The B2R staff in Simayal work above an old flour mill in a maze of rooms that had been intended as cramped housing for poor families. In the narrow, long central office, staffers sitting at small computer desks lining the walls work on a project for a legal publisher turning scans of court cases into searchable databases. In another room, women take calls on behalf of a family planning group. In another, staffers collect sales data for cellphone companies. The kitchen has been turned into the server room.
Outside, a steady procession of women looking aged beyond their years and dressed in threadbare clothes walk by carrying on their heads immense stacks of firewood and animal fodder they collected during hours of foraging in the forest. Their husbands and fathers tend to the apple and pear orchards.
B2R and a handful of similar firms are trying to offer an alternative road map for Indian economic growth.
With nearly 70 percent of the population – 833 million people – living in rural areas and its cities already overburdened, there is a limit to how quickly the nation can urbanize.
In the meantime, rural youth need jobs and poor infrastructure makes it difficult for manufacturers to deliver them. But with an Internet connection, outsourcing companies can work anywhere.
“You get work over the Internet, you work it over the Internet, you send it back over the Internet,” said Dhiraj Dolwani, CEO of B2R. “It’s a window to the world.”
Less than 5 percent of rural Indians have ever used the Internet and many have never even heard of it, according to a recent study by the IMRB market research firm. Half the staff in B2R’s office here said they had never seen a computer before this job.
The government is trying to change that, spending $6.5 billion to lay fiber optic cable to each of the country’s 250,000 towns. India’s innovation czar, Sam Pitroda, says it will open up a flood of rural development. It can bring telemedicine to villages without doctors, better teaching tools to remote schools and jobs in banking, insurance and other information fields to towns currently dependent on agriculture.
The rural outsourcers are the pioneers. With just over 5,000 jobs, they make up a tiny fraction of India’s $16.9 billion outsourcing industry, but trade group Nasscom estimates they will account for 84,000 jobs in five years.
Rural Shores, one of the bigger companies, employs 1,300 employees in 12 centers across eight states. By 2020, CEO Murali Vullaganti dreams of employing 200 people in each of the nation’s 500 rural districts.<< previous 1 2 3 4 5 next >>
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