Empowering women in 100,000 villages with Internet Saathi program

“We want to find jobs online”
“I want to see temples”
“I want to be able to buy from my mobile”
“I want my kids to learn English”
“We wish we could  talk to our phones in our own native language”

These are just a few of asks by women in rural India. From being afraid to touch a smartphone, worried that they will spoil it, to now demanding services that can help them get more from the Internet -  they have come a long way.

Even as India has taken the lead to become the fastest growing Internet user market in the world, India’s Internet is still dominated by male users. The digital gender divide is even wider in rural India where digital literacy amongst women continues to be a challenge, this combined with socio-economic challenges are the major barriers that prevent women from using the Internet.

We have been working hard  to change this male:female ratio of new Internet users in rural India with the Internet Saathi program. Launched with a pilot in Rajasthan in July 2015, we announced our ambitious plans to scale the program, to cover 300,000 villages across India in December 2015.

Today, we’re happy to share that the Internet Saathi program, in partnership with Tata Trusts,  is live in over 100,000 villages across ten states in India. We have over 25,000 Internet Saathis who are working everyday across these villages, and have  helped over 10 million women learn about the Internet and how they can use it in their daily lives.

It is remarkable to see the passion of women like Parvati, one of the first Internet Saathi’s, and several others of them in rural India,  learning about the Internet, not just for their own needs but for their families, kids and their communities.  

Transformation of Sevakpura

Internet Saathis are now increasingly seen as change agents in their villages and continue to find more support from the communities and village heads for their work.

While we’re excited about reaching this milestone, we have also looked at measuring the impact of the program. At this juncture the findings of the research from IPSOS*, a leading market research company on the socio-economic impact of improving digital literacy amongst women in rural India are very heartening and provides us with rich insights on what more needs to be done.

Net Impact of the program on Internet awareness and usage amongst women in rural India
  • Almost 90% of women who have attended the trainings with the  Saathis have a better understanding of Internet
  • On an average 25% of women who have learned to use the Internet continue to use the Internet
    • At 35%, Gujarat has the highest percentage of women continuing to use the Internet after attending the program
    • At 17%, Rajasthan ranks the lowest in continuing usage of Internet
  • Primary use case for Internet is to learn new skills and find information
  • Cost of the smartphones is the biggest barrier for usage after training - Over half of the women trained cannot afford to buy the phone
  • Continued usage leads to better learning and more confidence in using more services on the internet

Impact on social standing of women in rural India:
  • 7% of women trained under the program feel that their social standing has improved. They believe their social standing has improved at individual, household and community level - they feel more informed, more confident about themselves

Economic Impact of the Program:
  • Overall, 33% trained women think that their economic condition have improved by learning new skills on the Internet
  • Women feel that Internet has helped them to supplement their income in their existing occupation; income increased by an additional 1% in the villages where training was conducted; and those who continue to use internet in their daily lives believe they have upped their income additionally by another four percent

Loaded with insights and learnings from the last two years, we’re continuing to expand the program further and have started to roll out Internet Saathi program in two new states - Haryana and Bihar. In Haryana, the program will be covering ~1000 villages. In Bihar the program has kicked off from Ramnagar, Bagaha, Lauria, Manjha and Chakai villages and  we will be covering ~7000+ villages expanding it further later in the year.

We are grateful to Tata Trusts, our onground NGO partners, local activists and several Google volunteers who have contributed to the success of this program. We watch with pride as the family of the 25000 Internet Saathis grows!

*IPSOS research was conducted in five states namely Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat and Jharkhand, where the training was conducted in 2015. 3239 respondents were covered in the survey, covering Internet Saathis (109), women who attended the training program (1057) and others who are still not familiar with the Internet (2073).

Posted by Sapna Chadha, Director Marketing,  South East Asia and India, Google