Rural India Gets Chance at Piece of Jobs Boom

Friday, November 13, 2009

BAGEPALLI, India — Under harsh fluorescent lights, dozens of heads bend over keyboards, the clattering unison of earnest typing filling the room. Monitors flicker with insurance forms, time sheets and customer service e-mail messages, tasks from far away, sent to this corner of India to be processed on the cheap.

This scene unfolds in cities across India, especially in the high-tech hubs of Bangalore and Gurgaon, places synonymous with the information technology revolution that has transformed India’s economy and pushed the country toward double-digit economic growth.

But these workers are young people from villages clustered around this small town deep in rural Karnataka State in India’s southwest. They are part of an experiment by a handful of entrepreneurs to bring the jobs outsourcing has created to distant corners of India that have been largely cut off from its extraordinary economic rise.

Only about a million workers are employed in the buzzing call centers and pristine tech company campuses that have come to symbolize India’s boom — a drop in the bucket, given the country’s more than 1 billion people.

Almost all of those jobs are in cities. But 70 percent of Indians live in rural areas. India largely skipped — or never arrived at — the industrial phase of development that might have pulled the rural masses to cities. Over the decades a Gandhian fondness for — some say idealization of — rural life has also kept people in villages, where the bonds of caste and custom remain strong.

India has struggled unsuccessfully with the question of how to lift this vast underclass out of poverty. Some economists argue that India still needs rapid urbanization if it is ever to become a major economic power and provide jobs to its vast legions of unemployed. But the founders of Rural Shores, a company that is setting up outsourcing offices in rural areas, say it makes more sense to take the jobs where the people are.

Source: New York Times (link opens in a new window)