Bridging the Digital Divide in India

Via communal kiosks, Satyan Mishra is bringing information technology to his country's rural communities

Satyan Mishra is hoping to bridge the digital divide in one of the world's most populous nations--India--while making money at the same time.

A saint he may not be, but this 33-year-old has honourable and altruistic intentions which the world could certainly do more of. It is people like Mishra who, with their business and technology smarts, are capable of helping the underdeveloped parts of the world enrich their lives by gaining access to modern technology and services.

The founder of Drishtee Dot Com told ZDNet Asia that he shares his Technopreneur of Year award with his team. "It's a great recognition for the entire team of Drishtee. We have all worked hard over the last six years to build an organization to service the rural community. In the process, we also built processes and the financial discipline which is being appreciated now. This Asian Technopreneur award puts Drishtee at the forefront of world attention."

Looking back on the early days of the company's development, Mishra said: "It has been a tough ride for all of us."

Like most startups, Mishra faced challenges like insufficient capital and clout, and not to mention the numerous skeptics who doubted Drishtee's vision. Few people saw what he envisioned--the potential of bringing infocomm technologies to India's villages.

Thinking out of the box, Mishra and his team has facilitated the creation of a rural networking infrastructure through a tiered franchise and partnership model. So far, Drishtee has installed 1,020 kiosks throughout rural India. Together with local businesses, Drishtee delivers a wide range of ICT-based services such as enhanced access to e-government, education and healthcare information.

Instead of incurring high costs in terms of transportation and wage losses, villagers save time and transport costs by accessing government services and information on the kiosks, as they do not need to travel to government offices located in faraway cities.

Drishtee's has had other far-reaching positive impact: it has helped to create employment opportunities, reversed the tide of rural migration, and improved access to information and knowledge. It uses IT as a tool for basic education thus creating a new breed of IT-literate generation.

Despite the company's achievements, a modest Mishra said Drishtee has merely created "a foundation".

"The difference is still very small to satisfy us or to make us look back," he said. "Today, an ICT kiosk solves just 5 percent of the problems by providing services such as computer education, insurance and governance services."

"The real impact will come when we start our community-driven services like health and micro finance. These services will have a fundamental impact on the lives of Indian villagers," he said.

"Last financial year, we hit the 1,000-kisok mark which breaks certain barriers of skepticism," he added. "But the next target is an ambitious number of 10,000 kiosks in the next three years. We have started the rollout and we are keeping our fingers crossed."

Mishra holds a Masters of Business Administration from the Delhi University. He has extensive software development experience, and says he is "not a techie by education but by profession". He combines his managerial and technical expertise to realize his dream of making a difference in the lives of ordinary Indian villagers.

Perhaps he is a saint after all.