Till about four months back, Vandana Potdar had no idea how potato chips were made. Today, not only can she make them, but she also teaches other women how to make them, what preservatives to use and how to pack them. Potdar and the other women, then, take these chips to Pune on their scooties and sell them for 200 per kg in the open market. This four-month-old venture has helped Potdar and her team earn about 40,000 till date.

How did these women learn to make commercial-grade potato chips? They were part of the Internet Saathi programme run by Google in association with Tata Trusts, which teaches rural women how to access and use the internet to make money. While Google trains the saathis on entry-level devices, gives them data and is involved in imparting technical know-how, Tata Trusts manages the on-ground implementation. Training is given on how the web works and how to use various Google products such as Chrome and Search. However, the participants are not trained to use products from other companies.

Till date, the programme has helped more than 15 million rural women across India take their first steps online since Google India launched it with Tata Trusts in July 2015. Most women who participate in the Internet Saathi programme are illiterate, but they are taught how to perform basic tasks online—for example, using voice search to find information that can help them with everything from farming techniques to medical advice to even honey collection.

Rohini Shirley of Adulpeth village in Pune, for instance, did not even know how to use a smartphone till last year. Today, she has learnt about bee farming, making honey, packaging it and selling it to retailers. She produces 400-500kg of honey a year and earns a profit of 180-200 per kg of honey after deducting all her costs. Shirley is also using the internet to promote the honey she makes among hotels in nearby places.

There are other Internet saathis, like Shital from Sangli in Maharashtra, who helped her son prepare and clear the Science Olympiad exam by finding study modules for him on the internet. Or Padmavati from the Guntur region in Andhra Pradesh, who set up a lemon grass oil production unit and learnt the various manufacturing techniques using the internet.

Says Rehana Begum, an Internet Saathi from Goa: “Learning new things is always interesting and with this programme I am able to make my wish come true. I am excited to help my fellow villagers as many of them are always on the lookout for different government schemes they are eligible for. Access to information on the Internet will make things so convenient for them."

Says Raman Kalyanakrishnan, Head – Strategy, Tata Trusts: “We are really proud of this achievement. This wouldn’t have been possible without the most important stakeholders, the women themselves – the vehicles of transformation. They have shown a great amount of enthusiasm and keenness to learn, despite many challenges."

The programme has also had an overall positive impact in improving the social and economic metrics, according to a Google spokesperson. A 7% uplift across social metrics such as respect for women, participation in social causes and education was measured by market research firm IPSOS, in villages where Internet Saathis were present. About 45% of women trained by Internet Saathis improved their income by learning new skills while over 50% of women trained by Saathis claimed their economic condition has improved as they have learnt newer ways of saving and investing their money.