In April 2016, more than 350 million Indians were online and millions more were connecting to the Internet for the first time. Google was quick to see an opportunity in this segment and announced the biggest plan to connect one billion Indians to the Internet.
The aim was to provide India with access to the web that would help businesses grow, power education for the next generation, and create growth for the economy.
While Google observed the benefits in connecting the population with the Internet and making them participate in the country’s economy in 2016, a little-known organization- 1 Million for 1 Billion (1M1B) has been undertaking a similar drive in India.
The platform enables entrepreneurship through a slew of initiatives in rural areas to create jobs and help marginalised society to participate in the mainstream economy.
Since October 2014, 1M1B has been running a campaign to empower a million people through entrepreneurship, who will further drive a billion people out of poverty. The organization is doing this through programs that skill young leaders, generate jobs, enhance incomes, and create micro-entrepreneurs.
Connecting 1 million with 1 billion
“We have helped startups across various states by providing assistance in developing prototypes to solve local problems, and accelerating their products and services to the bottom of the pyramid, leveraging locally trained manpower,” said Manav Subodh, Co-founder, 1M1B.
For instance, the organization is working with co-innovation lab Cfog at Bhimavaram in Andhra Pradesh that tests aqua sensors of shrimp farms and, post testing, the shrimp farmers use the sensors to monitor the water conditions for farming.
The organisation has helped 14 such start-ups across the country in the initiative.
“We provide last mile connectivity to startups and mid-sized enterprises. It means the startups are provided market access and an opportunity to test their prototypes in actual environments in villages,” said Subodh.
1M1B also believes that villages are producers and not just consumers of goods. “In this context we also work with local businesses and cottage industries and give them access to international and domestic markets,” he added.
Subodh gave another example and said that the organisation is working with SK Coir, a local enterprise in the coir industry that taps into opportunities in urban agriculture. Besides, 1M1B is helping Kalamkari artisans from Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh and supporting them with access to international markets.
In 2016, in partnership with the office of the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Subodh led the creation of the first Smart Village.
One of 1M1B’s initiatives is Startup Gurukool, a partnership between the platform, Tata Trusts, the government’s department of science and technology and UN Habitat. A village accelerator, prototyped in villages for local job creation and providing last-mile services to startups, it is now being replicated in thousands of villages of India as it allows global startups to access rural markets.
To deal with the other side of the problem – developing local talent – 1M1B has established skills accelerators in the villages of Bhimavaram (Andhra Pradesh, in partnership with SRKR College), Hazaribagh in Jharkhand (in partnership with CINI) and Yadgir in Karnataka (in partnership with Kalike).
The skill accelerators train youth in key skills required to make them employable and connect them with firms and start-ups in the 1M1B co-innovation lab that require their services. Students also get the opportunity to intern with the start-ups and this provides a talent pool for the new platforms to recruit employees.
Serving the country
While Google’s ‘connecting one billion Indians with the Internet’ largely has a business agenda where each user is a product, 1M1B is a non-profit organization.
It generates funding by conducting a Future Leaders curriculum and fellowship programme along with corporate sponsorships and CSR funds that help it meet operational expenses.
A difficult journey
While working in the villages, the biggest challenge the organistion faced initially was connecting with the people and creating a trust factor.
“Trust is a big factor in the villages and it was important for us to establish that. Once this was done, things started easing out and we were able to connect on a larger level with them,” said Subodh.
One key failure they had was when they tried to connect large corporations with the villages and learnt that it was not a viable model as the large corporations were not flexible enough to change their business model. They then decided to bring start-ups and mid-sized enterprises to the forefront. They were a better fit to work with people in the villages since they were willing to adapt their business model according to the region, culture, belief systems, and requirements.
In the last six months, 1M1B’s initiatives have given access to 14 start-ups, created 37 village entrepreneurs, got jobs for 43 young people and enhanced the income of 177 people (mostly women) in the villages of India. 1M1B is encouraged by these results and expanding the model to 20 locations in different parts of India in partnership with various NGOs and schools.
Besides India, the organisation has also expanded in countries such as Ghana, Vietnam and USA. In Vietnam, 1M1B is piloting the same model in partnership with Orphan Impact, an NGO working to skill young people for jobs and entrepreneurship in orphanages in and around Ho Chi Minh City. The nine-month pilot is ending in July 2018, post which 1M1B and Orphan Impact will expand the program further.