, 1992; Rammohan, 2000).
The state governmentmaintains strong ties with civil society, particularly sincepeasants and workers played an active role in shaping thestructuresandinstitutionsofmoderncapitalismwithinthestate (Heller, 1999). The state has also been known for its past economic problems, in particular for poor indus-trial development and persistent unemployment (Heller,1999; Rammohan, 2000; Veron, 2001). The annual grossdomestic product (GDP) growth rate between 1994–1995and 2001–2002 in Kerala averaged 5%, compared withthe all-India annual GDP growth rate of 6%. The averageannual growth rate in per capita GDP during this periodwas 3.89% in Kerala, compared to the all-India average of 4.26% (Subrahmanian, 2006).Over the last decade, the state government hasworked hard to combat the paradoxical image of Ker-ala as a socially vibrant but economically stagnant state(Subrahmanian, 2006). In recent years the economy hasimproved, and, according to the Economic Review pre-sented in the State Assembly, Kerala’s GDP grew by 9.2%in 2004–2005—the same as the percentage growth ratefor the country as a whole.
Since the late 1990s, changesin Kerala’s social and economic policies have reshapedthedevelopmentagenda,partlyinresponsetoIndia’sneo-liberal economic reforms and partly in response to thestate’s “redistribution-without-growth” image. The statehas engaged in a set of policy measures to “modernizethe government”
with support from the Asian Develop-ment Bank. The CPM has been more open both to the pri-vate sector and to foreign direct investment. In the wordsof a recent report on an international conference on theKerala economy, the leaders of the CPM have shown a“new found pragmatism in adapting an alternative agendafor Kerala’s development by accepting neo-liberal eco-nomics” (Singh, 2005). At the same time, there has beencriticism that these market-driven policies could negatesome of the social successes of the state (Nayar, 2004).Although social development is now seen as compatiblewith more market-oriented goals, many remain conﬂictedabout this relationship. This history helps to explain thestate’s enthusiastic embrace of the two-pronged strategyfor its technology projects—that of combining the goal of greater public access to ICTs with a private-sector orien-tation to achieve ﬁnancial sustainability.
THE AKSHAYA PROJECT
Akshaya was initiated in 2002 in Kerala’s Malappuramdistrictasapilotprojectwiththeplanofeventuallyrollingit out to the 13 other districts. Malappuram is unique inKeralabecauseithasthelargestpopulationofnonresidentIndians in the state, many of whom are Muslims workingin the Middle East as laborers. Therefore, the Akshayaproject envisioned communication as a potentially largeapplication of ICTs, so as to connect people with their rel-atives in the Gulf. As can be seen in Table 1, Malappuramdistrict’s levels of social development are below other dis-trictsinKeralaintermsofeducationallevels(literacy)andhealth (infant mortality). However, these indicators haveimproved in recent years. The “roll out” period ofﬁciallystarted in July 2005. The goal is eventually to create theﬁrst 100% e-literate state in India.
The Kerala IT Mission states the aim of the Akshayaprojectis“ITdisseminationtothemasses.”Thus,itisseenas a development initiative with equity goals. Akshaya la-bels itself a “project implemented by the IT Department,Government of Kerala, with participation of the privatesector.”
With this label, the government emphasizes thatprivatesectoractorsareparticipantsinalarge-scaledevel-opment project rather than just owners of computer-kioskbusinesses. But with this label come many links to pastsocial programs that limit the state’s ability to achieve thebusiness goals of the project, as we demonstrate later.When Akshaya was ﬁrst implemented, 630 Internet-enabled computer centers, each serving 1000 households,
Malappuram and Kerala statistics
Characteristic Malappuram KeralaArea (km
3550 38,863Population (millions) 3.63 31.8Per capita income (USD)(2002–2003 estimates)
$306 $573Sex ratio (females/1000) 1066 1058Literacy rate 91% 91%Male literacy 93% 94%Female literacy 86% 88%Infant mortality rate(deaths/1000 live births)32 14
Sources:GovernmentofKerala(2006),stateoverview,Malap-puram district overview; UNDP Kerala fact sheet (based on 2001 cen-sus data).
Used conversion of $1