The latest Indian census revealed that India has more mobile phones than toilets. Social commentators were quick to point out that we have managed to build a consumerist society at the expense of developing essential services. While there’s no denying the fact that a lot needs to be done to bridge the rich-poor divide in India, it would be foolish of us to reduce the booming mobile phones market to mere consumerist culture. The explosion of the mobile phone user base has changed lives in unimaginable ways in rural India and among the urban poor.
The digital revolution has probably done more to provide livelihoods and dignity to millions of people living on the margins of society than anything else in the last decade. Take the case of an illiterate watermelon farmer in the poor north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The mobile phone has altered his business in several ways: His phone helps him get information regarding traffic, wholesale market rates, and other risk information essential to the transport of time-critical, perishable commodities. Today he gets improved rates and manages his relationships with key traders on a daily basis without having to travel to the various towns. State Bank of India, the country’s largest public-sector bank, is currently piloting two initiatives for financial inclusion in rural India that are based on the mobile platform.
So it comes as no surprise that Euro RSCG's This Digital Life study found that 6 in 10 young people (age 18-30) in India feel that digital technology will make life better over the long term. Looking at other emerging markets, 75 percent of young people in China and 57 percent in Brazil agree. While, in India, this study spoke to urban audiences, in my humble opinion the greatest change will be seen and felt at the bottom of the pyramid, among those rural-dwellers in the lowest socioeconomic sector. Perhaps that’s where it is needed the most in emerging markets. And, as for businesses, those that design products that make people’s lives genuinely better will find them easier to market.
Sourav Ray is chief strategy officer of Euro RSCG India.
Image credit: Creative Commons/Gunjan Karun@flickr.com