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Assessing Network Applications for Economic Development

Authors: Aral, Sinan
Escobari, Marcela
Nishina, Randal
Issue Date: 10-Nov-2008
Series/Report no.: CeDER-PP-2001-03
Abstract: PAE Team’s Objectives Ø Create a survey instrument to assess the impact of technology intervention in rural India Ø Advise on potential applications for village-level Internet terminals The aim of the Sustainable Access in Rural India (SARI) project is to improve the lives of individuals in poor rural communities by leveraging information and communications technologies to facilitate economic development. Ultimately, the project’s success will be measured by its social and economic impact and viability, which depends critically on the appropriateness of applications provided to end-users. Our conclusions and recommendations concerning applications are as follows: A price application that posts the daily price fluctuations of certain goods in order to promote competition among sellers and improve the economic decision making of villagers and traders may not increase efficiency or further economic development; its effectiveness depends critically on geographic scope and a focus on goods whose prices exhibit sufficient price volatility and differentiation. We recommend a central web sitebased price application, with independent kiosk operators responsible for inputting price information from villages in which markets exist. A spot labor market application that aggregates supply and demand of jobs for clusters of villages holds much promise—there are potential benefits from coordinating labor markets in the area studied. The relatively constant need for work coupled with unmet demand suggests that there is a significant willingness to pay for a service that matches supply and demand for labor in a timely and accountable way. We recommend a bulletin-board type labor market application that connects small numbers of nearby villages. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY iv An agriculture application that addresses the basic knowledge needs of farmers, providing weather forecasts and information on farming techniques must include tailored content, given the diversity of crops grown and methods employed throughout the region. We recommend a local content creation mechanism, facilitating farmer access to agricultural expertise via simple voice or text communications, or a more robust web-based application. Deficiencies in the current state-provided healthcare infrastructure may limit the initial impact of IT within local Public Health Centers (PHCs). Instead, we suggest a health care application that delivers information and services to villagers directly through community centers. Based on villager awareness levels and needs, we recommend a government services application that would enable villagers to access information on relevant government programs and initiate online requests for necessary government documents. While applications to facilitate education (particularly adult learning) may be useful, there appear to be significant implementation barriers at the school level. The motivation for these proposed applications stems from several regional attributes, inferred from local economic data and extensive interviews with villagers, school representatives, health workers and NGO staff members: Ø Many if not most villages exhibit segregation along religious and/or caste lines. Ø While some data is readily available and disseminated (e.g., prices of heavily traded goods), other potentially critical pieces of information are not easily accessible to villagers (e.g., livestock prices, agricultural advice, government programs). Ø A majority of all economic activity either directly or indirectly involves agriculture, and much of a typical villager’s social activity relates to agriculture. Ø A majority of laborers are without a regular source of employment—unemployment is extremely cyclical, reaching high levels during the agricultural off-season.
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