BPO opportunities for women in rural India
Unctad has released its Information Economy 2010 report which is titled ‘ICTs, Enterprises and Poverty Alleviation’. The report carries very useful analyses of the growth of mobile communications in Asia and South America, and examines how well – or not – information and communications technologies (ICT) are doing for the poorer sections of developing societies. Among the case studies is this one, one a rural business process outsourcing business in India’s Rajasthan state. This is what the report said:
Growing demand for business process outsourcing (BPO) services in India is generating new jobs outside metropolitan areas. In the north-western state of Rajasthan, rural women with modest education are earning new income from employment opportunities in the BPO industry. Since 2007, the company Source of Change is providing ICT-enabled services to clients in other parts of India as well as abroad.
Source for Change was founded on the idea that social values can be achieved through the private marketplace. It provides BPO services from its data entry centre in Bagar, a town of about 10,000, most of whom speak only Hindi or Rajasthani. Bagar has one of the lowest rates of female school attendance in India. This all-woman, rural enterprise addresses both business and social needs. For its clients, it competes in the marketplace with high-quality services, such as data entry, web research and local language call services. It has given some rural women the chance to gain technology skills and employment in a location with few similar options.
The company interviewed 27 women, of whom the 10 best candidates were hired. Following two months of training in English and computer skills, they began working as business process associates. For admissions into the training programme, candidates had to have completed 10th grade at school. They also needed to pass a test related to English writing, critical thinking, problem-solving and professionalism.
There are 25 computers and a server in the office. Internet services are provided by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), through which the company enjoys broadband access to the Internet at the speed of 1.2 Mbps. The company has reliable electricity for 20–22 hours per day. If the electricity is out during work hours, a generator ensures uninterrupted work flow. As of early 2010, the operation had grown to 25 employees in Bagar, and there are plans for further expansion. Source for Change aims to have about 500 employees at the end of 2012. But one day it hopes to offer various IT-based careers to some 5,000 women in rural India. The idea is to set up more small centres in other rural areas. The company intends to develop a ‘hub and spoke’ system comprising centres with 30–50 employees. With the planned configuration, different centres should be able to share resources. For instance, an IT specialist may serve multiple centres.
The success of Source for Change has led people in Bagar to accept the radical notion of rural women producing high-quality IT services. A challenge for the company has been a general lack of trust among urban-based corporate clients in high-quality BPO services being provided from a rural location. In spite of this scepticism, some clients have been found both inside India and abroad. As of 2010, the main clients of Source for Change included Pratham (India, a large NGO working to provide quality education to underprivileged children in India), the University of California Los Angeles (United States) and Piramal Water (India, a social enterprise that develops sustainable drinking water solutions for rural and urban populations in India).
For the women concerned, working for Source for Change has led to a stronger social standing in their families and communities. Initially, local people in Bagar were sceptical to the idea that women would be able to perform the required IT-enabled work. Those employed soon rose from the status of oddities to community leaders. Women are often also more likely than men to invest their incomes to the benefit of their families. The experience of Source for Change suggests that there is scope for more BPO based in rural areas. Policymakers should identify existing bottlenecks to be removed to foster further BPO dissemination in rural areas.