Jaipur: Intel marketing veteran John McClure likes to tell the story of an unschooled Indian farmer who wanted to catch and store rain to water his crops, but didn’t know how to go about it.
The farmer’s daughter figured out a way by researching the subject at an Internet-equipped community centre in their village and helped him design a “rain-harvesting solution,” he says.
That’s a simple example of how technology can improve the lives of the 700 million mostly-illiterate people who live in India’s vast hinterland, said McClure.
The executive is at the helm of an Intel effort to take computers to the country’s 650,000 villages.
“We are focused on getting as deep inside India as possible,” the South Asia marketing director said. “It’s a frontier we do want to conquer while not missing anything in between,” he said.
The world’s largest microchip maker has tied up with state governments and Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services in a programme to spread computer literacy in the countryside.
Intel, which also unveiled a portable personal computer designed for school children on Saturday, will provide technology support, educational content and wireless connectivity to 100,000 rural community centres over the next year.
It will also help lay a broadband network across rural India and develop local-language Internet content.
But the rural push is not driven by a sense of charity.
Intel is betting that children in the villages who experience first-hand the benefits of technology will buy a computer when they grow up and take up a job or go into business.
“There’s an altruistic element to it, but there’s also a business element,” McClure said. “By investing in these areas—maybe ahead of the curve—we will pull more users into the PC purchasing market faster.”
India’s villages are home to 70% of its billion-plus population, yet their contribution to national economic output has declined over the past two decades to as low as 20% from more than half.
The countryside is yet to receive its share of the dividend from an investment, spending and technology-led economic boom that has produced 9% growth rates for each of the past three years.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, which came to power in 2004, is trying to change that by pumping money into rural infrastructure and boosting bank loans.
“To address inclusive growth is incredibly important for the Indian economy to keep growing at a healthy clip,” said McClure. “Making technology available in rural areas is a critical elementof that.”
ICICI Bank, India’s largest private bank, is giving computer loans to customers identified by Intel’s dealerships while it expands lending in the countryside.
“The small guy needs technology to make his business easier, faster and more efficient,” said Vijay Chandok, a senior ICICI executive. “Equipment finance is a key proposition here.”