RSV is an enterprise resource planning application available on simple ‘feature’ mobile phones. The product was developed for the Rural Distribution Network (RUDI) in Gujarat, India, a pioneering initiative established by the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) to support women in India. SEWA operates in 14 states of India building the capacities of over 1.9 million informal economy women workers. RUDI is an agricultural cooperative founded on a simple model of procuring rawagricultural produce from marginal farmers at market price; adding value by cleaning, processing and packaging it, before selling RUDI-branded products at affordable prices through a network of rural saleswomen.
The application was developed to address inefficiencies in RUDI’s order management and communication systems. RSV enables the RUDI saleswomen to place orders, track inventory and manage their businesses using their mobile phones. Transmitting information via inexpensive text messages, RUDI saleswomen can place stock orders which are displayed instantaneously on computers at RUDI’s processing centres, enabling RUDI to manage inventory and distribution more efficiently.
Where the product/service is being used
The RUDI network is currently active in Gujarat state, India, with plans to expand into other states in the near future.
The Problems it attempts to solve or address
RSV supports the project partners’ combined goals of full-employment and self-reliance for women through the use of mobile technology. Established in 2004, RUDI engages over 1,350 rural women and operates across 14 districts of Gujarat, and has sold over £3.1million of stock.
The expansion of RUDI’s operations outgrew their informal supply chain management systems. Orders were made by word-of-mouth and recorded on paper, with RUDI women often travelling up to 7 hours to place orders and collect stock. This paper-based system made it difficult for RUDI to anticipate demand and manage inventory. RUDI estimated 20-30% of potential sales were lost as orders went unfulfilled as end customers sourced goods from alternative suppliers. This not only impacted the RUDI women’s sales and income but also the 3,000 farmers who sell their produce to RUDI.
To effectively meet RUDI’s management needs would require a technology platform that the women had easy access to – a simple mobile phone.
RSV has been developed specifically for RUDI, by working directly with the women entrepreneurs in the network to understand the information required to successfully place an order and manage their own business (e.g. recording customer sales and transactions). The application was initially trialled and adapted following a small-scale pilot. RSV’s interface is designed for the simplest phones that are typically owned by the RUDI saleswomen and translated into the local Gujarati language.
RSV uses a java-based interface on simple ‘feature’ mobile phones, which are prevalent in the region. Information is transmitted via inexpensive SMS technology (rather than data/3G services) to the server, and the web-enabled backend is accessible to RUDI management via a browser in the processing centres. Since piloting, further technical enhancements have been identified and additional languages added. The M-Pesa mobile money platform is being integrated to enable RUDI women to both order and pay for their stock remotely.
RSV was developed jointly by SEWA, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and the Vodafone Foundation in India. Ekgaon Technologies, a rural services platform provider in India, was hired to develop the software and provide technical expertise.
Beyond the initial development and training costs, the platform has very low operational costs due to the use of SMS for data transfer. The application is provided to RUDI women free of charge and the increase in sales volume more than covers the software hosting charges.
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The success of the application has far exceeded the expectations of the partners, with top sellers generating significant increases in income due to RSV. We have testimonies from women who can now provide their families with two meals a day instead of one, and children are being enrolled in school without the need for expensive loans, thanks to increased household income attributed to RSV. To date over 1,300 illiterate and semi-literate women from remote rural & desert prone villages have been trained to use the application and the project is on track to reach 2,500 by May 2015. RSV has increased women’s business options, household nutrition and food security.
The application won ‘Best Mobile Product in Emerging Markets’ at the 2014 Global Mobile Awards.
The exposure to mobile technology with such a broad range of women is extremely variable and fear of technology was one of the biggest barriers to adoption of RSV; it takes time for women to entrust their business to ‘unknown’ technology, despite the proven potential of increased income. Involving successful saleswomen in peer to peer training, proved particularly successful in highlighting the benefits of using the application over ‘traditional’ methods. Continued capacity building is critical for the successful take-up and sustained use of the application; regular training and on-the-ground support for the women is central to increasing adoption of the application.