There are three segments Saral Services seeks to serve as these work towards improving the life of rural people.
The first segment considered is of Non Government Organizations.
There are 100,000 Not for Profit organizations in India with paid staff size greater than ten. Approximately 25,000, are engaged in community and social work. Of these, more than 3000 NGOs have participated in Bank linkage program of NABARD. There is no statistics available for the number of NGOs who are applying the power of ICT to enhance their efficiency. It appears that not many NGOs are leveraging the power of ICT. And even those who are applying the ICT applications do not, most of the time, used beyond accounting software or for communication.
The second segment considered is Self Help Groups (SHG).
In India, there are 3.37 million SHGs promoted by more than 3000 NGOs and Government (end of March 2006 as per NABARD statistics). These SHGs access 40.95 million poor households. SHG has caught the imagination of the nation. More than 2000 crores have been mobilized from Banks to SHGs. More than 100 crore has been pumped through Small Industry Development Bank of India (SIDBI) alone into SHGs. Generally, the repayment percentage of these Bank loans has been above 95%. These SHGs are considered the best channel to reach the poor and the very poor.
However, performance of all SHGs is not always satisfactory; only 16% of the 291 groups surveyed in AP were considered good, 35% average and 49% poor. Only 42% of the groups had regular meetings and 39% did not have meetings at all. Only 43% of groups had books maintained by their members and 34% groups had accounts maintained by outsiders and 23% did not maintain books at all. Only 11% of the groups had good quality book keeping while 46% of the groups had poor book keeping. Since these SHGs are the only viable channel to reach the poorest, they require strengthening to survive.
The third important segment is the Primary Agriculture Cooperative Societies (PACS).
There are about 100,000 cooperatives in India. Members of these cooperatives are farmers and milk producers. Quality of these PACS has gone down due to lack of transparency and mismanagement. However, in a few states, such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan, PACS are still a great force. These institutions are essentially the delivery units of services in the area of finance and livelihood. If these delivery points are made more effective and efficient, the rural poor will benefit.
Digital awareness of these segments NGOs, SHGs and Cooperatives is in the initial stage. Voluntary Association Network of India (VANI) realized the issue and focused on the application of IT in Voluntary sector in their national convention in Bangalore in 2003. If we do not focus on applications, leveraging the power of ICT for the above segment of organization, then the digital divide will widen and as a result efficiency barrier will continue.
Need for leveraging the power of ICT is felt in the above segments but this has not converted into demand. This is due to many reasons such as low awareness of the power of ICT, dependence on external funding and ideological reservations. They are not aware of the benefits of ICT and tend to see ICT applications as high technology solution as opposed to human solutions and thereby there is resistance to introduction of ICT. The pressure on using funds for needs other than ICT is higher. Poor power supply and poor connectivity in the rural areas also affect promotion of ICT.
Pressure from the supply side of ICT is also poor. In the current scenario, mainstream IT Companies, suppliers of IT solutions are busy servicing the mainstream companies and Government Departments. They have neither the time nor feel the need to pay attention to this poorly served sector. Due to these reasons the digital divide continues to grow.
There is a need to demonstrate the usefulness of ICT applications among these segments. What is required is an Agency to address the issue of digital divide by increasing the awareness of ICT and to work on removing ideological reservations among the above three segments by demonstrating the benefits of ICT applications. Such Agency can play a role in Capacity building, Managing the changes in Organizations by introducing ICT and can develop the model of suitable outsourcing business process in rural context.
The scope for capacity building is very wide. One important component is automating the frequent, routine but complex systems and offering simple systems to operate. Currently, ICT is powerful enough to improve the work culture and bring in simplicity and transparency in operations. It can reduce the cost of transaction. It can bring in flexibility, transparency and speed. Through ICT we can improve the delivery services in the area of finance, livelihood, education and health. We can also demonstrate the concept of affordable model of outsourcing of business process of institutions willing to operate for disadvantaged people and area.
Study conducted by PRIA and John Hopkins University, USA in December 2002, on Not for profit organization in India
NABARD report 2003 on Bank Linkage program for SHG. NABARD is national level apex Bank which re-finances Banks for lending to agriculture and rural development sector.
APMAS, Hyderabad study 2002 of SHGs in four districts (of Andhra Pradesh,namely), Adilabad, Cuddapa, Vizag and Prakasam.