Google, Tata bring tech Saathis to help rural women

Our Bureau Kolkata | Updated on January 20, 2018

Ganesh Neelam, Head (Innovation), Tata Trusts, with Sapna Chadha, Country Marketing Head, Google India, at the launch of “Internet Saathi”, in Kolkata on Wednesday - Photo: ASHOKE CHAKRABARTY   -  BusinessLine

Aim to bridge digital divide in villages; hope to rope in telecom players

They are already popular among women as “ice cream-walis” in Purulia district of West Bengal. The affectionate epithet is for their cycle carrying a kit box. These are the “Internet saathis”, created by a joint initiative of Goole and Tata Trust.

The aim of this group of on-the-go women – recently trained in Internet use – equipped with smartphones and tablets, is to help other women, often illiterate, in a bid to bridge the digital divide in India’s interior.

Some of the ‘saathis’, who are being paid a stipend of ₹1,000 a month for six months, said they were making a difference in the lives of rural women.

A Purulia saathi found out the nearest hospital in Jharkhand’s Muri for delivery online. Another helped women in buying the right variety of tomato seeds. One saathi helped students find secondary board exam results.

Role of e-commerce

“We are linking the saathi services to the Centre’s digital initiatives and schemes. To achieve a sustainable individual saathi’s income of ₹1,000 a month, we are trying to rope in e-commerce players to the programme,” Ganesh Neelam, Head (Innovation), Tata Trust, told BusinessLine. Programme coordinators are talking to players such as Amazon, Paytm and Snapdeal for saathi-rendered services in rural areas.

“We are talking to telecom companies. Now, the programme is rolled-out in nine States – Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, UP, Assam and Tripura – but connectivity of all service providers are not at the same level,” he explained.

Sapna Chadha, head of Marketing, Google India, said that the programme aims to cover “half of the 6.5 lakh villages in the country over the next three years”. There are plans for sharing resources with other players as well.

Launched in July 2015, the programme has created over 2 lakh Internet Saathis and keeps adding 500 women into the network every week.

In West Bengal, the programme aims to cover over 400 villages to reach 1 lakh women.

Chadha said that Google’s initiative of setting up Wi-Fi facilities at railway stations has been progressing. “This year, we target to set up facilities at 100 stations. So far, we have done it in 16 stations,” she said.

Published on June 08, 2016

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