Friday, November 28, 2014

Sustaining and Scaling Rural BPOs

Early in 2013 I started working with RuralShores.  A social enterprise that sets up small size BPOs in rural locations and employs local educated youth from around 10 kms radius.

The concept of Rural BPO has not been new for me and over the last couple of years I have found many people from even non-BPO backgrounds who are kind of aware of the concept and know about the experiments being run across the country - especially Andhra, TN and Uttarakhand.

The first thought that used to come to mind with Rural BPO were the issues one would face with Infrastructure, people, training, trainers and so on.

But very early in my engagement with RuralShores I figured that infrastructural issues had been addressed pretty much.  They were all resolvable with minor tech innovations and some money.  Also the training has been addressed to a certain level since the skill requirement is not that stringent anyway.

RuralShores had already made it to 18 locations across 10 States of India when I joined.  In the last one year we have been able to activate 3 more and 2 more in process - getting to about 23 by this year end.  I am yet to come across a company with that kind of spread in the rural bpo space!

So then what was the big deal here that makes RuralShores different?

It was not availability of Capital, it has not been the ability to address challenges on the ground - not much different from others here.

Even with training and people motivation - it is not very different.  In my view, I found the following three aspects as critical to the scale and sustenance that RuralShores drives:

1.  Actively working on the scale of Business Development, not so much variety.  Focused approach on getting large scale work from one customer.  Taking difficult decisions to not take on smaller deals that cannot scale in 6 months for sure.

2. Partnership model for setting up centers - local entrepreneur drives the infra and local management in the rural area and RuralShores does all the rest.

3. Relentless pushing of the envelope by the Founder.  I find this much needed energy in the founder who is at once impatient, unreasonable and at the same time deeply respectful of all people and very spiritual person.  I have had many discussions with him on why something cant be done and he has always proved me wrong by just simply giving it the best shot!  It works 80% of the time - which is more than enough to make this model work.  RuralShores is able to attract talent from the Industry just due to this passion.

Its been a deeply reflective and immensely satisfying time.  I will share more shortly, the impact we are creating!