‘People need to fill their stomachs before touching computers’ – poverty activist at a development forum.
ICT is not a basic human need like food, water or shelter. For the people struggling to survive through acute poverty, ICT is not a solution. Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) is infested with myriad of poverty issues. How can one expect to generate money from BoP?
Most of the telecentres are, by design located in such poverty ridden rural outskirts. Where people struggle to survive, no basic infrastructure facilities, people are not educated, leave alone skills even basic literacy rates are at rock-bottom. This leads to the question, how feasible to dream telecentre sustainability, if they are not in a marketable environment.
Computer training, getting Photo Copy, developing a CV, or to taking a phone call, all such common services offered at a telecentre have a price tag. Can the community around the telecentres pay this price? Would the people be ready to pay? Can their already debt-burdened pockets afford to pay these additional prices? While these questions raised by many telecentre activists in developing countries, there are few who found answers too.
According to a research carried out by Microsoft UP, in 2004 – 2006 in 7 states in India, covering 300 telecentres (belong to n-Logue and Drishtee) 70 – 88 % telecentres reported profits. Over 10% of the users of n-Logue and Drishtee kiosks come from poor families earning less than 2000Rs (Ind). They recorded about 2000Rs/ month profit. Most of the revenue generated from Computer education services, while digital photography, photocopy services, email and games also added some income.
Another research indicates how rural village communities had mobilized village community savings to buy computers to install at their Village Information Centres (VIC) in Sri Lanka. The VICs are simple village information libraries, without computers. Inspired by the telecentres in the townships, villagers had taken the extra initiative to add computers to their VICs upgrading them to telecentres. Sarvodaya-Fusion reports about 34 such village initiatives out of 172 VICs established over years. (They saved money from the community savings programs, utilized micro-finance models).
According to Lirneasia research, 41% of the BoP in Sri Lanka, owns their own phones and 21% of them are mobile phones. Another 31% is planning to buy a phone. But 28% is not planning to buy, mostly because they cannot afford to buy. This can be a primary market for telecentres in Sri Lanka, according to Prof Rohan Samarajiva of Lireneasia.
All these cases provide evidence that the Bottom of Pyramid still have a potential. And that is yet to be tapped!