New Delhi: An initiative called Uninor Hand in Hand (HiH) Citizen Centre helps women in rural areas become entrepreneurs with the help of information and communication technology. It is a joint effort involving mobile phone services provider Uninor, Hand in Hand, an international non-governmental organization, and self-help groups.
A woman from a rural self-help group is trained to be an entrepreneur and set up a Uninor HiH Citizen Centre. She is trained by Uninor to run a business, sell SIM cards and provide mobile and Internet access to people in her village. She also offers basic information technology training to villagers, secures employment for herself, as well as trains others to get employed or run a business.
The programme is a part of the corporate social responsibility initiative of Uninor.
“The project was initiated after understanding the potential of mobile services to support inclusive growth in communities we do business with,” said Rajiv Bawa, executive vice-president of corporate affairs at Uninor. “We saw the great work done by Hand in Hand in Tamil Nadu and understood the kind of reach they had among women in the region.”
Each centre is a joint venture involving the entrepreneurs, HiH and Uninor, where the person rents the premises, HiH provides microfinance, and Uninor offers components of telecom retail. An investment of up to Rs 1 lakh is required to run a Citizen Centre.
Uninor funds the installation of Internet connections and provides mobile handsets and SIM cards to women entrepreneurs. “The citizen centres play a crucial role in bridging the digital divide as well as the gender gap in owning and using communication technologies in rural areas,” Bawa said.
The centres are equipped with hardware such as computers and printers, Internet access and a small library. Services such as Internet and commercial computer access and online ticketing are provided through these set-ups. Women entreprenuers also conduct training programmes in desktop publishing work, besides imparting vocational training and certificate courses in computer education.
“It enables marginalized women with basic education to catapult their earnings over three times to over Rs 5,000 per month,” Bawa said.
The programme started as a pilot project with 50 centres in Tamil Nadu, and currently has 550 centres in that state. Uninor plans to add 3,000 more by the end of 2011, and is looking to expand the project to Maharashtra, Karnataka, Orissa and Kerala. A total of 13,366 women entrepreneurs have been trained.
According to Bawa, the programme’s biggest achievement has been improving the lives of underprivileged sections of society and aiding the nation’s economic growth by imparting skill training.
The advertising benefits that come with it don’t hurt.
“We are entrenching the Uninor name in the minds of a section of the populace that would otherwise never be expecting or benefiting from a corporate,” Bawa said. “This in turn would ensure solid brand associations and create an emotional connect between the beneficiaries and the brand.”