Sonia runs a Community Information Resource Center (CIRC) in Vitchanthangal village, Kanchipuram district. She helps her customers gain access to online services like government documents, pan card, aadhaar card, lamination work and aadhar linked payments. She also takes computer classes for students of her village.
She works the whole week and even during the various lockdowns she helped people with emergency registration work.
Sonia receives about 20 to 30 customers per day and she doesn’t believe in fixing prices for her services as some people can afford them and others can’t so she adjusts the price in accordance to her customer, sometimes even does it for free. She has customers not just from her village but also from several neighboring villages, because of her high quality service.
Sonia is a hard working well trained digital foot soldier. Many of my colleagues say that she has been working to offer digital services to people since her child was small and used to sit in her lap. Now her son goes to school. She was a regular house wife with a working husband when she stepped out and joined a school as a teacher. Later she came to know about the SmartPur program four years back. SmartPur is a program of Digital Empowerment Foundation supported by Nokia that established digital and connectivity infrastructure and inspired entrepreneurship and digital capacity building to offer information access to the people through marginally paid services.
Sonia joined DEF’s program in 2018 and before that she used to work in a government school and had a salary of 5,000 rupees per month. After receiving digital entrepreneurship training from DEF she learnt how to use digital devices to serve the needs of the people. She has been given several digital devices such as computers, printers, a lamination machine and even solar panels as there are irregular power cuts in her village. The solar powered center helps her in providing continued service to her customers. She found it difficult to run her center as an enterprise when she had started but slowly when people saw the quality of her work they started coming to her center. With her persistent efforts she now earns an average of 20,000 rupees per month.
Sonia, however, had a lot of complaints that she conveyed to me. She said she needs more computers from DEF so that she could provide regular education facilities to the village children since online classes are mandatory for all school children and not many children have devices at home. When I asked how she would do so much work alone, she explained that her husband comes home from his work by 5-6 pm. I ask him to sit with me here to take care of walk-in customers and I shift my role to become a digital teacher for the students who I call in the evening for online classes or digital skilling classes.
“I have just two computers for the online classes and one of them is not working properly. If I get two good working computers, I will be able to serve a lot of students in half hourly sessions,” Sonia explained her demand with detailed logic.
Sonia also sought help to get her CSC license so that she could provide even more services to the people. The full form of CSC is “Common Service Center”, that enables digital entrepreneurs or village level entrepreneurs to offer e-government services to the people and get commission on each of the services. I asked her to go online at https://www.apnacsconline.in/apply-for-csc-center-online/ and do it herself and have also informed the DEF office in Delhi.
Considering that Sonia serves about 30 customers a day and without holidays or any gap, she would be serving at least 40,000 customers every year for four years. It is amazing how a digital enterprise is a great opportunity for a village woman and how such enterprises empower unconnected and unreached villagers of India where connectivity is scarce and dependency on digital is non-negotiable.
Kudos to Sonia for fighting digital exclusion consistently for four years and digitally empowering her community.
Yuvasree is a graphic and information designer with Digital Empowerment Foundation based out of Pondicherry.