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The Drishtee project

The Drishtee project

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Published by IT for Change
This case study is part of a research project that sought to analyse how different telecentre models approach development on the ground, proceeding to elaborate a typology based on the cornerstones of participation and equity. To conduct this assessment, four telecentre projects were examined: the Gujarat government’s E-gram project, the corporate-led venture by ITC called e-Choupal, the private enterprise model of Drishtee, and the community-owned telecentres of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF). Two main criteria were used in selecting the case studies – the diversity of ownership models, and the requirement of a sufficient scale of the intervention. In addition to the field research conducted in 2008 using qualitative methods, the research also built on secondary sources.
This case study is part of a research project that sought to analyse how different telecentre models approach development on the ground, proceeding to elaborate a typology based on the cornerstones of participation and equity. To conduct this assessment, four telecentre projects were examined: the Gujarat government’s E-gram project, the corporate-led venture by ITC called e-Choupal, the private enterprise model of Drishtee, and the community-owned telecentres of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF). Two main criteria were used in selecting the case studies – the diversity of ownership models, and the requirement of a sufficient scale of the intervention. In addition to the field research conducted in 2008 using qualitative methods, the research also built on secondary sources.

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Published by: IT for Change on Dec 15, 2010
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This case study is part o a research project that sought to analyse how dierent telecentre models approachdevelopment on the ground, proceeding to elaborate a typology based on the cornerstones o participationand equity. To conduct this assessment, our telecentre projects were examined: the Gujarat government’s
E-gram
project, the corporate-led venture by ITC called
e-Choupal
, the private enterprise model o
Drishtee
,and the community-owned telecentres o the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF). Two maincriteria were used in selecting the case studies – the diversity o ownership models, and the requirement oa sucient scale o the intervention. In addition to the eld research conducted in 2008 using qualitativemethods, the research also built on secondary sources.A review o the literature in the eld o Inormation and Communication Technology or Development (ICTD)showed that while telecentres are viewed as contributing positively to development in general, they are largelynot really seen as a space or catalysing transormative social change. Instead, there remains in the notiono telecentres or development a perpetuation o market-led approaches, wherein telecentres are viewedas a strategic means or expanding markets in rural areas, especially or corporates. In this approach, poorcommunities are repositioned as an opportunity or business, with ICTs as the most eective way o connectingthem to the global market system. This espouses a version o inclusion that instumentalises disadvantagedsections, overlooking the potential o telecentres to serve as a tool or equitable and participatory development.Such subjugation o local development and the local community to the neo-liberal ideology can be seen as the‘Walmartisation’ or ‘marketisation’ o development (Gurstein, 2007:6).
1
A critical question or telecentre related policies and programmes thereore examines how ICTs can triggerstructural-institutional changes that promote overall human development, going beyond exclusive marketrameworks. Based on a critical analysis o ndings rom the eld, the research attempted to examine twohypotheses. The rst relates to the need or the communitisation o ICTD, as is a strong move towardscommunisation in other areas o development, like health, livelihoods, education, etc. Second, the developmento an ICT governance regime avouring an open, inclusive and participatory socio-technical architecture. Thelatter seeks to empower the peripheries, acting against the strong tendency towards centralisation o powero the unregulated use o ICTs.The ollowing analysis o the
Drishtee
project will be situated within this larger debate.
2
Background andapproach todevelopment
Drishtee
is a or-prot companywhich aims to create newICT-enabled distributionnetworks and access points orretail products and servicesin rural India. Seeking to‘connect communities villageby village’,
Drishtee
aims tocapitalise on the ability o ICT-
IT for Change Case Study
Drishtee
IT or Change2008
based platorms to enhanceeciencies and remote-managelarge systems. Thus, it plansto do away with the numbero individual intermediariesinvolved in providing productsand services in rural areas. Bystreamlining processes througha single
Drishtee
channel, ruralcommunities gain access totraditionally dicult-to-obtaincommercial, health, educationand government services.
Drishtee’s
approach to enablingthe opening up o rural marketsis operationalised through aranchise and partnership-basedbusiness model.The
Drishtee
model was pilotedin 2001 in the state o Haryanaand has spread to over 12 statesincluding Assam, Meghalaya,Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh,Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh (UP),Uttarakhand, and Tamil Nadu.This model aggregates local
 
