Thomas Friedman in his syndicated column in New York Times, recently wrote about the changing face of outsourcing – Outsourcing, Schmoutsourcing! Out Is Over(subscription only, but you can find the same piece in the print version of the Indian Express, 20th May)
In the article, Friedman mentions his recent interview with Ramalinga Raju, CEO of Satyam. Satyam is currently piloting a project in two villages for outsourcing non-voice BPO work from rural areas. The project is expected to expand to 150 villages.
This emerging trend stands to prove that the ProGreen BPO cooperative is a viable proposition. Not only does it address many of the key issues face by the BPO sector, liking rising employee costs and high attrition but it also effectively addresses rural poverty.
I guess its just a matter of time before rural outsourcing becomes mainstream in India. Great ideas catch up soon.
ProGreen is hoping to pilot its project within the next one year!
We are in the final phases of making out investment in the pilot project, at Samudram village in Salem district. The unit will be run by a local entrepreneur, Mr. Velmurugan. It has been almost a year since Mr. Velmurugan first spoke to us. Although the cornerstone of the ProGreen model is to facilitate formation of micro-cooperatives, and not to be involved as a funding agency (a bank or a micro-finance institution is better equipped to do the same), we had to relax those norms, in setting up the pilot project. After repeated attempts, we were met with dead-ends in our effort to arrange a small business loan for Mr. Velmurugan. So, we decided to extend our resources – cash prize from winning GSEC and Imagine Cup.
The other day, I and Mr. Velmurugan were discussing the modalities of setting up the unit. He has been doing quite a bit of research on the local demand for Areca Cups & Plates. The Salem area has a large number small manufacturers involved in producing Areca Cups & Plates. Given that there have been little efforts in developing a sustainable market for these products; there has been significant price undercutting. Mr. Velmurugan was mentioning a recent incident where, initially a supplier had agreed for Rs. 1.20 per plate. Another supplier squeezed in to supply at Rs.0.90 per plate. I know based on the cost structure involved in making these cups and plates, the second supplier should be employing underpaid laborers, working for sixteen hours a day.
My belief in social entrepreneurship revolves around developing sustainable businesses, competitive in the real world, and primarily maximizing the Social Return on Investment. For instance, Mr. Velmurugan has to pay reasonable wages to his employees. His belief in social change through employment generation in his village is as strong as ProGreen’s belief in the model.
So, will the pilot project make in the real world? In this cut-throat world of business, is it possible to make profits as wells as maximize Social Return?
Well, when I, Sara, Anita and Deepak started working on ProGreen, we never believed it was easy. In fact, the tougher it gets, the better it is.
We have been on the look out for committed funding opportunities and grants. A quick update on the status of various funding opportunities that we applied for:
The most competitive fellowship where more than 100 applicants are filtered down to less than 12 grants awarded every year. One of our mentors, Mr C V Madhukar is a Echoing Green 2005 fellow. His organization Parliamentary Research Service (PRS) is an independent, not-for-profit initiative that seeks to promote wider debate on upcoming legislative issues in Parliament.
The most competitive fellowship where more than 100 applicants are filtered down to less than 12 grants awarded every year. One of our mentors, Mr C V Madhukar is a Echoing Green 2005 fellow. His organization is an independent, not-for-profit initiative that seeks to promote wider debate on upcoming legislative issues in Parliament.ProGreen did not make it through the first round for 2006 fellowship. We will keep trying.
Youth Social Enterprise Initiative
We recently applied for the YSEI fellowship. ProGreen is seeking funding to initiate the rural BPO cooperative.
Well, the good news is that we are through to the final round. We are there with 30 odd finalists from the Asia Pac region. All we can do now is to keep our fingers crossed!
Click here to access the YSEI webiste.
Approximately one year back, the ProGreen team embarked on a journey that pretty much changed our lives. Making it to the final round of the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition and eventually winning it was a great moment of pride not only for the four of us, but even more for the b-school that we belonged to – Bharathidasan Institute of Management(BIM), Trichy.
One year hence, It was great to hear, once again a team from BIM has qualified for the final round of GSEC, and will be travelling to Seattle in the end of February to attend the competition. Thier social venture called Recompu which will procure outdated computers from corporate and Government organizations and recycle them for the low-end market.
You can learn more about GSEC and this year’s competition at the GSEC Website.
We wish Vidya and Mayank from the Recompu team all the very best.
ProGreen recently participated in Changemakers Innovation Awards for 2005 – Market-Based Strategies that Benefit Low-Income Communities Competition.
The competition was focussed on Developing Market-Based Strategies that Benefit Low-Income Communities. Well, we did not go through to the final round. But, it was great to be part of a forum with such amazing ideas (127 entries!).
Click here to view the ProGreen entry and learn more about the competition.
Konichua. Thanks to Microsoft, winning the Imagine Cup, took us recently to the award ceremony at Yokahoma, Japan!
Click here to read about ProGreen winning the Technology Business Plan Invitational at Imgaine Cup 2005.