Can a data-driven tool help transform rural India? Shell and Tata think so

The "Stages of Development (SoD) Framework" tool will aid start-ups, philanthropists and investors working in rural India.

Published: 11th December 2020 06:01 PM  |   Last Updated: 11th December 2020 06:06 PM   |  A+A-

Agriculture, farming

Image for representational purpose only. (Photo |A Raja Chidambaram, EPS)

Online Desk

The Indian economy is struggling. Even as it's trying to limp its way back to normalcy, the country has officially slipped into recession and the GDP is expected to contract by 8 per cent in the current financial year.

With urban pockets grappling with joblessness and a fall in demand, the rural sector -- home to 66 per cent of the country's population -- has been seen by many experts as holding the key to our revival.

In a bid to encourage entrepreneurship among rural people, the Shell and Tata Trusts have together launched the "Stages of Development (SoD) Framework", a data-driven tool that will aid start-ups, philanthropists and investors working in rural India.

The framework has been developed by Shell and Tata Trusts under the India2022 coalition, a group of global and Indian businesses, pledged to create a new model of growth in India by 2022.

"The rural condition could be improved by providing an ecosystem for them to strengthen their livelihoods along with the better physical infrastructure to meet the needs of a rural consumer. The Stages of Development (SOD) Framework is a data-driven tool, which allows matching of needs of communities with appropriate interventions, based on a cross-sector approach, from all required stakeholders," said Ganesh Neelam, Head, Central Zone and Energy Portfolio, Tata Trusts.

Rural India, predominantly agrarian, contributes about 47 per cent of the GDP. The Finance Ministry has pumped in an additional Rs 10,000 crore to "boost rural employment and accelerate growth" here.

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"Covid-19 and the lockdown coincided with the harvesting season, which impacted the harvest of crops. The influx of people from the cities to villages, with limited local employment opportunities, resulted in families adopting safer farming options which were low risk and low-value, thereby missing out on high-value crops. More than 60% of the rural population that stay in rural areas depends on local opportunities for their livelihood. There have also been positive learnings mainly linked to agriculture-based livelihoods in the rural areas, wherein the community has been engaging with markets for the marketing of their produce along with being well prepared for the Kharif season with quality inputs and service," Neelam said.

Rural Indian markets have the potential to help India achieve the five trillion-dollar economy dream, as envisioned by the Government of India, he went on to claim.

"This can be achieved by bringing our farmers and rural communities irreversibly out of poverty, and helping them in sustainably improving their quality of life through a cross-sector approach, focusing on advancing indicators in livelihoods, health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene practices. The key to prevent migration is towards improving and strengthening the livelihood opportunities within the villages along with empowering the community and bringing in the key stakeholders to work with the communities," Neelam added.

Access to reliable and affordable energy is critical to help unlock development across multiple sectors in rural India, stressed Shell's Anindya Chowdhury.

"Access to finance, both for consumers and enterprises, can increase the uptake of several interventions across different sectors. As per the SoD Framework, a village is classified, based on its performance against the socio-economic development indicators, into one of the four categories: Underserved, Nascent, Advancing and Rurban. Based on the stage in which the target village/area lies, the framework puts forth solutions and delivery models best suited to the target area, as well as synergies amongst the eight core sectors. These include agriculture and livelihoods; water and sanitation; healthcare and nutrition; energy; finance; education and skill development; communication and digital inclusion; people and goods movement," he added.

Creating these opportunities, however, needs to be done by factoring in climate change. The rural sector has resources aplenty which raise concerns of abuse and an increase in carbon footprint. The country has challenged itself to have around 60 per cent of its energy from clean sources by 2030. 

"Shifting investment to decentralized energy solutions would offer more economic, sustainable, and safer energy provision. Decentralized energy is not a standalone solution, but an integral part of the supply solution," Chowdhury added.

Osvald Bjelland, founder and CEO of Xynteo, echoed his views.

"We have seen unprecedented growth for the past few decades, where leaders have focused on short-term gains at the expense of long-term prosperity. This has had severe global consequences, financially, socially and environmentally. India, as I see it, is one of the world's most attractive markets. Driven by technology and innovation, it has incredible talent that is both efficient and creative and is ready for a new kind of growth. Over the past few years, social impact start-ups have been playing a crucial role in its development at a grass-root level," Bjelland observed.

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