BoP Connect - using data and tech tools to solve problems for the rural BoP
Data is of utmost importance to any enterprise. Numbers are indubitably a major factor in the strategy and success of businesses – be it the presumed, projected, achieved metrics or the data which warn enterprises at right time that something is going wrong.
Many social entrepreneurs start up in the first place because they come across some shocking statistics about social issues which they just can’t ignore. But the irony is that many a times their efforts to change these numbers end in vain because of lack of first hand accurate data and statistics about the problems they are trying to solve.
Suvankar Mishra and Raj Singh are trying to strike this problem of unavailability of relevant data about rural BoP communities with BoP Connect. Their objective is to bridge the rural-urban divide by developing simple technology solutions and hence creating a marketplace for actual exchange of products and services, managing the supply chain, and efficiently tracking public projects and Government schemes.
Their tools run on a mobile device and are facilitated through micro-entrepreneurs at the BoP. They work together with NGOs to train local field agents at the village level, supplying them with internet-enabled devices to collect data. Once analysed, BoP Connect works with field agents to establish formal, sustainable markets that specifically cater to the needs of the poor.Using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a tool, BoP Connect architects, designs and manages a data intelligence platform, for the rural BoP markets. By capturing and analyzing first hand data from the BoP communities about their various problems, BoP Connect creates solutions that would be beneficial in creating sustained income growth and livelihood development for the affected communities. Their efforts are concentrated to improve the livelihoods of poor and unreached rural population by partnering with relevant organizations to address their basic needs.
After graduating in 2010, Suvankar soon realized that he could not settle in a corporate job because he could not visualize the impact of his work or for that matter the organization’s work on the lives of people. He did not understand much of the social enterprise space and how these businesses worked while pursuing his engineering but he ended up working in the social sector.
He started working with BASIX and helped in the setting up a Branchless Banking Network (Sub-K) in rural regions of India. After 2 years stint with BASIX, he incubated BoP Connect in 2012 with Raj, and started playing an active role in eKutir, a social business based out of Odisha. BoP Connect has developed Farmer Portfolio Management Tool (FPMT), mIVRS Learning Tool, TIME tool (Track Impact, Measure Efficiency) and Sani Tool for analyzing data for agriculture and sanitation needs of the rural poor.
Their latest release, Sani Tool app aims to address the essential sanitation and hygiene needs of the rural poor. According to the World Toilet Organisation (WTO), 40% of the world’s population or approx 2.5 billion people, doesn’t have access to a toilet. According to Gates Foundation, improper disposal of human waste and poor hygiene is the world’s biggest source of infection as contaminated water causes over 80% of all disease in the developing world. In India, 90% of surface water is contaminated with faeces and in rural areas, with around 880 million people defacating openly and lacking access to safe and affordable sanitation (WTO data).
Sani Tool collects data to identify barriers to safe sanitation and adoption of a toilet in rural households, monitoring issues relating to infrastructure and finance as well as psychographic barriers such as cultural norms and lack of information. It provides an objective analysis of current hygiene practices to local NGOs, suppliers and governments and helps to design and implement low cost solutions unique to each household. It also tracks delivery of services, t
oilet installation and usage as well as creates a space to share hygiene practices via photos and videos within communities.In conjunction with social business eKutir and the World Toilet Organisation, Sani Tool is currently in operation in four states across India reaching a catchment of 400,000 households. The whole effort is a fusion of eKutir’s ‘Last Mile Entrepreneur’ social business model with WTO’s Sani-Shop hubs and BoP Connect’s Sani Tool to develop the sanitation industry.
Micro entrepreneurs act as the local field agents and they have set up franchised hubs as a base to educate villagers about the benefits of sanitation, encourage toilet adoption and to sell hygiene products. Each micro-entrepreneur is equipped with a connected device to run the mobile-based Sani Tool app. eKutir provides these devices to the micro entrepreneurs and helps in training them to use Sani Tool effectively. They have also partnered with Milaap to crowdfund some of the upfront cash for getting the device for agents or micro entrepreneurs who earn for number of toilets installed. The estimated cost at which a toilet will be provided is $2 per year per household.
Suvankar shared that sanitation problem was always been considered a financial aspect but there are many more cultural and demographical reasons behind the low adoption of toilets. The rural setting and cultural norms hinder the adoption of toilets for many families. People from different castes are not ready to share the same water supply, there exists a lack of labor to construct toilets, government subsidiaries are available but one needs to construct a toilet first and show the proof to avail it and rural poor don’t have the liquid cash available for it and many more reasons lead to poor sanitation conditions in BoP communities.
Suvankar believes that finding out these reasons from the first hand data from the rural BoP communities is the first step towards solving the sanitation problem. With a team of 10 people, Suvankar and Raj are looking forward to create more and more connect using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for uncovering the root issues behind various problems of the BoP communities.