Offering services to Rural India is expensive. That is because, peasants live in sparse locations and so, distribution costs are very high. That is why, one needs to innovate here. One of such innovation is to offer the service, mobile.

I used to wonder about the business model on providing Internet service on cycle rickshaw to Rural population in India. Ultimately it failed in terms of scalability. And nowadays I hear about many such services offered on move. In all of those services, Direct-to-consumer is the mantra. These are:

  1. Court: Indian government launched its first mobile court – an air-conditioned bus that travels to far-flung villages in order to bring justice to villagers doors. A judge follows the bus in an air-conditioned sport-utility vehicle.
  2. Hospital: “Smile on Wheels” is the mobile hospital project of ‘Smile Foundation’. Under this program, five vans equipped with X-ray machine, ECG machine, basic pathological services for blood and urine test, ante-natal and post-natal services and an out-patient department for common ailments travel on the roads of states (UT, CG, MH, OR, UP) covering 750000 population.
  3. Hospital on Train: Impact India foundation in support with Indian Railways has launched a train equipped with three operation tables, modern surgical equipment and accessories, kitchen, restrooms, sterilisation equipment, recovery room for the patients, audiometric/ophthalmic room and X-Ray room, including training facilities for up to 50 paramedics. Surgeries are conducted during its four-six week stay at a particular location. Each five-week stop costs around Rs.2 million (Rs 20 lakhs).
  4. Science Train: The Science Express – a mobile science exhibition on a train that showcases current and futuristic research in various areas, including information technology, biotechnology, health technology and systems, technology of materials and space and is aimed at inspiring young people to pursue scientific research. Reception of this service was amazing.
  5. Automobile Spare parts: Satyam has created a mobile auto showroom cum service center, which can be taken door-to-door in a Bus, called Edow. This bus will be equipped with everything an auto dealer needs, a display area, a workshop, a sales office and systems, hi-tech display systems and high speed connectivity. It expects demand of 40,000 for such buses in India.
  6. PCO (manned pay-phone service): Idea Cellular Ltd has launched an unique Shared Access (Voice & Data) PCO for Rural India. Rural entrepreneurs can sell airtime on their mobile phones to people in the community wishing to make a call or send a text message. This innovative approach allows entrepreneur to set up a payphone business for just the cost of a handset. Specially devised software with a printer will be developed to enable the owner of the mobile handset to provide a bill if required to the customer making the call. Call charges are also displayed on the handset to ensure transparency in the transaction. Additionally, Idea will offer shared Internet access in these rural communities to provide an even broader range of data services.
  7. Female on move to sell FMCG products: Shakthi is, a very innovative program of Uniliver, for distribution of FMCG goods to Rural population. Uniliver trains rural women in order to improve their selling skills and turns them as Uniliver’s saleswomen.
  8. Micro-business school: Mann Deshi Udyogini is, a Micro-business school on a mini bus, to solve the skill shortage among entrepreneurial rural women. Courses do not have any pre-qualification criteria and the curriculum is entirely driven by the needs of rural women. Courses range between one week and three months in duration and course fees start from as little as Rs. 25 (less than a dollar). Courses focus on technical skills, marketing skills, managing finances and confidence-building. Courses to develop technical skills, such as goat rearing, screen printing, selling cell phone recharge coupons, bag-making etc are being offered currently. Certificates and graduation diplomas are issued on completion of these courses which can be used to obtain micro credit.:
  9. Retail stores: 3A Bazaar is India’s first mobile retail company running on vans. These vans carry goods worth 2-2.5 lakhs of rupees everyday from a storehouse to about 700 villages. However, most of the villages are visited weekly or fortnightly or monthly. This fits with the irregularity of incomes of villagers and the mobility eliminates the drawbacks of a static rural retail shop. The daily average sales are in the range of 8-10 thousand rupees.
  10. Tools on a Truck: ‘Bosch Vaahan’ is a mini-bus which carries sophisticated Power Tools to rural areas. A wide range of woodworking, construction and metalworking tools catering to the needs of rural carpenters, metalworking artisans, plumbers etc are carried by the ‘vaahan’, which visits different villages. Product demonstrations and information sessions are conducted by the ‘vaahan’ officials in rural areas. Rural artisans can try out these tools for their work. The tools are available for purchase to rural artisans at subsidized prices. Bosch has tied up with several banks, including Canara Bank and Andhra Bank, to offer attractive loan schemes for the rural folk to buy these tools.

There could be many more such services.After listing all these services here, two points came to my mind.

  1. Which of the above projects are scalable & sustainable?
  2. Are there any other potential business opportunities to launch them as mobile. For example, I believe, cellphone spare parts on wheels can be a good candidate for the future.