For Meena Sharma of Hisar in Haryana, the ‘Internet Saathi’ show proved to be a savior during what she calls the hardest time of her life when both she and her husband were injured after a bicycle accident in February 2019 and bedridden. in bed. “I have been associated with them for the last year and a half. I started my fast food business in town after joining the program, ”he told indianexpress.com by call.
The 37-year-old had never used the internet before despite the family owning a smartphone. However, thanks to the Google program, Meena learned to use the Internet and cook fast food and even set up her own shop.
Although Meena had to close her store during the COVID-19 shutdown, she continued to make food at home and offered home delivery.
Like Meena, Aasiya Gawande, 39, had never used the Internet before joining the Internet Saathi program in 2017. “I had a ‘button-wala’ cell phone. At first there were restrictions and people in my family resisted women using a smartphone. But once I joined the project, I learned a lot online and the mindset changed as well, ”Gawande, who lives in a small town near Kolhapur, told indianexpress.com.
Gawande managed to use his learnings from the Internet Saathi project to start an online business selling papads, chutneys and pickles in his village and nearby areas. “I even shop online myself. I learned how to make digital payments with Google Pay. We put what we have cooked as WhatsApp Status and our customers see it and make the order, ”he said, adding that her work made her quite popular in the town. So much so that Gawande ran for rural elections and is now the sarpanch deputy for her village.
Krishna Barman from Panna in Madhya Pradesh joined the Internet Saathi program in 2018 and soon launched a soap business. The 27-year-old receives orders by phone. “During the confinement I began to make masks and disinfectants. I learned from the Internet how to make herbal masks and disinfectants and we went on to sell these products, “he said in a phone call.
These are just a few of the women who have become entrepreneurs, thanks to the Internet Saathi program, a collaboration of Google and the Tata Trust. While Internet Saathi was initially thought of to teach digital literacy, now everything is ready to enter its next phase, that of helping rural women establish their businesses.
“Our goal when we started in 2015 was to reach half of the villages in India, approximately 300,000 villages. Now we have reached and benefited 30 million women and we have more than 80,000 Internet Saathis. What we have learned is that digital literacy has helped women and their livelihoods, ”Sapna Chadha, Google’s senior director of country marketing, Google India and Southeast Asia told indianexpress.com.
When Internet Saathi started, the idea was for women designated as ‘Saathis’ to go to a village or rural area and help train other women on how to use the Internet. These ‘Saathis’ were armed with a smartphone and a tablet, each provided by Google. The Internet learning curriculum was also created by Google, while the women were trained by the Tata Trust. Google will now focus on helping nearly one million rural women entrepreneurs.
As part of the project, Google has also announced a dedicated online resource called the ‘Women Will’ platform, which will be offered as a progressive web application. The platform will try to answer the questions that many of these female entrepreneurs may have when it comes to setting up their businesses, be it around pricing, government schemes, mentorship, etc. The platform will be offered in Hindi and English at first, and will expand to more languages later.
“Given our experience with Internet Saathi, we are confident that we will achieve this at a good pace. For us to reach 30 million women in five years, the pace was better than we expected, ”said Chadha.
It admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic had posed challenges for women and there were drops in use during the crisis, but it also showed that the women’s network and community were resilient. “Our goal is to reach the whole country, but we will do it in stages. There are no specific categories of entrepreneurship that we are focused on. I think it will take time to reach more geographies, “said the Google executive.
While the previous phase of Internet Saathi was in partnership with the Tata Trusts, Google plans to expand its partners as it moves into the next phase.
“What the Tata Trust has given us is the ability to scale due to the robustness of their network. Now we are going to need new partners, ”said Chadha. Google is working with the Sheroes community for the acceleration program and will add more partners, although it has not yet responded who they will be.
“Ultimately, what all entrepreneurs need is community and mentorship. There will be an approach in the form of accelerators to help there, ”said Chadha.
Google has also partnered with the NASSCOM Foundation to help more than one lakh of female farmers or farm workers. The company offers a grant of $ 500,000 to help these farmers. It also announced a $ 25 million grant as part of its Google.org Global Impact Challenge for Women and Girls. The funds will be given to non-profit and social organizations in India and around the world, which are working to promote the economic empowerment of women and girls.