Category Archives: Rural Entrepreneur

Reply to comment about Rural Indian Consumer

In response to my recent post on Rural Consumers, Joost Bonsen of MIT commented.

Thanks much for your survey of the rural consumer landscape in India. I’m curious how what you’re observing either reinforces or differs from the Hart-Prahalad BOP thesis and the cases they give, such as Hindustan Lever, etc. Plus how much of the consumer goods sector is dominated by MNCs or affiliates versus homegrowns? And finally, what’s the rural analog to Walmart or the old Sears Roebuck catalog or other innovations in the distribution systems?

I got to thinking about what he had asked and decided to write up a separate post instead of replying as a comment. So here goes. Continue reading

Paul Polak’s Twelve Steps to Practical Problem Solving

Paul Polak is a physiatrist by training but has spent the past 25 years working to alleviate poverty in the developing world. His non-profit, International Development Enterprises, has come up with innovative low cost technologies that have improved the local livelihood of people at the bottom of the pyramid. For example the simply designed bamboo treadle pump has sold over 1.7 million copies and generated over $1.4 billion in farmer revenue in Bangladesh.

Paul has encapsulated his learnings in a book Out of Poverty that describes a number of these technologies. More recently, Paul has posted an interesting video on You tube that summarizes his Twelve Steps to Practical Problem Solving.

Some of the observations are commonsense ones but it is remarkable how often people forget them in their eagerness to push technology.

Vigyan Ashram – A Hidden Rural Education Jewel

I had the opportunity to visit Vigyan Ashram in February. Vigyan Ashram is a residential rural education center founded 25 years ago by Dr. Shrinath S. Kalbag in a hamlet outside of Pune. I was fortunate to have gone to school with his son Ashok Kalbag, who took me on a tour of the place. Over the years, Vigyan Ashram has significantly changed the local economy, providing livelihood to many in the region while training scores of youth and making them self sufficient. More importantly, it has now been formalized as a regular course on Rural Technology and taught at 25 schools in the state of Maharashtra.  An article I wrote about the place appeared in Lokvani in March.  You can see more photos about the Ashram by clicking here.

Vigyan Ashram – A Hidden Rural Education Jewel, Raj Melville, Lokvani.com, 03/17/2008

Three hours from Mumbai and an hour off dusty side roads from the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, lies the tiny village of Pabal. Here, twenty five years ago Dr. Shrinath S. Kalbag ventured forth to setup Vigyan Ashram an experiment in teaching rural youth through a curriculum of non-formal education. Today, Vigyan Ashram stands as a shining example of an organization that is helping revitalize the rural Indian economy through appropriate training and education.

After completing a Ph. D from the University of Illinois, Dr. Kalbag returned to India and pursued a successful research career eventually heading Hindustan Lever’s Engineering Sciences Department. In 1982, hoping to apply his scientific training to help India’s rural population, Dr. Kalbag quit his job and began to look for a place where he felt he could make a significant impact. He chose Pabal as it was a drought prone village lying in the ‘rain shadow’ of the Western Ghats. He hoped by living and working with the villagers, he would be able to understand their needs and to help them improve their livelihood. When he first moved to the area in 1983, the village consisted of a dirt road and a few farm houses. He setup Vigyan Ashram on a barren hillock on some land donated by the Government of Maharashtra.

Continue reading

BAIF Development Research Foundation – Sustainable Development To Support Rural Families

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to spend a month in India and visited several NGOs while there. One of the innovative organizations is BAIF (Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation) that originally was founded in a village outside of Pune, and is now at a number of locations in India.

I visited their operations outside of Hubli in Northern Karnataka state and wrote an article about their work for Lokvani.com, the e-magazine for the Indian community of New England.I have reproduced the article below. You can see some of the pictures I took on the Photos Tab of this Blog.

BAIF Development Research Foundation – Sustainable Development To Support Rural Families, Raj Melville, Lokvani.com, 06/12/2008

The dry ground, baked hard and crumbling, stretches out all the way to the horizon as we rattle along in a Sumo 4-wheeler a half hour out of Hubli in Karnataka State. A few scrawny bushes, struggling against the wind and heat, dot the landscape. Our host, Dr. Bhat from BAIF, points out some of the geographical features as we pass through several villages, each one smaller than the previous one. Finally we pull over in front of a compound and hop off as Dr. Bhat proudly points out the cluster of buildings that are BAIF’s rural training center.

Continue reading