The Curious Case Of Rural BPO – Part 2

We have been tracking the emerging concept of “Rural BPOs” in India with great interest in the past. In the continuation to the same series, we interviewed Mr. Bongu Bharat, Head HR of SourcePilani , a Rajasthan based Rural BPO. In case you are wondering what makes it part 2, this is the second company in that series after Source for change . Below are the excerpts.

What was the original idea? Now that you have spent some time in the middle do you see it’s shaping up as per the original plan or has there been any mid-course correction?

SourcePilani is a rural enterprise that was founded in September 2007 with a vision of bridging the digital divide through a twin based approach – Training (ICT & English) and Employment (BPO). Based in the rural hinterlands of Pilani (Rajasthan), India, it was launched to generate employment and wealth among the rural masses with an ambitious plan of triggering a rural transformation in the country.

This was the brain child of BITS Pilani’s Vice Chancellor, Dr. L K Maheshwari and when it was pitched to Mr Manoj Vasudevan,(Founder&CEO)who knew immediately that this was something worth pursuing. From a socio-economic standpoint, this idea would have a large impact on society and this was something that we used to procure funding from the Goenka Group. Once the capital was secured, it was all about taking the plunge.

We were initially looking at low end verticals like digitalization and data entry because we underestimated the potential of rural youth but now SourcePilani has evolved into a Rural BPO with high end verticals like Transcription(Medical/Business), Internet Marketing services (Social media Marketing/email marketing/lead generation), we are slowly moving towards verticals like User Generated Content (UGC)management and Tele-sales/marketing.

What is the social, economic and educational background of the employees?

All our employees are residents of Pilani and nearby Villages, for most of them SourcePilani has given them a secondary source of income, with the primary being agriculture which is taken care by other family members.You can go through the following cases of employees to know how we were able to impact their lifestyle.

Case 1: Story of Rajender

Age: 28; Location: Pilani; Education: B.A Economics(Hindi medium)
His father earns Rs 60-70 a day (Mechanic in a garage)
Occupation: BPO employee at SourcePilani.
Pay : Rs 3700/month
Expense : Rs 2000 sent to parents which helps in paying his two brother’s college fees
Rs 1000 for travel and personal expense
Rs 700 ( balance amount)
Other income : After BPO work shift , he makes Rs 500 from tuitions.
Total amount in hand : Rs 1200/per month.

Case 2: Story of Prem and his family

Family(3 members) at work
Prem and his cousins are employees at SourcePilani.
They take home Rs 12,000 a month
Their parents are into agriculture

What is the Average payout?

Rs 3500/month

How do you keep up with the shortage of skilled manpower? How much time does it takes to train a raw resource to a skilled one?

We have developed innovative and customized training programs to cater to our rural employee’s workforce. Our program focuses on building a foundation on ICT and English before putting them on process specific BPO training. We concentrate on all practical aspect of the English language training that include grammar, reading, writing, speaking, comprehending and listening, On the ICT front, the onus is to build computer exposure and practical IT savviness among the people. The foundation training is 3 months long and every person who joins our organization undergoes this training before he is put on to process specific training.

What about other challenges like broadband connectivity or frequent power cut outs?

SourcePilani is housed with a dedicated 512 Kbps leased line for high speed and reliable internet connectivity. Initially it was tough to get a broadband connection, we had to approach the IT minister Mr A Raja to get the connection done.
To deal with the long power cuts in rural India, We have 20 KVA UPS and 20 KVA generator for 24×7 power backup.

Are you gradually getting acceptance as a concept or do you still have to face the market skepticism?

Rural BPO’s have arrived and they have arrived in a big way, with more than 25 Rural BPO’s already in the country we are happy that the concept is widely accepted and with most of the Urban BPO’s looking at domestic client base, where they would get paid $3-$5 an hour, we feel Rural BPO’s are the only solution to sustain with such rates.
Clients are initially skeptic about the concept especially when they hear the word Rural they have all sorts of questions ranging from employee skills sets, to infrastructure, to quality of work. At times we offer free Pilots to clients to convince them about our capability.

What are your future plans?

We want to create rural BPO centers with 100 employees each. The vision is to replicate this model across Rajasthan and one day take this PAN India. We will be able to achieve this only by moving up the value chain of services. The potential for rural BPOs to spring up in the country is huge. A rural BPO is a classic example of a commercially viable business with a large social relevance. There is always a solid business case that revolves around this social model and that is what makes it sustainable. We are talking about extending the BPO landscape into rural India in order to tap into the abundant talent and cost effectiveness that rural India has to offer.

Rural BPO can offer cost effectiveness but what about the quality standards and data security?

The concept of Rural BPO’s would never have existed if the quality and security standards were not met. With innovative training modules and stringent processes we ensure top notch quality deliverables to the client. We follow standards when it comes to data security as the employees are not accessible to emails and the USB and CD ROMS are disabled on their systems.

What separates you from other Rural BPOs?

As mentioned earlier we have moved up the value chain and we have services like Transcription and Internet marketing which I think none of the Rural BPO’s offer. “We are the first and only Rural BPO to get into Medical transcription and we cater to the US healthcare society”. With plans of moving further up the channel I think SourcePilani will be a strong contender to be the best Rural BPO in India.

Do you think if you shed the tag of Rural BPO, you might notch up more clients or does it gives you a better niche branding?

The Rural Tag is something which we are proud of and we wouldn’t like to shed off the tag as we strongly believe in the concept and the potential of Rural population. With costs shooting up in Urban India we feel Rural will be the next destination for BPO services.

Do you get any special benefits from the Govt.? If no, then do you think there should be some provision in order to help and promote such a concept?

As of now we have not got any benefits from the government as such but we feel government should promote such a concept because we are improving the standards of life in Rural India. We have pumped in a huge amount of money in terms of salaries into the Pilani market which improved the economic activity in this area and we feel to make such a model easily replicated in more and more Rural destinations some grants and funds from the government will really help.

About SourcePilani

Founded in 2007, SourcePilani has been built with a vision of integrating rural India into the mainstream knowledge economy of the country. It aims to generate large scale employment and wealth creation among the rural masses by bridging the digital divide that exists between urban and rural India, today. The idea largely revolves around the empowerment of the rural community.

SourcePilani is a venture dedicated to rural transformation and empowerment via a commercial approach. This venture will strive to impact hundreds of lives in rural Rajasthan by providing gainful employment to the educated but unemployed rural people thus giving them a livelihood and providing them an opportunity to pursue their goals and interests.

We have served for both National and international clients in the past, to name a few we have served for Microsoft, Wiki-Invest, Truworth, Government of Rajasthan, Rural-Tech services etc.