Rohini Sandeep Shirke, 28, started a small bee-keeping business in 2014 in Maharashtra, and after initial hiccups, her business has started doing very well now — thanks to the internet.
Shirke, an ‘Internet Saathi’, gives credit to the cyber network for her businesses becoming profitable. After learning how to use the internet, she not only created an email and WhatsApp ID to promote her product, but now also accepts orders online.
“I am using the internet to learn the best practices for healthy bee-keeping and honey collection,” she says.
Like Shirke, there are many other ‘Internet Saathis’ who learnt about the importance of internet for their business and livelihood are now imparting knowledge to other women in their villages.
‘Internet Saathi’, an initiative taken by Google India in partnership with Tata Trusts, is working to improve digital literacy among rural women. At present, there are 12,000 ‘Internet Saathis’, with Google India and Tata Trusts announcing extension of the programme to support the Foundation For Rural Entrepreneurship Development (FREND) set up by Tata Trusts.Gender gap
“While looking at the internet usage statistics, we came across an alarming gap when it came to the male-female ratio. There was a severe gender gap. Only one in every 10 internet users in rural areas was a woman. It was then that we realised that something needs to be done,” Sapna Chadha, Marketing Head, SEA & India, Google, told BusinessLine .
As per a recent report by marketing firm Kantar IMRB and consultancy firm, ICube, there are 134 million active internet users in rural India, and the user population continues to be dominated by males. However, the male-female ratio of internet users in rural India has seen an increase in the past two years from one in 10 in 2015 to three in 10 in 2017, says the report.
“As some of the members in the household had smartphones, many ‘saathis’ knew what a smartphone was. But, they were told not to use these for fear of spoiling them,” said Raman Kalyanakrishnan, Head – Strategy, Tata Trusts.
He said: “Now, these ‘saathis’ claim that male members of their family ask them for help when they face any issue while using the internet. From being told to not use the phone to being consulted now, is an achievement for many of them”.
Asiya Gavandi, 31, from Maharashtra, runs a grocery store with her husband and uses the online shopping feature to upgrade her store. With help from other women in the village, Asiya has now put up a stall that has a variety of items, including handmade wares, food and beauty products. Internet helps these women find recipes and videos to innovate their products.
“Women started getting respect in the village and our family members also liked it,” says Asiya.
She has trained 900 women to use the internet in her village so far.Criteria for the initiative
The criteria for selecting an ‘Internet Saathi’ is that the woman should have studied till Class X and should be able to recognise English alphabet.
The internship for these ‘saathis’ lasts for two months where they are taught on how to use the internet.Use of internet
During this time, they are provided a smartphone and a tablet, after which they are asked to reach out to other women in their village to teach them how to use the internet.
Rekhaben Gohil, who has helped around 700 women in her village in Gujarat to use the internet, recalled an incident when a woman in her village wanted to see the Somnath temple on her phone and was amazed at seeing it fully in such a small space, to which Rekhaben told her: “ Poori duniya hai ab iss chhoti se cheez main ” (the entire world can be seen in such a small thing). What’s more, Rekhaben’s daughter also convinced her farmer father to order a pesticide pump online, which was of great help.
As per IPSOS research conducted in five States, Gujarat has the highest percentage of women (35 per cent) who continue to use the internet after attending the programme.