The Curious Case Of Rural BPO

We at have been following the rural bpo sector with as much curiosity as any other bpo trend watcher would. What seems to be an interesting idea also looks like highly experimental in nature , however with increasing cost of operation this concept does provide some sort of alternative
We discussed with Mr. Karthik Raman , Head of Business Development for “Source For Change” , an upcoming rural BPO in Rajasthan,India to catch upon more about this trend.

Here are the excerpts

1.Tell us some thing about your concept and the team involved in this.

Source for Change (SFC) is a progressive company built on the idea that social values can be achieved through the private marketplace. We work alongside the women of rural India in delivering the highest level of quality to our global clients. Specifically, SFC operates in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry with a data entry center in Bagar, Rajasthan.

The all-women, rural BPO addresses social and business needs. For our clients, we provide a high quality product at a competitive price. At the same time, rural women gain technology skills and employment in an industry that would otherwise overlook them.

Our business is predicated on our experience working with rural women, who have proven that they provide high-quality and cost competitive BPO services due to their keen attention to detail and long term commitment to the company.

2.I am sure many people would have been skeptical about it… what were the initial challenges

Initially, the community was hesitant. Both men and women questioned whether women would be able to perform IT work. Some husbands did not allow their wives to come to the interviews. Our persistence paid off though and we were able to recruit twenty-seven women for an interview. As we were running it as a pilot in October 2007, we
selected the ten best women (Business Process Associates) and began work after two months of training. The training period consisted of both English and computers.

Another challenge lay in another landscape: urban India’s mistrust Of rural India. Many urbanites still do not trust a high quality product to be delivered from a rural area.

The most interesting learning for us thus far has been that rural India has grown to accept the radical notion of rural women producing extremely high quality IT products for global clients whereas potential clients from urban areas are still skeptical. We are actively working to convince our friends from metros that rural women can, in fact, deliver IT-enabled services that rival the level of quality from urban areas.

3.How confident were you about the success of this model?

We have always had faith that this model would work. Recently, “oDesk” conducted an informal survey of client feedback and found that their clients rate deliverables created by women as 3.5% more satisfactory than those created by men.

Of course, we read this well after beginning this venture, but it reaffirms what we knew at the get go. Rural women would be more committed and more detail-oriented regarding the IT work we planned on sourcing. This was the business case.

The social case is based on women being more likely to invest their incomes in their families and to pass their new IT skills onto their communities.

Both the social case and the business cases are central to the ground-breaking work that Source for Change does.

4.What are the certain limitations that you think which remain in such a model? And with those limitations are you restricted to only some particular type of business process like back-end etc

The greatest limitation is the lack of faith from potential clients.The only limitation with training and employing rural women is spoken English. Our Associates pick up technology skills and written English quite quickly. We have begun transcription services, scanning, and will soon take on bill and invoice processing. Also, we have begun to
train some of the women on editing images using Photoshop as this and magazine layout will be important verticals in the future.

5.Do you also need to work upon employee motivation, satisfaction or attrition?

‘Source for Change’ believes in creating and maintaining a vibrant,dynamic work culture. The women often lead many of our decision making processes. We also set ambitious goals along with them. This is why we began the image editing trainings with them. Along with technical training, we have incorporated management training as well. Some of
our original Associates now manage Quality Assurance, develop team building activities, coordinate daily errands, and manage processes.One day, the women will run the center entirely on their own.

Along with challenging our employees to gain confidence with new roles and responsibilities, our organization has built an environment of teamwork amongst all employees. Our Associates challenge and support one another to expect the best of themselves. We have also worked to minimize any gaps between the management and the Associates.

6.Do you have any support from Govt. of India?

Our company has been very independent from the outset. We have worked on a project for our District Collector’s Office, but have not approached government offices for other forms of support.

7.Who are your competitors? Recently we heard about Fostera on a hiring spree? Do you have any plans for expansion?

Approximately twenty-five rural BPOs exist across the country. There are also other socially responsible BPOs in other countries that employ women, the poor, and the disabled. We also face competition from data entry companies such as Data Entry India.

We are now running the equivalent of a 25 seater. By January 2010, we plan on employing 200 women and two years after that, we will be employing 1,000. We will build centers that each have the capacity for 200 employees.

8.Tell us something about your partners or clients you have worked with. I see an interesting name “University of Maryland”, How did you land up with their project and what was their feedback?

Source for Change had a relationship with an NGO in India who contracted us to perform their data entry work. The end client was the University of Maryland. Both organizations were incredibly enthusiastic about the quality we returned and and are looking for additional opportunities to partner. Besides them, we have delivered six projects to Pratham India and will be entering into a contract with InTouch Solutions, a BPO located in New Delhi.

9.How much have you been affected with the downturn? How do you plan to cope up with the same?

The downturn has not effected us in a noticeable manner as our clients are largely domestic. The domestic market provides great opportunities for us to offer our services. The short term may prove to be difficult, but as companies innovate and focus on their core competencies, we will see an upswing in outsourcing within the next few months.

About source for change
Source for Change is an all-women, rural BPO in Bagar, Rajasthan that provides high quality data entry and other back office services for competitive prices. We add considerable value to NGOs, government agencies, and private entities for their data entry and other back office needs

Team involved:

Shrot Katewa graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from the University of Rajasthan. Before he co-founded the pilot Source for Change center in Bagar, Rajasthan, he worked with two English-language BPOs in Mumbai, namely Global Telecommunications Limited and Epicenter.

Alim Haji graduated Summa cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Science degree in Optical Engineering from the University of New Mexico. He has worked as a Researcher for the United States Air Force and as an intern at IBM. He co-founded the pilot Source for Change center in Bagar, Rajasthan and has served as an Aga Khan Fellow.

Karthik Raman graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Case Western Reserve University. He has served as a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs (US) and has popularized the energy-free fridge in tribal regions of Tamil Nadu.

Gagan Rana graduated Summa cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley. He has worked as a municipal bond Analyst at JPMorgan and Research Intern at Citigroup. He started a rural food processing plant in Sangli, Maharashtra and co-founded the pilot Source for Change center in
Bagar, Rajasthan.