“Give a man a fish; you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, and he will be able to feed himself for the rest of his life.”
An old Chinese cliché and like all clichés it speaks the tales of wisdom. More than two decades have passed since India has embarked on major economic reforms- and although the number of poor in rural areas have declined, is it the complete picture? Have we really gone far enough? The number of poor has declined and gone where? Well, to the cities, giving birth to a new category of poor- the urban poor.
This category of urban poor is that fisherman from the above fable who has been provided with a simple fishing rod and a canoe so that he does not go hungry. But that was in the first phase of the economic reforms and the industrial revolution. For him to rise above poverty, have a meaningful, economically empowered standard of living he needs employment at reasonable wages. A fishing rod has fed him so far, but now he needs a job in a commercial fishing company. This job can empower his children to move up the development ladder and go on to become an engineer designing motorized fishing rods.
As we address the need for the new phase of economic reforms, we need to see beyond the industrial revolution and consider a technology or digital revolution. The fisherman and millions like him in India need a digital revolution to rise and become a part of India’s technology growth story. A primary focus of this phase should be on sustainability and empowerment for the rural population.
There are essentially two ways that a person can be a part of economic value creation – either by being an employee or being self-employed. Becoming an employee is dependent on many factors like skills, vocational training, higher education and urban opportunities. But with urban geography bursting into seams and overstretched for resources and opportunities, it will not be able to fulfil the promise of urban migration.
The other way of becoming a part of the economic value creation is being self-employed. The hopeful and willing rural population, buoyant with entrepreneurial spirit needs innovative, sustainable and scalable ways of creating employment for themselves.
The platform approach
The digitally lagging and financially starved rural hinterlands of India need a technology platform which brings together benefits of technology, mobile phone, and capital.
One such technology platform empowering the most commonly found rural businesses; the unorganised retail store is the pay1. The retail-tech platform converges the advantages of technology, digital payments, and micro-credits.
The platform empowers the unorganised offline retailer with technology in an app or web-based portal. The retailer can access information about the new products and cross-sell products and services. The technology also gives him access to many services like digital payments, recharge remittances, etc. The Pay1 account can be used to provide e-commerce facility to many rural customers who are not conversant with digital payments.
The Pay1 platform connects the retailer to banks and products and services companies looking for locations for mini-ATM, a brand promotion hoarding, surveys and kiosk or display space. By undertaking these activities, the retailer increases his revenue streams (rental, promotion fees etc.), increases footfall and increases sales by cross-selling.
The tech platform provides the retailer with technology to manage inventory, store customer data, transaction history, etc. This data can be sold to banks and non-banking financial services companies for loan and credit card lead generation.
The Pay1 platform can help the retailer increase his business by connecting them to partner with logistics companies. The retailer can offer some storage space to logistics companies for a fee and become their decentralised warehouse or courier drop-off and delivery centre.
There are a plethora of possibilities how an innovative and agile retail tech platform can bring business into rural locations: by merely upgrading their current business model.
Business opportunities available on a mobile interface can empower rural India to become self-reliant and grow their business.
Thus empowering the small unorganised business with technology can help them move up the economic ladder rather than perish in disguised employment or seek refuge in cities and become urban-unemployed- poor.