India Interior

Taking the internet to the last mile

Preeti Mehra | Updated on December 14, 2018 Published on December 14, 2018

Deepika

Rohini

A rural initiative to create net savvy young women entrepreneurs has taken root

Deepika Singh’s confident voice over the phone displays a maturity beyond her 23 years of age. From Kharikaphool village in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki district, she is proud to be a computer teacher in a private coaching centre.

A graduate, for the last two years she has been instructing other women in the use of the internet. On the side, she is also imparting to her students, and others in the village, the virtue of using clean energy and is supplying them with clean cook stoves and solar lights, along with hygiene products for women.

“I am happy to be a role model to young girls in my village. It has given me a new identity and confidence. I have managed to save from my earnings to purchase a washing machine for my mother,” she says, proudly.

From when she started working with social enterprise Dharma Life in 2016, she has earned almost ₹17,000 and trained over 1,300 women on how to negotiate the internet.

She says that her own example has helped in other parents allowing their daughters to explore unusual options, especially those that hone their entrepreneurial skills. In fact, that is the focus of Dharma Life as well. Its aim is to use the entrepreneurial model in rural India to focus on crucial issues such as gender equality, poverty alleviation, water and sanitation, reducing indoor and outdoor pollution and building sustainable communities. The social enterprise is also an implementation partner for the Internet Saathi Project (ISP), a joint initiative of Google and Tata Trusts that is trying to introduce the internet to rural communities, especially women.

Gaurav Mehta, CEO of Dharma Life, explains how the initiative, active in the States of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa, has several components. The first is a ‘Train the Trainer’ programme that chooses women with potential leadership skills and trains them to impart internet skills in the community.

Finance skills

One of the modules provides financial literacy skills so that the way forward to entrepreneurship can become seamless. Training is also given on the use of the tablet and smartphone, so that the saathis can easily access information on government schemes, news websites and help women learn through online educational content. The saathis are each allotted a cluster of four villages along with her own and expected to train around 700 women.

‘A true example’

Rohini Sandeep Shirke, from village Adulpeth in Maharashtra’s Satara district, calls herself “a true example” of the initiative.

The 28-year-old B Com graduate says she had never touched a smartphone until the Internet Saathi training. But since then, her small business of bee-keeping has grown exponentially as she started using her email and WhatsApp to promote her honey and learned best practices from the internet.

Today, she combines this with being a Dharma Life entrepreneur and has also started selling induction cooktops, water purifiers and solar lights.

“I am happy to be a medium of change for the better, of the village,” she says. Mehta must feel the same about his social enterprise.

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Published on December 14, 2018
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