IT for Change 2008
This case study is part of a research project that sought to analyse how different telecentre models approach development on the ground, proceeding to elaborate a typology based on the cornerstones of participation and equity. To conduct this assessment, four telecentre projects were examined: the Gujarat government’s E-gram project, the corporate-led venture by ITC called e-Choupal, the private enterprise model of Drishtee, and the community-owned telecentres of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF). Two main criteria were used in selecting the case studies – the diversity of ownership models, and the requirement of a sufficient scale of the intervention. In addition to the field research conducted in 2008 using qualitative methods, the research also built on secondary sources. A review of the literature in the field of Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) showed that while telecentres are viewed as contributing positively to development in general, they are largely not really seen as a space for catalysing transformative social change. Instead, there remains in the notion of telecentres for development a perpetuation of market-led approaches, wherein telecentres are viewed as a strategic means for expanding markets in rural areas, especially for corporates. In this approach, poor communities are repositioned as an opportunity for business, with ICTs as the most effective way of connecting them to the global market system. This espouses a version of inclusion that instumentalises disadvantaged sections, overlooking the potential of telecentres to serve as a tool for equitable and participatory development. Such subjugation of local development and the local community to the neo-liberal ideology can be seen as the ‘Walmartisation’ or ‘marketisation’ of development (Gurstein, 2007:6).1 A critical question for telecentre related policies and programmes therefore examines how ICTs can trigger structural-institutional changes that promote overall human development, going beyond exclusive market frameworks. Based on a critical analysis of findings from the field, the research attempted to examine two hypotheses. The first relates to the need for the communitisation of ICTD, as is a strong move towards communisation in other areas of development, like health, livelihoods, education, etc. Second, the development of an ICT governance regime favouring an open, inclusive and participatory socio-technical architecture. The latter seeks to empower the peripheries, acting against the strong tendency towards centralisation of power of the unregulated use of ICTs. The following analysis of the e-Choupal project of ITC will be situated within this larger debate.2
I. Background and approach to development
E-Choupal is an initiative of the International Business Division (IBD) of one of India’s leading private companies, ITC Ltd. Beginning in 2000, ITC set up a network of ICT kiosks around the country, called e-Choupal (an open meeting place in a village).
According to Sachin Sahay, General Manager at IBD, the aim was to ‘build an intelligent first mile and a low cost last mile for agricultural products and services’. ICTs are the primary means of operationalising this vision. Every e-Choupal centre is equipped with a computer, Internet connectivity through satellite technology and solar power. In addition, it provides
access to a web portal with current agriculture commodity prices at the village level for produce transactions. Additionally, e-Choupal supports best practices in farming through training sessions, provides information on weather conditions, and supplies quality agricultural inputs like seeds and fertilisers. E-choupal centres form part of IBD’s re-engineered
IT for Change Case Study, e-Choupal – An Initiative of ITC sourcing network, assuring supply for the company while cutting costs through...