- Smart phones for poverty alleviation -
With a donation of Smartphones from Google, Tag has succeeded in transforming a personal device into a community tool, with unexpectedly lucrative results in a remote village in Sri Lanka.
Thanks to a partnership between Tag and Sri Lanka’s largest grassroots organization Sarvodaya, today a businessman in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, is ordering one million coir brushes every month from a remote rural area, providing jobs and income and contributing to community development among the villagers of Alegoda.
In Sri Lanka 84.9% of the population live in rural areas, with limited access to information and education. Smartphones offer dramatic new development opportunities for rural areas.
Alegoda is a remote village surrounded by coconut groves in central Sri Lanka in the Kurunegala area. Local resident Priyantha Bandara took the initiative of setting up a few simple machines to make brushes out of the coir fibre. “Earlier I was doing paddy farming. Later, I thought I should start doing my own business, and support other poor people within my village and do a business. That is how I started doing this.”
Coir, the fibre in coconuts, is used in rope and twine, brooms and brushes, doormats, rugs, upholstery, erosion control products, and coir pith as a peat moss substitute in horticulture.
Thirty percent of the world coir supply is from Sri Lanka, and while the raw material can provide a basic income to the poorest local communities, a far greater benefit can accrue by manufacturing coir products close to the place of harvest.
Access to Alegoda village is over dirt and mud roads, and the people eke out a basic living from coconuts and other agricultural products. Priyantha employed local women, who were able to make a few hundred rupees ($3 -$5) a day after doing their other chores by cutting the coir fibre and twisting it into brushes, with the help of a rudimentary machine.
“Tag represents a force for good. Tag’s initiatives around the world provide
practical support to those who are in need of professional solutions to resolve often complex problems. The willingness of those involved in providing both their time and expertise irrespective of location never ceases to amaze me.”
Roger Cater, Director, AIMS International
From coconuts to facebook
Although the production side was set up and running, it was proving difficult to find a market for all the brushes, and eventually production had to be reduced. This is where Sarvodaya’s SEEDS division for finance of small business came into the picture. Its main objective is to alleviate poverty by promoting economic empowerment of rural people for a sustainable livelihood.
Saliya Kumarasiri, Seeds’ Enterprise Promotion Officer, suggested using the Tag-sponsored Smart Village project, run by Sarvodaya’s Fusion IT division, to promote sales of the brushes.
Fusion, which is dedicated to e-empowerment of rural communities, helped Saliya and Priyantha to put together a Facebook page where they could advertise the brushes.
Priyantha, the coir brush maker, used a Smartphone which had been given to him to take photos of the brushes, and Saliya uploaded them to the Facebook page.
One million orders is only the beginning
Less than a month later, Priyantha received orders for steady production of one million units per month, and has now set up workshops in several locations around the village, employing women and men full and part-time.
The “Smart Village” project is an innovative initiative to support and develop rural communities in Sri Lanka and address multiple challenges through the use of Android Smartphones. The project aims to provide solutions for education, livelihood, and social and cultural development needs through the creative use of Smartphones.
Tag International Development is implementing this project in partnership with Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to social and economic empowerment, and Fusion, Sarvodaya’s ICT for Development movement.
Thanks to Google, which supplied the phones, and to Dialog, a local mobile phone provider which supplied the airtime, Tag is now able to pioneer the use of Smartphones for development purposes. The mobility and simplicity of Smartphone devices are its key advantages.
Numerous potential benefits of drawing on Smartphones as a community tool have been identified, ranging from communication and social media to accessing useful information such as transport schedules, weather forecasts, price comparisons and general web information. Possibilities have also been recognised for facilitating education, cultural expression, health promotion, disaster preparedness and, uniquely, to address Sri Lanka’s human-elephant conflict. For example, the devices can be used as an early warning system through which villagers can alert each other to the danger of approaching elephants.