Google’s Internet Saathi programme, now present in over 100,000 villages with the aim to help rural women go online, will be rolled out to Bihar and Haryana. The programme is in partnership with Tata Trust. “It’s been a core strategy of Google’s to put the internet in every Indian’s hands. What we saw was a significant gender gap in India when it comes to internet usage. In rural India, the situation is much worse,” said Sapna Chadha, Head of Marketing, Google India in an interaction with indianexpress.com explaining the reasoning behind ‘Internet Saathi.’
The project was started nearly three years ago, and Google aims to hit over 300,000 villages in India over the coming years. Chadha explains Google has managed to establish a proven model with the Internet Saathi programme. “We know that there are a number of areas holding women from getting on the internet, and that we couldn’t solve all of them. But what we could solve was that we can make the internet available to them and be understood for what it is,” she said. For Google, the idea was looking at sustained change and impact with this project.
Internet Saathis are women, who have been trained by Google and Tata Trust to help other women in the village understand the internet and how it can be used to better their lives, both from an economic and social perspective.
Explaining the role of the ‘Internet Saathi,’ Chadha said, “She (Internet Saathi) is the change agent and she does this everyday… She’s enabling young women, older women to be educated about the internet.” Google says so far they have enabled over 10 million women across India with the programme. Google’s own research has also shown that women who were exposed to the programme have seen improvements to their socio-economic conditions, compared to villages where the Internet Saathi programme was not launched.
“We found that content that has been disseminated to these women is getting through. Over 90 per cent of the women who have got the training said their understanding of the internet has increased. Additionally, 33 per cent women say their economic livelihood has improved because of the program. Also one out of 10 women have said their social impact has changed. Social impact being in terms of respect, confidence, which has improved as a result of this,” pointed out Chadha.
She gives example of a woman named in Rama Devi in Andhra Pradesh who learnt of new farming techniques, bangle-making, and even blouse design thanks to her exposure to the internet and was able to improve her economic output. She also helped other farmers in the village understand about the full impact of fertilisers on crops.
Another example is of a woman named Choti in Rajasthan, who helped her husband buy a second hand car through OLX, and then register as a OLA driver thanks to what she learnt. “She helped their family income move from Rs 12,000-15,000 to over Rs 20,000. So we’ve seen women gain more confidence about the kind of knowledge they need, be it for employment opportunities or daily use,” says Google’s Head of Marketing.
Chadha also says Google spends a considerable amount of time in training the women, nearly six months with each village. “If we won’t invest, we won’t see the sustained benefits that we’ve hoping to achieve,” she explains though she admits it will take the company more time to achieve its goal of over 300,000 villages.
While Tata Trust has been investing in the daily stipends for the ‘Internet Saathis,’ Google provides the device and the training. “Ultimately they treat this like a job, and they do this everyday. For the bulk of the day they are teaching other women and girls in their village about the internet. On our side, we have been investing in the devices as well as the content, curriculum, has been the focus area for Google,” she points out.
However, the task of training women is not always easy, and the women do face barriers and resistance from their families. “It is something that we do see and we will continue to see. The women that have come to the training, some of them don’t have the support from their families to do it, and they do face resistance. I don’t think all the stories are as positive, but I have met families that have turned into supporters, because of the impact this has on their lives. Husbands have become cheerleaders in some cases, but I don’t want to say that this happens across the board,” says Chadha.