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April 04, 2004


Via Atanu Dey's post getting to know more about the progress in RISC project. I met Atanu last year and round the same time exchanged few emails with Rajesh Jain. I was immediately impressed by the beauty of the model and its promise. RISC project is all about leveraging the entrepreneurial talent in the rural India setting by providing both infrastructure level ( power, telecom etc) and application level (micro-financing, access to market etc) services. Its ultimate objective is to lift much of rural India out of the poverty trap by correcting the problem of coordination between multiple parties. Project requires $5Billion to execute and has a very compelling promise of increasing India's GDP by 1 percentage point. Now this project is getting executed under the for-profit banner of Deeshaa Ventures. Its a wise decision to use explicit for-profit model to generate seriousness, convey a new thinking and make it sustainable.

Though there is not much information available about the pilot project, I am curious to see the initial data points to understand this model at its edges. When I first looked at the model I was wondering about an entrepreuner (the main actor of this model), the question was what is the most compelling entry model for a budding entrepreuner in rural India and how this model provides the compelling "user interface" to enhance his risk appetite and make them jump-in. As this model suggests that the circled "User" sitting on top of the services and infrastructure layer needs infrastructure support and for-profit motivation for joining-in.

At the risk of sounding too-IT centric (though some of this comes from the strong IT analogy I have seen in the RISC whitepaper itself) , the three layers could be treated as analogous to Cisco (Infrastructure), Microsoft (Services), SAP (User). Three strong franchisees of the three critical layers. As somebody who is just one generation removed from the eastern-UP's backward environment, I would need strong incentive at the SAP layer to jump-in. Its the application which matters in the end, and this model needs to address the motivation (or the lack of) of entrepreuner by providing a realistic roadmap which can make him sit-up and dream a new dream. For example take the case of eastern UP, a very poor area by income and level of education . There is a place called Chunar where stone quarrying and ceramics based businesses have flourished at the small scale level for many generations. Commercialization of this natural resource is a classic example where most of the stakeholders are locked up in never ending poverty cycle. I am not able to visualize how a budding entrepreuner, trying to take his ceramics business to the level where access to global market can suddenly make him 10x-20x return on his investments, will enter into this RISC model and why cant he do that right now ?

For the promoters of RISC the big question is where to invest first - at the Cisco level or Microsoft or at let there be thousand homegrown SAPs. Probably pilot project's lessons will shed more light on this.

Its a long term commitment and naturally there will be course corrections and adaptations. Important thing is to stay end-state focused. Its very encouraging to see people like Vinod Khosla evangelizing this model and making media aware of these initiatives. Project of this size will need support from all parties. Needless to say its progress will be fun to watch and there will be many learning opportunities as well. As Vinod Khosla said in the interview , one has to think long term -

See, despondency reflects short-term thinking. People who have no vision say this. It is the people who think short-term. It is the people who think something going up and down in the stock markets is the definition of success. Success is defined by the impact something has on the lives of people.

April 4, 2004 in Social angle | Permalink


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