HarVa: Harnessing the value of Rural India
In an era where enterprises working at the BoP are busy finding their niche, a start-up named HarVa comes along with its sector agnosticism and pretty much says that they will do anything that harnesses the value of rural India. Currently, Harva is focusing on skill development, community based farming, waste management and outsourcing services.
The company is the brainchild Ajay Chaturvedi, a BITS Pilani/Univ of Penn Wharton entrepreneur who was earlier a VP at Citibank. The concept of Harva stems from the belief that corporations today are still underestimating the potential of rural India. If the village populations can be trained adequately in specific skills as well as given management support, a lot of projects can find themselves coming to the hinterland. Fast Company placed the company at number 3 in their list of 10 most Innovative Companies in India, right below Tata Motors (the makers of Nano) and ahead of industry giants such as Godrej Group and FabIndia, possibly one of the most well known social enterprises to come out of India.
HarVa’s BPOs offer a gamut of services (which employs mostly women), including litigation support and software testing apart from of course documentation. I asked Ajay to expand on the software testing bit, since it’s not common for rural BPOs to offer such services. He told me about the software skills were regularly imparted based on specific client’s needs, Black Box Testing and Grassroot level Test Bed creation in particular. Currently, HarVa is busy building a strong team to strengthen their rural XPOs (BPO/MPO/LPO/KPO) as is evident by their strategic acquisition of Source Pilani, a 55 seater BPO a few months ago.
Speaking of BPOs, Ajay is of the opinion that in the near future, mainstream Indian BPOs should act on getting higher quality work and pass on the relatively simple tasks to rural India and hence ensuring that bulk of the outsourcing works finds its way to India rather than Chinese/Philippines markets.
Community Based Farming
HarVa consolidates small fragmented farmlands while empowering the farmers with financial services, modern technical know-how, logistical support and most importantly profit distribution techniques. Calling it the Farm to Firm model, HarVa is ambitious of creating synergy since land consolidation will make investments in heavy machinery more feasible and hence increase the yield. This method also results in cutting down of middle men and efficient human resource management, since more people can now work on a larger piece of land.
On a separate yet related note: Land consolidation has existed in India since time immemorial, known as Chakbandi, however due to lack of legal understanding and technical/marketing/logistical assistance, its outcome isn’t the best always, hence HarVa’s model is a refreshing change.
There’s more: Waste Management, MFIs and rural Consultants
HarVa, from my conversation with the founder, is deeply passionate about waste management. While the website doesn’t give away information about this, in an email correspondence with Ajay he told me that the plan is to use electricity generated from waste to run their centers. They are currently experimenting with electricity generation and usage from crop waste, cow dung etc. thus making the center self sufficient through creation of an ecosystem comprising of such allied services.
Ajay also explained to me about the employee benefits they have in place. One such benefit is the HarVa Employee Loan Program (HELP) where the organization will facilitate microfinance services between its employees and MFIs. Involvement of HarVa according to Ajay will result in seamless operations that will benefit the employee; it would also help ease customer acquisition for the MFIs.
There’s of course a lot more cooking in HarVa’s kitchen which is probably beyond the scope of a blog post. One memory which remains though is of a conversation I had with Ajay:
I must admit I thought that he was a little out of his mind (of course I didn’t tell him that) when he suggested that in the future, HarVa would be consulting companies based on the input of their “consultants” who would probably be the Village head. I’d have thought he was joking, if he didn’t say it with a straight face. His reasoning was that a local resident of an area will be able to provide far greater insight to companies wanting to enter the hinterland than say someone from the big 3 consulting firms who would probably take longer to craft a nicely made report.
You might question the feasibility of such a proposition, but as Ajay says you need to have knowledge, not an ivy league degree to be a consultant. However, the reason I mentioned that incident is because it shows the mindset of HarVa. HarVa is aiming to create an entire ecosystem by focusing on a myriad of activities with multiple stakeholders. While this does sound challenging to say the least, the team is very pragmatic in their approach. We at Nextbillion will be tracking their progress and wish them all the best.