Planet Kerala, Research Consultants firstname.lastname@example.org
It was the IT @ School Programme, launched by the government in Kerala State, India to deliver computer education to school students at subsidised rates, that gave rise to Divine Computers at Azhiyur Secondary School in Vadakara. The local government advertised for partners to run the programme in the local newspapers. There were ten women applicants but four were dropped as they could not fulfil the conditions which stated that partners should be from below-poverty-line families, have minimum training in computer operations, and be ready to start a group enterprise including taking on a loan for which they would be responsible.
The team of six women, determined to improve their lives, spent about three months mobilising the necessary resources and setting up the infrastructure for the enterprise. They registered with the local Industries Office at Vadakara and accessed a group loan of US$4,400 from the State Bank of Travancore, under a Federal Government scheme to help poor women. The Kudumbasree Mission – an agency of the Kerala State government charged with creating women's co-operative – paid a subsidy of US$2,200 directly to the group, and they also benefited from a US$700 subsidy via the Federal Government scheme. In addition to the loan the six members of the group provided another US$220 of their own money (i.e. about US$35 each).
They bought six computers and installed them in the room provided in the first floor of Azhiyur Secondary School. The school's commitment to provide the furniture and flooring arrangements was not honoured and therefore the group used their own capital amount to buy these. The school provided four computers in May 2004 which are used in the lab along with the enterprise's own systems.
Divine Computers is the service provider for the Vidyasree IT @ School Programme. In their first year of operation (2002/3), the women of Divine Computers taught IT lessons to children in Year 8 (c.13-year olds) of the school; in the second year (2003/4) this was expanded to cover Year 9 also making a total of 311 students; and then also Year 10 by the third year of operation (2004/5) giving an annual total of 485 students taught.
The programme gives computer training to the school's students at a monthly fee of c.US$0.55 per student. The school collects the fees from the students and then pays the unit. By mutual agreement, US$555 of the monthly income is paid directly to the bank against the loan and the rest to the members of the enterprise. The six members alternately teach theory classes on computer basics to the Year 8 and 9 students and supervise lab sessions. Class hours are from 9.15am to 4.30pm five days a week. Each member works a four-day week.
The group also provides short courses to the students and local citizens in the summer vacation, which lasts for two months, which is a significant source of income. The school and non-school training covers a variety of topics from basic PC introduction, to MS Office/Windows training, to training in Visual Basic and C++.
The six women partners are the sole employees of the enterprise. One acts as Managing Director and Accountant but they all teach. Their qualifications vary, but include DCA (Diploma in Computer Applications), PGDCA (Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Applications) and CTTC (Computer Teachers Training Course). Others have trained specifically in MS Office or DTP.
Six PCs are used and software includes Windows 98, Windows XP, MS Office, Linux and C++. There is no Internet connection.
The full amount earned in 2004/5, when 485 students were trained, income from the school element of training should have been US$2,400 but the group only received about 80% of this, as some students were unable to pay their fees and other fees – payable from the government for students from scheduled castes – were not yet received from government.
Overall monthly income in 2004/5 from school and non-school training combined was US$261: 52% greater than income in 2003/4, reflecting the growth in training activity – school student numbers alone having grown by 237% from the first to third year.
Average monthly expenditure is around US$220. Salaries, at US$130, are the largest item, followed by loan repayment at US$55 and servicing/maintenance charges for the PC which have risen to US$22 per month now that the computers are out of the guarantee period. Electricity, phone and travel make up the rest of the enterprise's costs.
1. The group considers that their unity, expressed through the early resolution of interpersonal conflicts, collective decision-making and developing a strong sense of togetherness in times of common problems, is the most important reason for their success.
2. Their determination to run their own enterprise against all odds is another reason for the enterprise's survival. They feel strongly motivated, both by their own deep desire and by pressuring family situations, to manage their own enterprise and to be their own bosses.
3. Attachment to and pleasant relationships with the students, the bestowed social status of being a teacher and the five-year commitment to the school together comprise another strong reason for the success of the enterprise.
1. The status of 'teacher' is the most important and prestigious feeling and benefit they get from this enterprise. All of them, who could never otherwise have imagined becoming a teacher given their poor educational qualifications, really enjoy and are thrilled by this experience.
2. They receive an average monthly payment of US$22 each, though this has ranged from zero payment in the initial months to maxima of nearer US$33 during full training months. This has substantially contributed to their ability to support their families and to their personal self-reliance.
3. If they had not joined this venture, they say, they could not have interacted with people holding important offices nor travelled to different places as they now do. They would not have enjoyed such increased personal freedom and respect from others. All these have boosted their self-confidence and self-esteem.
1. The group does not get the payment from the school on a regular basis. The school authorities say that the students do not pay the fees regularly. The system for fund collection is not effective and efficient. There were instances where the school authorities withheld the collected amount. The fees of the scheduled caste students are also not availed from the concerned government departments on time.
2. The women, three of whom are married with children, find it difficult to cope with both household duties and the job. They struggle to reach the office on time after taking care of the children. The low income from this work means family members do not encourage them and even discourage them from attending the enterprise. One of the women did the CTTC course in the first year of the enterprise itself. Another is planning to join a one year course on cooperation and it has not yet been decided whether she will take one year's leave or leave the group. The group members do surveys and other work with the local government to raise additional income. But they are happy to have made some assets for themselves out of the revenue from this enterprise.
3. They share a goal of starting another unit of the forthcoming Akshaya IT Training Programme (another venture of the Kerala State government), as well as dreaming of starting their own independent IT units. But they find it difficult to mobilise financial resources. In this regard they are aware of gender discrimination: "men could travel alone to various offices to mobilise funds, but we cannot", they lament.
Author Data Sources/Role: Interviews, Observation and Documents; No Direct Role
Region: South Asia Start Date: 2002 Submission Date: April 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.
http://www.womenictenterprise.org/vadakara.htm September 2005