Rural women typically form community networks and organise activities for the groups. The Tata Trusts’ Internet Saathi programme, launched in 2015 in collaboration with Google, encourages these women to serve as agents for change by taking the lead in promoting digital literacy within their rural communities. In short, the programme helps to create a cadre of digitally-trained women in rural communities who train other women, thereby building a growing network of trainers who impart digital literacy to rural citizens.
Today, the Trusts have built a strong network of close to 60,000 saathis, who have imparted digital literacy to more than 20 million women across 200,000 villages. The saathis also share critical information such as weather updates and relief measures during disasters such as floods and cyclones with fellow villagers.
These women also serve as a link between the rural community and the Trusts, and play a vital role in providing the Trusts information about the patterns of internet usage in the communities they work. They fulfil objectives of portfolios that have cross-linkages with the Trusts’ digital intervention programmes. For example, the internet saathis collect the field level data that feeds into the Aspirational districts program.
The Trusts have established a Foundation for Rural Entrepreneurship Development (FREND) for the implementation of the Internet Saathi and livelihoods programme in rural communities. Through FREND, the Internet Saathi programme is evolving into its second phase – with the Trusts opening up the platform for other partners to participate. This would not just empower these women saathis by engaging them in transformative work, but also provide a livelihood opportunity – one that would help them sustain their network. The saathis are also contributing in a WASH programme in Gujarat, creating awareness of good practices and menstrual hygiene
The Trusts believe that a digital hub of curated earning opportunities with enablement and support functionalities needs to be established that can be leveraged by rural women to set-up social enterprises that are locally placed, but globally focused. The Trusts intend to bring this into action through the 'FREND Application' that will enable and support entrepreneurial drive amongst women in rural India at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey.
The hub endeavours to cater to every stage of a woman’s entrepreneurial journey – from novice to established, by not only providing income earning opportunities, but also providing support elements that often make all the difference to the success and scalability of an enterprise.
The vision of FREND is to have a one lakh digital entrepreneurs with income opportunity of rupees one lakh per annum by 2022. With over 53 per cent of women trained by internet saathis using the internet to upskill themselves, the Internet Saathi programme has given latent entrepreneurial aspirations the opportunity to flourish.
The Internet Saathi impact study conducted by IPSOS revealed that 45 per cent of the women believe they have increased their income by learning new skills, and 57 per cent women feel they have learnt better ways of investing their money. Women were twice as more likely to express themselves in village level meetings and 3.5 times more likely to join other social causes.
The Internet Saathi Impact Study 2018 conducted by TNS reveals the following:
- 70 per cent women accessed the internet for the first time via the Internet Saathi programme.
- 1 in 3 women believe that the Saathi programme has positively impacted their personal and children’s education.
- 30 per cent of people have improved access to health care enjoying improved health.
- 53 per cent is the uplift seen in upskilling.
- 2 in 10 women go on to start their own business with an average revenue of over Rs 4,000 per month.