markets around an individualmicro-enterprise, while providingICT and non-ICT-based incomegenerating potential or ruralentrepreneurs.As o December 2007, the
Drishtee
network had 2,059kiosks, each catering toapproximately 1,200 households.The direct delivery supply chainhas resulted in signicant cost andtime savings, and
Drishtee
aims toreach 10,000 villages beore 2010,thus consolidating its position asa protable rural supply chain orlast-mile retailing. With a clearprot-based business strategy,the kiosk operator (KO) is a villagebusinessman, and an entrepreneurwith the reedom to innovate onthe scope o the services provided.Further, the
Drishtee
accenton the provision o communitydevelopment services in educationand health casts the KO in themould o a social entrepreneur,who, in the words o one KO “[…]can earn an income and also helppeople at the same time”.
Drishtee
aims to ull itsdevelopment vision by unlockingthe potential o rural marketsin a way that makes businesssense or the company. ICT-based kiosks and KOs are theoundations on which this ‘win-win’ model o development isconstructed. Drishtee’s market-based ICTD model – relyingon the trickle-down eect – ispositioned as a driving orceor bringing about positivesocial change. This trickle-down approach encompassesDrishtee’s long-term ‘modelvillage’ vision, wherein themature ICT kiosk operatortrains and supports other villagemembers to initiate independententerprises to leverage the ICTinrastructure o his centre.
Implementation modeland actors
ICT kiosks are established by
Drishtee
under the ownershipo village entrepreneurs. Thesekiosks provide access to onlineinormation like governmentrecords, agricultural data,and commodity product rateseducation services like computercourses, and spoken Englishprogrammes; and digitalprocessing o health insuranceand the purchase o consumerdurables. Kiosk selection ollowsa cluster approach, with asingle kiosk serving a radiuso 4-5 villages.
Drishtee
stacollaborate with the
sarpanch
3
 o the
panchayat 
4
to identiyvillagers or this role, the majorityo whom are relatively well-omen with the ability to undertakecapital investment. Replacingan initial model o nancialsupport provision to KOs or kioskestablishment,
Drishtee
currentlyselects community memberswith existing basic inrastructureand some computer skills or therole o KOs. Initial training onmarketing, sales and accountingis provided by
Drishtee
, andtechnical support is provided on aneed-only basis. Kiosk space andrecurrent costs are borne by theKO, with xed revenue sharingor services provided throughthe
Drishtee
channel.
Drishtee
 also has variable revenuesharing agreements with serviceproviders.Computer literacy trainingthrough
Drishtee’s
Centre orEducation and EntrepreneurshipProgramme (CEEP) is the mostpopular ICT-based activity at thekiosks, attracting village youth,and particularly young girls. InHaryana, in collaboration withthe state Chie InormationCommissioner (CIC),
Drishtee
 is piloting online Right toInormation (RTI) case lingbecause it is an easily digitisedprocess, and contains highdemand potential. For the KOshowever, higher revenues accruerom selling non-ICT relatedproducts and services. Thisincludes insurance schemes,small electronic goods and otherast moving consumer goods(FMCGs), which are introducedinto the supply chain throughdecisions taken at the
Drishtee
 Headquarters. The companyestablishes contractual or revenuesharing agreements with national-level corporates or routingproducts and services throughICT kiosks. KOs are ree to decideon market rates or these services,with
Drishtee
receiving a xedpercentage. Any non-
Drishtee
services at the kiosks like mobilephone recharging, provide onehundred percent income to theKOs. With average monthlyearnings o Rs. 5,000-6,000,the kiosks are popular as a one-stop shop or rural retail needs,contributing directly to ruralmarket expansion.In a strategy to integratemarginalised groups into the
Drishtee
model, the companyis also targeting a lowerentry point or economicallydisadvantaged men and womenKOs in the states o UP andAssam, with minimal initialcapital investment.
Drishtee
 is also tailoring products and
IT or Change Case Study, Drishtee
2
 
