Many shop owners in Indian villages are beyond the reach of major distributors. Some goods are sold to them by local producers, but owners “have to leave their shops four times a month to get 81 percent of the stuff that they sell,” says Amir Alexander Hasson. Having to travel to restock doesn’t just affect shop owners; villagers end up paying higher prices for a smaller selection of goods. Since founding United Villages in 2004, Hasson has been using wireless technologies to help solve this and other problems facing the rural poor in developing nations.
Hasson started out with a system that helped people in isolated communities send and receive e-mail and search for jobs. Wi-Fi routers were attached to buses; when a bus drove into a village, its router connected with computers set up at local kiosks. Now Hasson is taking advantage of the rapid expansion of cell-phone networks to set up a for-profit wholesale service called E-Shop. Shop owners with phones that run Java applications can browse an online catalogue and place orders; data is transferred between the phones and United Villages using SMS text messages. This method is cheap and doesn’t require powerful smart phones. In about 36 hours, the goods are delivered directly to the shop.
Hasson is planning to introduce another use of E-Shop, as a way for people to post advertisements through a local store owner. “For [50 cents], someone can post his motorbike for sale,” says Hasson, “It will be India’s first mobile-based classifieds.” –Nidhi Subbaraman
Kiosk connection: United Villages brings the benefits of wireless technology to the rural poor through local shop owners.
Credit: United Villages