View of an Indian village with color roof tops

Why One Indian Entrepreneur Is Investing In Smart Villages

October 2016

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Varun Chandran grew up in a village in rural India. Till his late teens, he didn’t know what the Internet was. Now, he’s running a startup, Corporate360, that works with IT clients around the world. The global community, he says, should invest in smart villages as much as they are in smart cities.

Chandran spent his childhood in Kerala, playing football, which garnered him a scholarship to play professionally. He traveled around India, competing in regional games. In Delhi, he struck up a friendship with another footballer. When time came to go their separate ways, he gave Chandran a slip of paper: it had his email address scribbled on it. Chandran didn’t know what an email address was, or the Internet. “I kept asking, do you have a phone number and this guy said, no, email is the best way to keep in touch.”

He returned home to Kerala and went immediately to a cyber cafe to find out.

While football was fun, Chandran wanted a more professional career. He left his farming village in Kerala for Bangalore, hoping to get a job in one of the many call centers. After 40 interviews, he was repeatedly rejected. “I couldn’t speak English very well and that was a big setback,” he says.

For his next interview, he prepared, rehearsing a response in English. It worked. He was able to get a job with Dell. But he couldn’t keep it. With poor English skills, he still struggled to perform. In three months, he was fired.

With his earnings, Chandran enrolled in an English training program. In 9 months, he learned English. After being fired from his first three jobs, he finally landed a fourth gig and was able to keep it. As a consultant for SAP, Oracle and NTT Data, he traveled to the US and spent six years working in Arizona and San Francisco.

Two years ago, after getting a grasp of the IT field, he launch his own venture, Corporate360, which is focused on helping IT companies streamline their sales and marketing efforts with the company’s software. To hire talent, he went back to Kerala.

“Our first question was connectivity. Having an office in a village is fine. But you have to have connectivity,” Chandran says.

Luckily, he was able to secure an Internet connection, and bought a property to house the offices. His first hires were a small lot: just 5 locals.

Through a new crwodsourcing program, he’s able to employ women, and physically disabled individuals who can help with computing work. Chandran wants to use his company as a way to illustrate a new model: women and men of rural India could perform technology-related tasks such as data formatting, data sorting, email campaigns, and internet data research — although they live in primarily agrarian societies.

In the last two years, he’s created over 100 jobs in rural Kerala. IN 2014, he launched the company with his own savings. That year, he had $300,000 in revenue. In 2015, it tripled to $900,000. That first office in rural Kerala now has 35 full time workers.

“We have done this by focusing on the Girl effect. We have specifically sought to empower young women with no formal experience,” Chandran says.

Distributing over $200,000 in wages to date, Chandran hopes that the younger generation will consider staying in rural Kerala and taking on such “non-traditional” fields as IT. The villages, he says, are just as capable as big cities to produce talent: “Because the bulk of Indians live in villages, governments are neglecting a critical opportunity to both improve economic potential and basic services by creating smart villages.”

Rather, he argues that the bulk of social impact investing is fixated on the bottom of the pyramid. While that may be a noble venture, the vast majority of the middle class, particularly the lower middle class, is not benefitting from these investments. “Investing in middle class would result in meaningful job creation fashion, which essentially accelerates economic growth,” he says.

Bottom line: “I believe in creating jobs for people who need them, where they need them,” Chandran says. “By going back to these small, often forgotten communities, we are able to offer them housing, scholarships and health assistance so they have a chance to grow without being forgotten or left behind.”

 

This article was written by Esha Chhabra from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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