Smartphone Connectivity Drives Social Change & Rural Empowerment
By: HT Brand Studio
India is experiencing a digital revolution. The telecom sector is redefining technological transformation in India, with greater reach and penetration across all sections of society. Over the past few years, the smartphone has become practically irreplaceable in the country. According to a survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) last year, 120 million Indian consumers living in rural areas were connected to the Internet. That number constitutes 36% of India's online population. By 2020, the figure is expected to increase to 315 million, at an expansion of 30% each year. It's a large, growing market with a lot of vibrancy and convergences, so service providers need to adapt to the vagaries of the market accordingly.
The smartphone allows, of course, for greater connectivity and access. Regardless of one's views on its implementation, the recent government decision to demonetise a chunk of Indian currency further enhances the importance of online connectivity and the smartphone, as we move towards a cashless economy, where payment of goods and services is being carried out through a range of digital platforms.
In light of these shifts, organisations such as Tata Communications are working hard to ensure that they keep up with any changes in technology. Julie Woods-Moss, President, Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer of Tata Communications, said: "As technologies evolve and adapt, there is a huge potential for the Internet to affect different aspects of life, economy and society. The use of these technologies will continue to expand in unexpected ways, and organisations will need to continuously explore, adapt and embrace new digital realities to thrive in. A better understanding of the internet is likely to improve the appreciation of the Internet and its capabilities leading to new and innovative ways to incorporate digital resources into daily activities."
Beyond that, the smartphone can also serve as an important tool for social change and empowerment, especially for sections of society that are marginalized. The BCG survey indicates that 98% of internet users in rural areas are men. However, there have been several initiatives to address that disparity and empower women through the use of mobile phones.
As part of a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), Tata Communications joined hands with MasterCard and a host of other partners in 2015, for a commitment to action to financially empower women by delivering payment-enabled phones to them. It started off as a series of pilot projects in India, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Guatemala, engaging 25,000 women in its initial run. However, that's only a small fraction of the intended reach of the project, with a larger plan to provide support to 100 million women in the developing world. The project is called, aptly, 100 Million Women, and will develop financial-service smartphone apps, in consultation with women belonging to low-income groups, as a means of financial, health, and educational emancipation.
There's an innovative strategy in place to scale the project. The initial pilot projects are intended to create 'microcosms' in the regions where they are in place, thus creating ecosystems with last-mile partners to replicate and scale the successes in other regions, expanding in a non-linear manner by creating a template and recreating it in different parts of the world with a revolving door of different partners.
Some of the obstacles that are set to arise are issues of literacy and numeracy that will detract from consumers' ability to use apps, as well as access to electricity and connectivity. Further, the nature of the software and apps is another difficult task, as it has to be of the optimum quality to ensure that the needs of the women are met. However, there is a strong commitment to ensure that all roadblocks are overcome.
In addition, given the emphasis on Financial Inclusion in the country today, institutions can leverage the Tata Communications Payment Solutions infrastructure as a way to support their own micro-finance initiatives and rural coverage. It offers in-house technology solutions for urban and rural financial inclusion, as well as options such as transaction switching, device management, card issuance and lifestyle management, clearing and settlement, biometric authentication, a helpdesk, and others.
With the telecom industry is transforming at a rapid rate, it is imperative for organisations to make the most of the opportunities in the industry today, and to effect meaningful change. The services offered by Tata Communications act as a great tool of assistance in that respect, and companies can thrive by incorporating them in their profiles.