5 Ways to Make a Rural Enterprise Sustainable
A rural entrepreneur faces a plethora of issues, usually called 'teething troubles', while setting up an enterprise
The gist of the problems in Rural India is surplus agricultural labour and ongoing cessation of traditional rural industries, resulting in increased unemployment woes, poor living standards as well as large-scale youth migration to cities in search of livelihood. For a country as populated as India, it is putting extra pressure on the urban infrastructure and resources.
There are over 600 districts, 6000 blocks and 250,000 Panchayats in India; yet an undisputed majority of our entrepreneurial interventions has focused on some 100 cities. In order to elevate the overall economy of the country, we needed to improve the situation at the block and panchayat level areas and rural entrepreneurship can help us accomplish that.
However, this task is easier said than done. A rural entrepreneur faces a plethora of issues, usually called ‘teething troubles’, while setting up an enterprise. Various factors like the level of available power, apt Human Resources, connectivity infrastructure, technological literacy & advancement and ICT literacy & demands decrease as one goes from the cities towards villages. Yet, if based on planned innovative attempts, rural entrepreneurial models can help combat various rural problems like poverty, inequality, unemployment and illiteracy, while also being profitable for the people involved.
Any entrepreneurial model must possess 5 elements in order to flourish in the Rural India context– multiple offerings, flexibility in offerings, local demand-based intervention, continuous staff training & support and apt technological infrastructure.
Multipurpose/multi-vertical Business Model
Rural enterprises are hard to sustain on a single service; businesses need to be mounted with a range of services. Therefore, entrepreneurs must try to provide a variety of services through their business. It has been seen that rural dwellers prefer ‘one-stop solutions’ to their problems and dislike using different windows for different needs. A multi-vertical model certainly provides an edge to any rural-based enterprise.
Flexibility in Offerings for Sustainability
Enterprises based in rural areas should be flexible in terms of their offering so that fresh verticals and services could be added in accordance with the contemporary demands. Given that India’s villages are swiftly transforming and newer dimensions in technology and services are being continuously added, flexibility would help businesses stay relevant and profitable.
Moreover, rural enterprises must also be flexible in terms of customizing their business model in accordance with their respective on-ground realities. A model that is successful in cities might not be successful in rural areas, no-matter how world-class, futuristic or well-tested it is in the urban context. For example, an educational enterprise in urban areas might be successful with courses like VFX, animation or design, but it should be flexible enough to base its courses on renewable energy or agriculture if its target group is the rural audience.
Leveraging Regional/local Language and Culture
Alongside English and Hindi, businesses should provide their services in regional languages as well to connect with the local population in a better way. If you are not a local to the region where your business operates, enrolling locally-based workforce is another advantage as these people are better placed to understand the local demands, market as well as the culture. Also, having local workforce whom the locals know personally helps businesses gain immediate credibility in their target groups.
Continuous Training and Support
Traditionally, rural workforce is hard working but lags in pay-scales due to absence of apt up-skilling infrastructure in these areas. Rural organizations must understand these gaps in the skills of their workforce and try to fill these gaps through required training. Given that most of rural workers are experienced in unorganized sector, enterprises must also recognize their informal experience through RPL and must not shy away from hiring the deserving candidates.
Apart from that, employees should be encouraged to professionally deal with the market. Intra-industry knowledge sharing should be facilitated for their continuous upgradation in line with the latest industry trends and experiences from other businesses and their employees.
In today’s rapidly changing world, requisite technological infrastructure has become necessary for even rural enterprises to thrive and survive. It enables business to track, record, organize and provide a host of services in multiple verticals simultaneously.
From the development point of view, rural entrepreneurs are good at filling the advancement gap and help in transforming the local economy. In this way, the benefits of such enterprises are double ended – entrepreneurs make profits for themselves out of their service to the society. The only setback for rural enterprising is that a majority of people perceive it as absolutely unprofitable.
However, several successful enterprises have proved otherwise. Rural enterprises can be as successful as their urban-based counterparts, if they are planned and executed in concurrence with the on-ground situations and needs of the target groups.