Women's IT Sector Enterprises

Case Study No. 4


Women Providing Online Services: e-Seva Centres in Andhra Pradesh, India

 

Case Study Authors

Swapna Veldanda, Independent Researcher panitha_v@rediffmail.com & Sanjay Jaju, Project Co-initiator

 

Enterprise History

This project, which is run by the West-Godavari District Administration in Andhra Pradesh State, India, has established Web-enabled rural 'e-Seva Centres' run by self-help groups of women from the poorest segments of society. The aim is to help them achieve economic independence. It is also an attempt to replace the traditional form of governance and its accompanying deficiencies with a modern, more open, transparent and responsive service delivery system.

 

Initially the project started in all 46 mandal (block) headquarters in the district, with the first women's e-Seva centre opening in June 2002. More centres were then established in over 200 small villages, large villages or towns in Andhra Pradesh, delivering services to citizens.

 

The project is cost effective for both government and beneficiaries as the centres work offline and access the Internet as required with a single local telephone call using dialup, thus providing a low-cost networking model. Statistics suggest that citizens are able to save around US$0.10 per house as consumers of e-Seva services, which would lead to district-level savings of over US$100,000 per month (c.US$1.4m a year) which is considered a great success. To further improve communication, wireless technology was adopted and 85 nodes were networked. Adopting wireless technology also enabled the project to reach citizens who were unable to connect to the Internet through traditional telephones lines.

 

The project delivers government services, facilitates utility and tax payments and provides business services, thus enabling poor women to get a better price for their products. This benefits government, the public and the women who run the centres or work in them.

 

Enterprise Profile

Of the 46 bigger e-Seva Centres at mandal headquarters, 16 are headed by MACTS (Mutually Aided Cooperative Societies) which are led by women and have at least 2,000 women members. These centres employ two qualified women members as full-time computer operators delivering services to citizens.

 

Rural e-Seva centres typically have at least three women partner members who share the responsibilities and profits equally. In more remote centres, however, a centre may be run by a single woman. One or two more people may be employed as required as field workers, to take digital photos, market self-help group products, etc. Usually these employees will also be women but if women are not available then men will be considered.

   

On average US$2,300 is needed to start up an e-Seva Centre. Women usually obtain this from a government interest-free loan specifically provided for this purpose. This covers the computer system, digital camera, Xerox machine, scanner and printer. Intel Celeron and Pentium systems on Windows 2000 OS have been mainly used to date. The software used is Visual Basic as the front end and PostgreSql as the back end with Synchronisation tools in Java. The Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India provides a payment gateway for electronic transactions.

 

The actual number of computers at each e-Seva Centre varies from place to place based on local needs. In a small village an e-Seva Centre will operate with one computer, a scanner, Xerox machine, digital camera and printer. In a town there would be more computers and provision of Web-cams etc. Each centre has an Internet connection in villages they use dial-up; in towns they use a leased line connection. A very wide range of services is provided including not only bill payments, issuance of land/birth certificates, Internet browsing, tele-medicine and tele-agriculture but also access to online auctions, the filing of complaints and grievances, and matrimonial services.

 

Enterprise Performance

In Jan 2002 there were 46 centres involving 92 member/partners. By Jan 2004 this had grown to 200 centres with around 292 member/partners. There are currently 384 women running e-Seva Centres, carrying out over two million transactions per year. Income and transactions are increasing month by month and are much higher in 2004 than in 2002; this of course is true of e-Seva overall due to the increase in the number of centres but the income of individual centres is also said to be rising.

 

The major costs for the women running the centres are loan repayment, stationery and consumables, salaries of other staff, and electricity. The service which provided most income was utility payments; used by at least 6,000 people per month who are charged about US$0.03 per payment. The next largest contribution came from computer education (US$9 per course), followed by product sales, issue of certificates (US$0.23 per certificate charged), maintaining the accounts of self-help groups, and photocopying (US$0.02 per sheet).

 

Bigger centres make about US$320 per month excess of income over direct expenditure (from which the women member's salaries are drawn), while smaller centres can expect an excess of income over direct expenditure of about US$90 per month.

 

Main Success Factors

1.      The strong support of a powerful figure in government: the District Collector.

2.      Continuous training of the women who run the centres, and the women's ability to get trained in IT very quickly. They are self-motivated and enthusiastic. Unemployed youths are chosen to train them. As these systems are very user-friendly, and the women have opportunities to practise before working independently they are able to learn quickly.

3.      Monitoring and evaluation: centres are regularly monitored and evaluated in terms of their income level and the number of transactions handled. If there are any problems then corrective action is taken.

4.      The women's keenness to become entrepreneurs.

 

Main Benefits for Women

1.      Social Respect. As the women's income increases, and they become well trained and well educated, they gain social respect. Villagers are coming to centres, taking their advice and using their services.

2.      Employment in their village.

3.      Self respect. Working with technology makes them feel proud.

4.      Monthly income. Currently the monthly net income for each of the larger e-Seva Centres averages US$300. This is shared among those involved in that centre, which varies from two to ten. On average each woman is earning US$45 per month.

 

Main Negative Impacts or Risks

1.      The centres are currently partially dependent on government in order to get the initial loan which must then be paid back on a monthly basis. This would take about two years for an average centre.

2.      The expected encouragement is not materialising at village level.

3.      Pace of government services. There may not be synchronisation in government services if officers are de-motivated. For example e-Seva workers forward applications to appropriate government departments according to the citizen's requirements. There may be a risk of officers deliberately delaying the process of such applications (see Main Challenges below).

 

Good Practice in Management

1.      Good public relations and hospitality.

2.      Maintaining trust levels and quality. The women who previously worked in agriculture now maintain village e-Seva Centres so they are highly satisfied and encourage villagers to sell their products through e-Seva, which gives them better prices. Initially it was tough for them to gain the villagers' trust but gradually, because of their speedy transactions, they succeeded.

3.      Commitment to the project.

 

Main Challenges

1.      Many villagers have little or no literacy so fear being cheated when making payments online.

2.      Discomfort of government officers when they see work they were previously doing now being handled by women who are less educated and less trained than them. Also many government officers were collecting bribes to issue land records, death and birth certificates, etc. The villagers felt their power was almost godlike, given that they were able to approve or withhold electricity, agricultural loans and so on. Now these government officers fear losing all this power and money.

3.      The provision of an uninterrupted power supply and computer networking are challenging infrastructural issues for remote villages.

 

Case Photograph

Issue of birth certificates

 

Case Details

Author Data Sources/Role: Enterprise Research & Enterprise Coordinator Roles

Region: South Asia Start Date: 2002 Submission Date: March 2005


The "Women's ICT-Based Enterprise for Development" project is coordinated by the University of Manchester's Institute for Development Policy and Management. The project is funded by the UK Department for International Development's Knowledge and Research programme.

 

Home

Join In

Contacts

Publications

 http://www.womenictenterprise.org/eseva.htm August 2005