Dharamshala’s location on the northern edge of India practically puts it in the Himalayas. So when Shilpa Jain and her husband, Varun Rattan Singh, moved to the small city from bustling Delhi in 2011, they expected a change of scenery. But they didn’t expect that their entrepreneurial hopes of setting up an IT firm would quickly fall flat because the city lacked two important tools — reliable internet service and people trained to work in IT.
Their hopes weren’t lost for long. They decided to create their own infrastructure — and what began with an internet service provider (ISP) license turned into an entirely new business idea. “We’ll go to the remotest places in the district [where we have a license to operate], and we’ll try to connect to the people there,” Jain remembers thinking. The idea is working: Their company, Development Logics, now has 50 employees and 700 clients. Access connected with Jain, who along with her husband serves as co-director for the company, to learn how her ideas and innovations are having an impact in one of the remotest parts of India.
The lack of quality internet service inspired you to become an internet service provider not only for yourself but for others. You often charge for that service, but sometimes it’s free. Explain how that works.
We sell internet service at a price we can sustain — but, at the same time, we also try to give subsidized or free connections to people who are in real need. So we are providing internet connections at subsidized rates to schools, which are in the remotest areas. We are providing it to banks that have their branches in the remote areas and to community service centers, again in the remote areas. We are trying to connect those people to the mainstream.
How’s it going?
So, look at farmers, for example. Now they can actually check the weather forecast. They can check the market rates to sell their produce. They can do that all because of their connections to the internet. Or look at kids in school. They can learn new things, because now they have access to the internet which was never there.
That’s quite an impact. But you have aspirations for more, right?
We want to create opportunities for people, both directly and indirectly; directly, by employing people, and indirectly, by providing the internet to people, we are creating opportunities for them. So as of right now, in the span of seven years, we have directly created around 200 jobs. And indirectly we have impacted more than 500. We want to have a ripple effect beyond this, too. So what we are now trying to do is create franchises so that other people can do what we are doing — because we cannot be everywhere, right? So we are trying to train people and have contracts with them — have them as franchises — so that they can also further distribute the internet to the remotest locations. Because we cannot be in every place.
Another part of the ripple effect you have includes training beyond these franchising efforts. How does that work?
We conduct seminars and sessions at the schools and colleges because what we see is that students graduating from college still don’t know what exactly working on a job is like. So we get trainees every six months and help them learn what they can do — because what I realized in Dharamshala, since it’s a small city, is that the students don’t know what they can do, what they’re capable of.
As a Vital Voices GROW Fellow, you and other women entrepreneurs wrote vision statements. Tell us about yours and how it connects to your idea of success.
When I talk about my vision statement, it’s about a world where nobody’s left poor because of a lack of opportunities. As for my definition of success, it is when I’ll go to the remotest of places and see that people are connected. I think that is when I’ll be content. I already feel successful.