For any economy to thrive, it is critical to reach the unreached, under-banked, and unbanked population, who form the majority of our country. Access to services such as healthcare, education, and financial inclusion are most required for the bottom-of-the-pyramid. But in a state like Jammu and Kashmir, where physical connection is a major impediment, how can a sustainable ecosystem be created, which has the potential to induce sweeping changes in the lives of the rural populace? Taking a cue from e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Flipkart, harnessing the power of the Internet and technology could definitely prove viable.
So, when Kashif Khan set out with an ambition to make a difference in the lives of Kashmiris, he knew exactly what he needed to do. He says, “For socio-economic empowerment of the rural population to happen, there must be focus on improving their access to knowledge and services.”
In 2012, Kashif along with two other friends, Abid Rashid and Zahir Hassan started an online portal, MyRahat.com, which allows consumers to access a variety of services on a single platform in real time.
Kashif isn’t new to the game of entrepreneurship. Born and brought up in Kashmir, he completed his Bachelors in Engineering from Jammu University and plunged into entrepreneurship. In 2008, he started Kashmir’s first chip-designing company, which used to train chip designers in universities and companies. The business fared well for almost two years. However, due to political unrest, the company had to be shut. Kashif then joined Mercy Corps, an international development organisation and took on the role of developing Kashmir’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.
It was during his stint with Mercy Corps that he felt a strong urge to build something of his own, especially for the benefit of rural Kashmiris. He quit in about eight months and partnered with his friend, Muheet Mehraj and started Kashmir Box – an e-commerce portal for selling everything ‘Kashmir’. Simultaneously, he founded MyRahat.com as well. Taking Kashmir Box to a stage where it could be self-sustainable took Kashif and Muheet two years. In 2014, Kashif quit Kashmir Box to put all his energies into MyRahat.com.
Relying on his past experience, Kashif went to few select rural areas in Kashmir to understand the needs of the people. He says,
We did an extensive survey and over a 100 needs emerged, mostly basic such as gas connection, veterinary services, and educational consultancies for children. The team then sat and filtered through the list and came up with 15 services, which were the need of the hour.
MyRahat.com is a nifty model leveraging existing dysfunctional infrastructure. Jammu and Kashmir’s Ministry of IT set up Common Service Centres (CSCs) or ‘Khidmat centres’ under the aegis of the Government of India, which are essentially “access points for delivery of various electronic services to villages”. MyRahat.com partnered with these CSCs to start its franchisee model.
MyRahat.com offers services across eight sectors currently – education, healthcare, agriculture, news and media, utilities, products, e-governance, and travel. The portal, apart from delivering existing government services, also ties up with social enterprises offering beneficial low-cost products.
Our portal has three aims – to provide utility services to peoples’ doorsteps, to provide a platform for corporates, businesses and government to reach every nook and corner of J&K, and finally, and most importantly, to provide employment to Kashmiri youth.
Yes, MyRahat.com creates micro-entrepreneurs – one in each kiosk. A typical micro-entrepreneur would be a high-school graduate and computer-literate willing to make an investment of approximately Rs 75, 000, which takes less than a year to recover. So far, the company has enabled over 1, 500 such micro-entrepreneurs who each earn anywhere between Rs 20, 000 – 60, 000 per month.
As for the services, apart from making available what’s already in the market, MyRahat.com creates its own suite of services. Kashif explains, “After 12th grade, most students naturally opt for engineering or medicine. But rural people face the brunt of extreme competition given that they have no or limited access to high-quality study material, admission forms, previous year papers, and mock tests. So, we tied with field experts who helped us build the best content available in the market. We sell these through the MyRahat.com kiosks for a very nominal charge of Rs 300 – 500. So far, we have had over 1, 500 buyers.”
Talking about other services such as products, Kashif says,
There are numerous social enterprises that build amazing, quality products; but reach, which is a critical element, remains a problem. We have tied up with over 30 players such as d.Light’s solar lanterns and Greenway Grameen’s biomass cook stoves, which are helping our rural people upgrade their lifestyles qualitatively, in a cost-effective manner.
Another feature that stands out is in the e-governance area – MyRahat.com has digitised over 2, 000 applications and documents such as RTE form, mobile, gas, and electricity connections, which can simply be printed and given to the customer. Kashif says the advantage is,
For any service a man has to avail, there is a time and travel cost involved. With our facilities, we are eliminating all of that.
Currently, 70 per cent of MyRahat.com centres are in rural Kashmir. The kiosks are used by more than 1, 000 people daily and after four years of operations, it recently crossed the 1 million mark. In terms of revenue, the company has clocked Rs 100 million already.
Today, there are 1, 500 kiosks across Kashmir. And, Kashif’s vision is bold,
Our target is to create at least 6, 000 MyRahat.com centres across the state and take the model to neighboring Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. We are here to boost the rural economy and generate employment where it’s most needed – our villages.
A welcome game-changer from the Valley, MyRahat.com is creating village-level micro entrepreneurs who are further enabling change across important areas such as health, education, and agriculture successfully. Serial entrepreneurs like Kashif set a fine example of what experience can do!
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