Harnessing potential in Haryana village

Harnessing potential in Haryana village

Teekli, Haryana: Suman Devi’s typical day starts early. She sends her two children to school, cooks for her family and cleans her house. Until recently, these domestic chores consisted of most of her day’s work.

A few months ago, however, Devi, a 30-year-old who has studied until the secondary school level, started to work and earn for her family as well. She now works for HarVa XPO, a rural business process outsourcing (BPO) firm, alongside other women like her. The work consists of data entry and data verification for a salary of Rs3,500-4,000—and she doesn’t need to travel too far.

The HarVa office in Teekli doesn’t resemble the BPOs of nearby Gurgaon, with their air-conditioned cubicles and glass facades. This office only has a row of computers against a half-painted wall. The women work against the background noise of a big generator, planted there because of the regularly interrupted power supply.

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“Earlier, my day just used to be surrounded with household work, but now working in HarVa has given me a new way to look at my life," Devi says. “My earning also helps financially, for my children’s education."

HarVa is the brainchild of Ajay Chaturvedi, who studied engineering at Birla Institute of Technological Sciences (BITS) in Pilani and Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania. He left a career in companies such as International Business Machines Corp., Compaq Computer Corp. and CitiFinancial Inc. to launch HarVa.

“The idea was germinated back in 2002 but took shape only in 2010," he says. “Everyone...talks about untapped potential, revolving around selling in an untapped market, but no one bothers about building a self-sustainable ecosystem that will create value. That is why it was named HarVa—it looks at ‘Harnessing the Value of rural India’."

HarVa trains women in basic English and computer skills before selecting some for the BPO. The work includes entering and digitizing the census of Haryana’s animal husbandry department, auditing online classified ads for clients and creating online content. Roughly 500 women from Teekli and surrounding villages were trained for free, of which 30—most of them married and aged 20-40 years—were selected to work.

Chaturvedi says he decided to hire only women because they are better suited for such a job. He adds that HarVa’s rates are 30-40% cheaper than city-based BPOs. “It makes it profitable for both—the corporates who get their work done at half rates, and the rural women who are getting a fair amount of money as a salary and becoming financially independent."