Aye, aye, C@ptain – Brave young DesiCrew sets sail as the tide turns in favour of rural outsourcing

Monday, October 29, 2007

At the age of 23, when many women are waiting for their knights in shining armour or catching a flight to a plush university overseas, Saloni Malhotra was busy nurturing her dream of a technologically empowered rural India. Today, at 25, she heads DesiCrew, a rural Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company with 10 centres and 60 employees. “And it?s growing,” she says happily.

It all began when Saloni was listening in rapt attention to Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala, Professor of Electrical Engineering at IIT-Madras, at a seminar on ?Rural Business Hubs? held in Delhi. Jhunjhunwala is also the co-founder of Telecommunications and Computer Networks group (TeNet), a coalition of 14 IIT faculty members that works with a vision to provide ?world-class technology at affordable cost.? This tallied with Saloni?s idea of “creating a service that could dramatically transform the way the BPO industry operates, while empowering rural India through sustainable income generation, thereby enriching lives.”

Jhunjhunwala says “it was her commitment to make it happen” that caught his attention when he asked Saloni to meet him to make this dream a reality. From that moment onwards, there has been no looking back.

Saloni mobilised resources, gathered funds, set up a team and the infrastructure, and launched a comprehensive two-year research initiative. She began working on a sustainable, revenue-generating business model. “I was sure that this should be a business and not a not-for-profit venture or an NGO,” she says. Zero knowledge of Tamil did not come in her way of travelling to interior parts of Tamil Nadu to verify the state of power supply, connectivity and other infrastructure; she succeeded in setting up delivery centres in interiors parts of Coimbatore, Erode, Salem, Mayiladuthurai and Vaniyambadi districts.

The concept

According to Nasscom, ITeS-BPO industry in India employs about 5 lakh people and BPO industry is expected to face a shortfall of 3.5 lakh professionals by 2010. On the other hand, according to a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), there are 13 crore surplus workers in rural India.

The Ministry of Information Technology aims to set up Village Information Centres with connectivity in one lakh villages by 2009. With this, each village could have the potential to act as a BPO centre. “Every village with a BPO employing 25-30 people could enhance 15-30 per cent of rural GDP,” says Jhunjhunwala.

DesiCrew, like many upcoming rural BPOs, envisions playing a significant role in this IT revolution while bridging the urban-rural demand-supply gap. By outsourcing high volume, low-level data centric work to non-urban areas, where salaries and cost of operations are low, rural BPOs can offer 20-30 per cent cost savings for clients.

The literate workforce in rural areas can be trained in jobs such as data entry, generating and updating databases, typesetting, data conversion from one format to another, proofreading, data transcription, translation and so on.

Undergraduates in any discipline or diploma holders can apply for the job; candidates go through a rigorous recruitment process involving verification of resumes, test for “good knowledge of English and Maths” and a personal interview with the HR head. “This process ensures that the candidates are qualified, want to continue living in villages and have a positive, enthusiastic attitude to work,” Saloni explains.

Once inducted, employees are put through a meticulously designed training module that equips them with skills required for the job. Specialists also coach them on enhancing communication skills, basics of writing e-mails, importance of teamwork and so on. “These help them to deliver effectively on client requirements,” she says.

Continue reading “Aye, aye, C@ptain

Source: The Hindu Business Line (link opens in a new window)