Internet Saathi: How Google is connecting women of rural India to the Web

The Internet in India is not just a commodity now, it has become a part of our lives so much so that it transcends from a tool to an emotion. Right from the days of dial-up connections to Reliance Jio, the Internet is something that the country has adapted to in a much aggressive way. India is among the top five countries of the world with an active Internet user base of more than 367 million and post-Reliance Jio, it has only risen.

While all these numbers hold to be true, they do not give us the whole picture. Most people in India actually don’t know the power of the Internet neither they have the means to harness it. Rural India holds an estimated population of more than 906 million but only has 17 percent active Internet users. In comparison, the urban populace has been clocked at 444 million with 60 percent active Internet penetration. Sadly, for every 10 male internet users in rural India, there’s just one woman who gets to use it. This is where Google’s Internet Saathi comes into play, which was originally announced back in 2015 by its CEO Sundar Pichai.

Google invited PCMag India to a trip down to Sewa Ka Pura village in Dholpur district of Rajasthan where it is running its Internet Saathi programme. Here we managed to capture a snapshot on how this programme is connecting the women of rural India to the world wide web.

What is Internet Saathi?

As the saying goes by, when you teach a man, you’re only teaching a single individual, but if you educate a woman, you’re empowering a family, a nation. Under Google India’s Helping Women Get Online initiative, the Internet Saathi programme was launched in July 2015 and is backed by Tata Trusts. The programme is aimed at connecting women of rural India to the Internet while bridging the digital gender divide in the country. Google provides resources such as the devices and training while Tata Trusts ensures that the programme reaches the right village and oversees its implementation.

Through Internet Saathi initiative, women ambassadors also known as ‘Saathi’, train and educate women across Indian villages on the benefits of the internet in their day-to-day life. Google says that the programme has already helped over 2 million women covering ten states and 60,000 villages where its active, get online. From teaching them about how to use a smartphone to helping them search online, Internet Saathi opens up a new window for the women in rural parts of the country.

How does the Internet Saathi programme work?

The whole process begins with the identification of potential villages where the programme can be introduced. Next, Google along with Tata Trusts identifies women who have basic reading and writing capabilities along with a curiosity to know more. After narrowing down to the potential Saathis, Google begins their training which lasts for two to three days. After the training, these Saathis begin to train other women, first across their own village and afterwards moving to the villages in the neighbourhood.

During the course of their training, the Saathis are introduced to the world of Internet and smartphones. They’re trained to hold the smartphone correctly, to power it on and off, to lock and unlock it, go about the interface, to use the camera, to use the calculator, to search for anything using Google Chrome and even text through WhatsApp.

“I saw a smartphone for the very first time during Internet Saathi training. At first, I thought, I might get an electric shock, that the phone would get damaged. I was scared and held the smartphone the wrong way, first time I picked it up,” remembers Parvati Khushwa, an Internet Saathi from Sewa Ka Pura village in Dholpur district of Rajasthan.

“Previously, my husband had a phone with buttons,” she says, referring to feature phones, “ but he did not let me touch that phone because it might get broken and said what could I do with the phone anyway?”

Google, in their training, encourages the women to learn more and more about the benefits of the Internet and smartphone in general and lets the Saathis adapt to it.

In what way do the Internet Saathis use Google’s services?

Rural areas in India are mostly focused on two things — cattle farming and agriculture with women managing the household chores as well. With Internet, there’s a whole new world out there waiting for these people. Parvati saw a paper plates making machine on the Internet and thought that as Ram Niwas (her husband) who was now recovering from his illness, couldn’t work out in the fields, maybe buying the machine would help them make some money. She sourced the plates making machine from Agra in Uttar Pradesh and bought it. Both of them learned how to make plates from the machine by watching videos from the Internet.

Parvati also taught a couple to use the internet which led them to discover about various different food recipes. The couple has now setup a food stall at their village where they sell different varieties of snacks which more than makes up for their survival.


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