He Helps Them Get the Message
Here’s the real-life story of an Indian college dropout who made it to this year’s Forbes “To Watch” list. And he's done it with the help of unemployed youths and their mobile phones.
Ravi Ghate is the director of SMSONE, the trailblazing start-up that has caught the eye of Forbes magazine. He will openly tell you that he failed his college diploma – just in case you neglected to read it on the company's website. In fact, on that same page, you will also learn that his co-director, Jyoti, is a college dropout.
So what is it that these entrepreneurs sans MBA have done to: (1) be singled out by Forbes “to watch in 2010”; and (2) be awarded numerous awards for social innovation, including one from the Clinton Global Initiative & Microsoft UP Program?
The answer: they simply saw a very basic need and fulfilled it.
SMSONE operates out of the state of Maharashtra. While modern luxuries can easily be found here in the bustling metropolis of Mumbai, there are areas in Maharashtra where farming is still the predominant way of making a living.
Here, internet access is a concept of the future and the only technology available to the locals is a basic mobile phone shared between members of the same household.
Like in many other parts of the developing world, use of the mobile phone became a lot more prolific when airtime charges started to fall and became more affordable to the poor. Ghate saw this as an opportunity to create local networks to better connect isolated communities, by providing them with information and news that were useful to them.
To do this, Ghate employs young jobless youths in various communities. He gives them the task of building up a network of locals who will subscribe to this news service via their mobile phones.
This service has proven to be very successful in meeting local needs. In an appeal for a blood drive, between 30 and 50 boys responded. When a family needed to send one of its members for a cancer operation, different households that got the message came forth with donations. When there was a vaccination exercise, families knew when to take their children to the clinics.
This service has also helped farmers in their daily businesses. Now they are informed via SMS when their seed or fertiliser deliveries arrive from the state, so they know when to collect them. Before, they would have to forego a day's work to travel more than 40 kilometres to make enquiries, and this would often cost them up to an entire day's wages.
There are now more than 612 million mobile phone subscriptions in India, with an increase of 100 million in just five months. (Source: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India)
Photo credit: Dipanker Dutta
Ghate is looking to expand this concept to more communities. SMSONE has received funding from a Bangalore-based non-governmental organisation to expand its service to the southern Indian state of Karnataka. He is optimistic about the potential of this simple idea.
“I foresee this idea will replicate in various states and countries in next five years to come,” he says.
“This will give self employment to millions of school-college dropouts across the globe, especially in developing countries.
“My ultimate aim of providing self-employment opportunities to the needy youths will be fulfilled in coming four to five years.”
Ghate places a lot of importance on helping needy youths.
“If we do not groom these boys, they will become local naxals (anti-social elements) in years to come. Because they have no food, no job, no skills, no business opportunities, no money to investment to start any small business, what they will do?”
These youths are the reason why SMSONE publicises the lack of educational qualification among its staff.
“All our team members are less educated and they are highlighted on our website because we want to inspire the uneducated, school-college dropouts, failed students; that if the SMSONE boys can make a difference, then why can’t they?”
For his efforts, Ghate has won much recognition both in and outside of India. He considers them as benchmarks and confirmation that SMSONE is on the right track.
I asked him what his measure of success is. He says it doesn't lie in how many dollars he makes.
“It depends upon how many families, individuals have benefited from our initiative, what impact our system made on them. Our success lies in their smiles and not in their pockets.
“After all, we all are servants of that Almighty. He had given this idea to us to serve the needy ones, and not to make ourselves billionaires.”
Through empathy for others disadvantaged by their socio-economic situations, Ravi Ghate has given a group of young men an opportunity to beat the odds and achieve financial viability through the simple concept of serving others. He has also presented India with a social entrepreneur the country can truly be proud of.