services or women KOs, withan emphasis on health andmicro-nance related oerings.Although this deliberatetargeting is working to attract aair number o women to take upthe role o KOs, the initiative isstill in its inancy.As an early pioneer in theeld o the digital provision ogovernmental services,
Drishtee
 has largely withdrawn romthe governance arena becauseo ailed undertakings, otherthan a ew successul kiosksin the state o UP. The ailureo the government servicesventure occurred in the contexto accountability concerns andmonitoring gaps vis-a-vis KOs.Furthermore, Internet-basedgovernment service provisionusually reaches a plateau ateran initial demand surge ollowingits introduction. It is unableto remain viable as a strategyor the long-term revenuegeneration o kiosks, thus the“[…] bread cannot come romgovernment services, only thebutter can [...]”, according toSatyan Mishra, Co-Founder andManaging Director o
Drishtee
.In UP however, recentconnections to districtcollectors have acilitated theestablishment o
e-Prashasan
 
Kendras
(e-governance centres,EPK), which are managed at thedistrict level by
Drishtee
in therole o an outsourcing hub orgovernmental services. EPKsassume responsibility or thedelivery o a pre-determinedset o government schemesand services through theInternet, with the processing oapplications and benets ront-ended through individual KOs atthe village level.
Drishtee
gainsxed revenues rom the districtadministration or serviceprovision, a percentage o whichis disbursed to participating KOs.For the KOs involved in
Drishtee’s
 second wave o governmentservice provision, adhering toa strict online daily monitoringsystem is mandatory toenable the identication odiscrepancies in revenuesand any underlying corruptionsurrounding the delivery ogovernment services.
Drishtee
 attempted to engage withservice delivery throughe-governance initiatives inKurukshetra and Fatehabad inHaryana. Built on a commissionmodel, the KOs providing theseservices allowed corruption toseep into the system, resultingin the local public administrationrevoking the license given to
Drishtee
.The key dierence between theinitial and this second (current)wave o e-governance servicedelivery are the stringentmonitoring systems introducedthroughout the
Drishtee
systemcoupled with centralised controlmechanisms or governmentservice delivery. However,
Drishtee
has not involveditsel with India’s fagshipe-governance telecentrescheme, Common ServiceCentres (CSCs), where thegovernment is providing an initialsubsidy or running telecentres.This is instructive both o
Drishtee’s
ocus on protability,independent o the kind oservices it provides, as well asits doubts about the sustainedviability o the commercial ront-ending o government services.
Market as a panacea ordevelopment
On the market based model
The market-based developmentmodel that
Drishtee
subscribesto is best refected throughexcerpts rom interviews omembers o the organisation.Satyan Mishra, co-ounderand MD o
Drishtee
, explainsthe reasoning behind adoptingthis approach. He states, “[…]we want to work with ecientkiosk operators who perormat a high level and use themas a hub or developing othervillage operators. I we groomthem, we will be able to make aundamental impact on the largereconomy o the village, throughthe creation o an ecosystemwhere enterprise can thrive.” Headds that entrepreneurs havehad to struggle to survive, so theocus now is to engage better-o villagers to orm a companyand make initial investments.Villagers can use their own equityto start a company and providebasic inrastructure, in additionto which rural enterprises canbe run. This village company cansell power, water and space in thevillage hub or shops, or whichthey will charge rent.
On the diference betweenDrishtee business anddevelopment
Ramesh Kumar Kharab, adistrict level Executive, states,“We make rural centresurbanised. All [other] orms odevelopment are in the handso the
panchayat 
, but there aredeciencies in their unctioning.
IT or Change Case Study, Drishtee
3

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