Move over Smart Cities, “Smart villages” are here with SmartGaon
SmartGaon is an app that connects a village’s population internally and with the developed world. It also serves as a knowledge and information centre, a market place, a helpline, and a holistic development tool.
At a Glance:
Founders: Yogesh Sahu and Rajnish Bajpai
Founded in: 2017
Where it is based: Mumbai
Sector: Mobile app
Problem it solves: Rural connectivity
“India is not Calcutta or Bombay. India lives in its seven hundred thousand villages,” said Mahatma Gandhi.
According to the 2011 Census, 68.84 percent of Indians (around 833.1 million people) live in 6,40,867 different villages. The size of these villages varies considerably, with 2,36,004 villages having a population of fewer than 500, while 3,976 villages have a population of over 10,000. It goes without saying, villages play a vital role in the Indian economy.
While rural India may bring to mind clichéd images of bullock carts, farmers and roadside stalls, there’s much more to a village than these.
Taudhakpur, a remote village in Raebareli, UP, is shattering all these stereotypes.
Once derided as a village with limited amenities, Taudhakpur has now been transformed. The village has a proper waste management system, streetlights, CCTV cameras, over 242 toilets, a WiFi zone, and 20 hours of uninterrupted power supply and connectivity.
All thanks to a unique mobile app - SmartGaon. Inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at San Jose SAP Centre, Mumbai-based entrepreneur Yogesh Sahu and his friend and software professional Rajnish Bajpai built SmartGaon.
The app not only connects an entire village population internally and with the developed world, but also serves as a knowledge and information centre, a market place, a helpline and a holistic development tool to make their village a ‘SmartGaon.’
Working around the challenges
While starting up, the founders faced two major challenges. The first was to educate the farmers about the initiative and convince them digitisation would help in progress. The second was to work in parallel with various government schemes for rural development.
“We overcame these by interacting with villagers and involving the local civic body in the initiative. We also thoroughly researched all the government policies,” says Yogesh.
With considerable experience in developing mobile apps and building startups and SMEs in Mumbai, Yogesh believes technology will help rural India transform and grow.
This is how it works. “We first select a village that has basic amenities and has potential to become a SmartGaon. After which, we include the local civic body in the initiative and execute the process. This process can take up to six to eight months to complete,” explains Yogesh.
How the app works
The SmartGaon app has it all - a directory, calendar of events, health centres, and information centres. Currently available only in Hindi, Yogesh says the goal is to reconstruct Indian villages in such a way that people can lead an invigorating and fulfilling life, as in the cities.
“We have a holistic approach where we concentrate on all-round development of the village. We have a revenue generating module, Gram Mart, an online marketplace through which people can sell their produce at the right price,” says Yogesh.
While the team has refused to share revenue details and projected revenue, Yogesh adds that Gram Mart works on a B2C model, where the money comes from the sales made on the online platform. Currently bootstrapped, the team started building the app from a pool of their personal savings.
Most of the other offerings are not for profit. The app covers all aspects that focus on development that include setting up of school infrastructure, working with gob vents for digitisation, building toilets, and installing CCTV cameras.
The India 2 focus
“The project is still in its early stages. We have just completed our pilot, which was recognised by the UP government, people of Taudhakpur, and leading media platforms. We have already started projects in villages of Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Apart from our pilot project, we now have over 500 farmers who have joined the SmartGaon initiative,” says Yogesh.
Currently, there are several startups focussing on ‘India 2’ - Rural India or development in Tier II and Tier III cities. Aprameya Radhakrishna’s new startup - GetVokal too is focussed on building for the next billion.
According to Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and KANTAR-IMRB, the current mobile internet penetration in rural India is at 18 percent. In an earlier conversation with YourStory, Aprameya said, “The non-English speaking Indians behave differently on the internet than English speaking Indians.”
Thus, most platforms work in different ways. There is also Gramin Healthcare, which is digitising healthcare in rural India. “We plan to convert at least 100 villages into SmartGaon in the next five years,” says Yogesh.