Interview: IndiVillage Tech Solutions

Ravi Machani, the Founder and Director of IndiVillage Tech Solutions, was inspired to help change rural India after talking with former 11th President of India, Abdul Kalam.

Hearing Kalam’s regret and unfinished business to do more for India, if each entpreneur went and adopted a village or created some sort of initiative, they could make a big difference for rural India. Taking this to heart, Ravi started IndiVillage.

We caught up with Pomai Verzon, who manages business development, marketing, communications and impact to talk about how IndiVillage enables and empowers the women and youth in rural India.

What is IndiVillage Tech Solutions?

IndiVillage is a business process outsourcing (BPO) company and social enterprise providing education and economic opportunity to women and youth in rural India. Our model of impact sourcing emphasizes benefit for all and 100% of profits are reinvested for holistic community development. We are using technology to outsource knowledge work outside of cities as a means to spread inclusive growth. Through our BPO, we are able to help rural people develop new skills, but more importantly, take control of their lives and provide for their future and families.

What problem(s) are you trying to solve?

IndiVillage was started as a way to bring opportunity and employment to rural India. The main way we are doing that is through our BPO center. Our facility employs rural people, mostly focusing on women and youth, and we have been able to hold a steady 70% employment rate of women. All of our profits are going back into the community and a big portion of that goes into the education of schoolchildren. The interesting thing about our model is that we’ve tried to do a multigenerational effect, whereby, a good portion of the women we hire are actually the mothers of the children that go to the schools we help support.

How has IndiVillage Tech Solutions grown over the last year?

IndiVillage is at an important turning point. For most of the last year, we have been dealing with different internal issues and decisions about our future direction. During this time, our size remained largely stagnant; however, we are now entering a growth stage. We have brought on two new customers this month and are expanding to a second facility in the next six months. We believe we can double our size or more in the next year.

What impacts have you seen take place within the community and for the women and children you work with since IndiVillage’s inception?

When IndiVillage first started, the general mindset of the community was that women should not work outside the home. At one point, there was even a mass quitting due to family pressure as father-in-laws discovered that their daughter-in-laws were making twice as much as their sons. Our managers had to intervene, going house to house and explaining why this was good for the whole family. Since then, the climate has started to change and the value of a woman’s education has significantly increased. The marriage age has increased slightly and families encourage their young women to work and use their education much more than in surrounding communities. IndiVillage has become a place that earns our workers respect both from the community and in their own homes.

What are some challenges you have faced?

Besides cultural resistance, training and hiring were some of our earliest challenges. We created a comprehensive 8-month long training program only to lose the majority of our employees as they took their new skills to the city. We do not blame them for pursuing this opportunity, but we realized we needed to change our model to be sustainable. We now focus on hiring housewives, mothers, and young graduates looking for a career in their current community. We offer basic training and then supplement it with on the job development.

The biggest challenge we continue to face is business development. We employ a range of workers from the mother of three who has never touched a computer to the B.Com graduate. This requires us to have a balanced workload where we have low-level processes that can be completed with basic training as well as processes that are more complex so our employees can continue to grow and be challenged.

What are some of the next steps for IndiVillage?

One is to clarify our strategy, socially. I want to expand and make our social mission work in each community we work in. Therefore, the next step is to grow smartly and be able to succeed in that community, hire and keep the people, and actually becoming a part of that community, because a huge thing here is being accepted into it.

Do you see IndiVillage adopting additional functions like facilitating the sale of produce and textile because of your investment in agriculture and weaving?

There currently is a garment unit, where we do help facilitate that business. On agriculture, we support the access to information, where we have professors coming in and working with the farmers to have best practices by blending modern and traditional techniques. The question is whether this model will make sense everywhere else we go. We will always work toward education, and something our Founder is really passionate about is social entrepreneurship. Therefore, I foresee bringing in education and social entrepreneurship training, which could very well make sense.

What other resources have you found that are particularly useful for social entrepreneurs?

The biggest thing for us going in has actually been the personal networks we created and a lot of the networks already in place from our Founders and Directors and leveraging them. It has been a lot more challenging to find business because there’s only so far our social mission has been able to take us.

What are you most looking forward to in the Sustainable Business Plan Competition?

We are really looking forward to having an external look at IndiVillage. Sometimes you are so close that it’s a little hard to be objective. We hope to get some long-term mentors who are interested and advise beyond the competition as well. Getting that short-term outsider perspective and hopefully building long-term relationships that can stay with us for a while on this journey will really help us.