Tata Trust & Google team up to launch ‘Internet Saathi’

06 Jul,2015

By Dyanne Coelho


Sandeep Menon, Country Marketing Director, Google, R Venkataramanan, Executive Trustee, Tata Trusts, Rajan Anandan, VP and Managing Director, Google South East Asia, Debjani Ghosh, Vice President SMG, Managing Director – South Asia, Intel & Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Trusts

There was a time when one had to wait at least seven years to get a phone. Ratan Tata, Chairman of Tata Trusts, certainly remembers that time, and also acknowledges how far we’ve come today with the use of technology. Tata brought this up at the launch of ‘Internet Saathi’, an initiative put together by Tata Trusts and Google, and aimed at empowering rural women and their communities to use the internet to enable development. In fact, the initiative aims to bridge the rather large gender divide as well, when it comes to the use of technology.


Studies show that only 12 per cent of internet users in rural India are women, according to Sandeep Menon, Country Marketing Director, Google.  said. He highlighted a study carried out in rural India to understand what it is that stops women from using the internet. The key findings were trouble knowing how to use it, the question of what’s in it for them, and lack of a point of access. “While women in the urban areas are making rapid progress using the internet, women in rural areas are getting left behind,” Rajan Anandan, VP and Managing Director, Google South East Asia pointed out.


With enough statistics in hand to understand the urgent need of women empowerment in the rural areas, vis-à-vis technology, the team has designed a cart, built on the back of a cycle – akin to India’s traditional distribution system which is used to carry everything, from ice-cream to industrial supplies. The cart is fitted with internet-enabled Android One devices, tables and portable chargers, keeping in mind power cuts in many villages. Women will be trained to use these devices, but Menon highlighted that that is the most important thing as the women are curious to know more. “We’ve realised that all we need to do is spark curiosity, and then the women automatically take an initiative to learn the rest themselves and to teach others in the village as well,” he added.


Debjani Ghosh, Vice President SMG, Managing Director – South Asia, Intel, quoted a UN report which said that across the world, about 25 per cent fewer women than men are using the internet, and the biggest reason for this is that women believe that it is not meant for them. Incidentally, Intel has been a long-term partner of Google India’s Helping Women Get Online (HWGO) initiative.


Internet Saathi is set to kick off from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Jharkhand, and will eventually be rolled out across the country. It plans to reach 4, 500-odd villages and five lakh women and rural communities over the next 18 months. The internet cart will be available in the village for a minimum of two days every week for over a period of four to six months. It is aimed at creating awareness and will provide adequate training for using the devices. Once the cart has completed the training in a cluster of three villages, it will be moved to the adjoining cluster to complete a similar cycle. The initiative has roped in local self-help group federations and NGO members to help with the training programme.


While many women in the rural areas still cannot read the language they speak, they use the internet to watch cooking videos or other such material that they find interesting, Ghosh explained, talking about previous initiatives undertaken in the rural areas.


Asha Devi and Vimla Devi belong to a village called Varkheda in Rajasthan, and were present at the event. Clearly excited about the initiative, they said: “We will be able to get information that earlier we had to go to the city to get.” Added Vimla: “Even after they leave, we teach the other women [how to navigate the internet] and we try to spread the word.”


“We have a commitment to educate [people] and create prosperity in the villages of India, and we will address it through education and expanding the knowledge base,” Ratan Tata said. “Philanthropy has changed in India over the years. Today, India is a different nation and people demand self-respect and want to be capable of enabling their own livelihood. There is a keen desire to be a part of the world that is today, not the world of yesterday. Digitisation is not only about opening up [a new] India to people, but it’s about connecting them to the rest of the world.” What better way than with the Worldwide Web.


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