Operating in almost every gram panchayat across the country, technology-enabled Shared Service Centers (CSCs) have become the effective and efficient mode of touchpoints for brands serving rural markets. Dr Dinesh Tyagi, Managing Director, CSC e-Governance Services India talk to Mohd Mustaquim on how CSCs are technologically empowering rural people and helping corporate brands reach last-mile customers in rural markets…
Please inform our readers of the concept of common service centers.
Common Service Centers (CSCs) are digital access points, operated and managed by local entrepreneurs called Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) to provide various government and non-government services to citizens at the local level. It is an integral part of the Indian government’s Digital India program. The goal of CSCs is to create these digital access points across the country so that a citizen does not have to go to a government or non-government office to receive services that one can try to access. access a place close to his residence.
How does it empower rural people and village entrepreneurs (VLE)?
These centers are, as I said, operated and managed by local entrepreneurs as social enterprises. Since there is a person from the same community and village who operates and manages these centers, his credibility and acceptability within the community is higher than an outsider. Thus, he is able to mobilize and disseminate various government schemes and programs to the community and also help them access them. It also creates a lot of employment opportunities locally. In a center, a single person cannot provide a large number of services and therefore must hire three to four more people in order to provide a bouquet of services available in the CSC ecosystem.
What is the current strength and reach of CSCs in rural India?
Currently, the total number of CSCs across the country is 5.17 lakhs, of which about 3.74 lakhs are operated in rural India. We cover almost all but 8000 gram panchayats where there is no internet connectivity or connectivity is poor. Apart from this, almost all panchayats in the country are connected. Panchayats where we have connectivity issues are tagged with any nearby panchayats to serve people from those unserved panchayats.
In recent years, corporate brands have partnered with CSCs to increase their reach in rural markets. What opportunities do CSCs provide for brands seeking rural markets?
During the COVID lockdown period, we realized that rural areas had issues accessing various products. In urban areas, customers could order online through the various e-commerce platforms and the supply could be satisfied. But these big e-commerce players were unable to source from rural India. Thus, the CSCs designed the CSC Grameen e-Store, a hyper-local application. This hyper-local application is operated and managed by CSCs. It allows all product suppliers across the country to try to supply these products to VLE centers that aggregate customer demand and then supply them online. In online stores CSC Grameen, Tata Digital, Adani Capital and IDFC Bank have also invested. We realized the importance of a hyper-local e-commerce platform for rural India. Even if there was a lockdown somewhere, they will be able to place orders online and have access to all the products available to city dwellers. For businesses that want to access rural markets, this is the best opportunity for them to partner with a network of over five lakh CSCs, operating at the gram panchayat level.
Are there criteria for brands to partner with CSC to reach rural markets?
For groups that find the rural market as a potential expansion although some of the brands already have established channels, this is a bit of a different channel. This channel is electronically operated and managed and supported by a local person. So brands looking for rural market expansion opportunities can also use the technology to try and deliver products using the CSC platform.
Major automotive and banking service providers have partnered with CSC. How does CSC support its business activities in rural markets?
The traditional process of selling an automobile in rural markets takes place in a showroom located in nearby Tier 3 cities. Many people cannot visit these showrooms. And so, to address the problem, these large companies have come up with a sub-retailer or sub-showroom model through the CSC network that generates leads. After checking the leads, the showrooms provide services to rural customers. This turns out to be very useful. And that’s why many brands such as Renault, Tata Motors, Mahindra, HDFC Bank, e-bike suppliers, e-scooter suppliers, EV (electric vehicle) suppliers and many other brands have partnered with us. In addition, a person can also apply for loan and insurance services from the VLE as each of the VLEs are now able to provide loan facilities through HDFC and other banks.
What challenges do you face while implementing CCS project in rural India and how do you address them?
A major challenge is that many VLEs are purchasing at scale. Their money is blocked due to rotation. So we work with some banks that can provide credit facilities. So, once they get the credit facility, they won’t have to wait to place the second order. The second problem is the supply chain constraints of these companies. Many companies still struggle with the last mile supply chain. For example, one of our VLE wanted to buy 15 refrigerators in Kargil. The company could only supply as far as Jammu. And hence, the VLE person picked up the shipment from Jammu and transported it to Kargil by his own transport. So all these agreements are made in order to solve these problems.
What are CSC’s future plans for the next five years?
CSC plans to reach every village. And then 600,000 villages will have a digital access point in every village. The second is that we also added financial services as a core because we wanted all CSCs to become correspondent banks. So far, about one lakh has already become. Our goal is to talk to banks and try to persuade them that all CSCs can become financial access points, which is also very good for the customer and makes VLE a sustainable business model. The second, of course, is that all government services that are still left out be integrated into CHCs. Thus, citizens from all parts of the country do not need to visit a government office and can access services through CSC centres.
Another important point we are working on is to help farmers by creating agricultural producer organizations (PPOs), one in each block. These OPAs are composed solely of farmers and carry out almost all the activities carried out by the farming community. We have already set up nearly 3,000 FPOs. We ensure that it meets almost all parameters, credit requirements, fertilizers, seeds, PM-Kisan and soil health cards. We try to help every farmer in the country through this model so that they all benefit from this feeling.
Overall, what transformation will we see through CSCs in five years in rural India?
We run digital literacy programs integrated with financial literacy. Rural e-mobility is the next project we are carrying out in many villages where we are converting existing bicycles into electric bicycles which can help young people, especially girls and boys who want to go to school and college. In addition, we are working on a concept of a digital village, a Bal Vidyalay, managed by technology with a computer center where children can come to learn computer science. It is also aligned with a digital library that has all CSC services such as telemedicine, tele-law, tele-agriculture and tele-vet services.
Read more: CSC SPV, partner of the Ministry of Tourism to transform the tourist ecosystem in rural areas
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