In 2011 for the first time since 1921, urban India added more population numbers than rural India did. Leaving aside the natural increase and emergence of census towns, it is a fact that most educated rural youth migrate to cities in search of job opportunities since their villages offer little or none.
With fragmented families and increasing corporatisation of agriculture, farming as a means of income for the lower income rural population is becoming less appealing.
RuralShores, a rural BPO, hopes to reverse this trend by bringing jobs to people rather than bringing people to jobs. Kunal Parikh, VP, from the organization talks to The Alternative and tells more about their journey.
Tell us how it all started. What problem were you looking to solve?
To prevent migration, we thought that we must provide non-agricultural income and employment opportunities in rural areas to sustain the economy. When we can successfully break the stigma of offshoring among the Western Industry, there is no reason why we can’t stretch the same concept to our own rural areas and bring similar cost benefits. Hence ‘RuralShores.’
We have set up a national network of small BPO centers (each with about 200 to 250 seats) in remote rural areas owned and managed by local entrepreneurs, with the corporate office of RuralShores providing the technology, marketing, operational and management support needed by them. I got together with six of my friends/ co-promoters who had a similar passion and this is how the RuralShores journey started.
How have local livelihoods grown since you started?
We have grown from scratch to providing employment to 2000 rural youth in 17 centres in 11 States currently. And through this, we have reached out to over 10,000 rural families through income increase. Along with this, we have been able to create jobs for several other people like local labourers, carpenters etc. when setting up the centre infrastructure.
We have created a training academy which trains the youth on skills such as basic English, computer and typing skills. We also provide process services to several Government departments. It has been empanelled by most top BPO companies after a detailed due diligence.
We have over 30 marquee clients, with capabilities ranging from data entry, transaction processing to KPO(Knowledge Process Outsourcing) work, across domains such as insurance, retail, banking, telecom etc.
How does the business model work?
We focus on building skill sets and providing employment to the deserving rural youth and building character while fostering the rural economy, and in the process make it a serious business case for corporations.
The RuralShores business model allows customers to benefit from the high levels of service, reliability and confidentiality of data at the rural BPO centers while saving 40 – 50% of the costs of outsourcing to an urban BPO center.
We serve a wide range of clients– small, medium and large enterprises that are based in India or overseas and can either be from the private or public sector.
What have been some of the toughest challenges in operating on the ground?
Most challenging one was infrastructure i.e Electricity & Telecommunication links. Even though the villages were connected to the electricity grid, power supplies were erratic. Therefore, an electricity generator was always kept on standby, thereby causing an increase in costs.
For telecommunications, we tied up with two service providers, one acting as a backup for the other, again increasing our costs. Many a time they had to remain connected to their clients’ back-end servers and such redundancy was essential to maintain high availability.
Given the lack of opportunities in rural India, recruitment was seldom a challenge. However, training new recruits took longer because most of them were not familiar either with English as a medium of communication or with computers. They also had to be trained on softer aspects that one took for granted in case of employees who grew up in an urban environment, such as the expected standards of grooming and behaviour in a professional environment.
Many of them had to be taught about the importance of planning their leaves of absence. In the initial days, sometimes the entire group of employees would fail to turn up for work without informing because there was a marriage in their village! Likewise, there would be lot of absenteeism during harvesting season because many of their employees would need to help their families in the fields. Based on such experiences, RuralShores created a standard manual, which was henceforth used for foundation training during the induction period.
The Alternative is an online media publication focused on sustainable living and social impact.