Social trade tackles employment challenges in the rural economy

The traditional perspective on rural markets has been linked to notions of extreme poverty, lack of education, lack of funding, poor infrastructure, high costs to reach rural customers, and gender bias.

Rural India has modernized massively, are market leaders missing the opportunity to respond? With the dawn of social commerce becoming the future of how Indians shop and connect, are we leaving rural customers behind?

We have spent over 10 years understanding and witnessing the pulse of the rural customer on the ground. As business enterprises, product and service providers think about the next billion markets, we believe curated design for rural Indian customers, leverage rural women as the center of social commerce, and invest in information based on data is a missed opportunity to do it quickly.

Due to globalization, digitization and government interventions, there is a modernization of rural India that needs to be recognized. Over the past decade, we have seen major changes in rural India, from electrification to road development, skills development, advanced efforts for job creation / income generation, but the Rural India’s modernization peak is due to advancements in technology – from internet connectivity to smartphone penetration. Rural people are exposed to technology, global brands and opportunities. Over the past 6 years, the number of smartphone users in India has increased by 15% and is expected to increase by 26% by 2022 with an active internet connection, connecting them to the outside world more tightly and comfortably. However, based on our experience in the field, we know that while rural customers can afford these solutions, they simply cannot access them. The rural clientele thrives, evolves, becomes more informed and demanding, but the market has not responded.

The traditional perspective on rural markets has been linked to notions of extreme poverty, lack of education, lack of funding, poor infrastructure, high costs to reach rural customers, and gender bias. India’s rural economy has been largely influenced and dependent on agriculture, but it has shifted from manufacturing to infrastructure development, to service solutions. Families are no longer single-income or even single-sector-centric households and more and more lifestyles have evolved. Women are not housewives, they are farmers, community leaders, data collectors, civil servants and social intermediaries. Families invest in private education, use YouTube for entertainment, use their bank accounts for payments, want to save time and money by using better devices. Product and service companies fail to see the profound changes, creating a wider divide between the rural and urban way of life.

One of the major challenges has been customization for the rural market, very little effort has been made by major product / service providers in terms of investing to go deep and not deep. The lack of a strategic supply chain and customer information has created a barrier between rural India and e-commerce. Who is this client? What are their demands? What are their pain points? What do they need daily, vs weekly, vs monthly, vs seasonal, vs yearly?

Add to this the lack of a strong gender perspective – most initiatives in rural India to build supply chains have been short lived, the digital divide among women is greatest. The social commerce industry is heavily reliant on technology and therefore, it is very important that those who are its target audience are aware of the technology to get the most out of it. Solutions to change employment relationships with the rural market have been approached in several ways, but not all have been successful due to a lack of planning and improper research and analysis. This prevents rural women from being part of social commerce, they miss this obvious business opportunity.

There is an opportunity to combine these challenges – connecting women to the digital tools they need to optimize their social relationships for the business. A network of rural women who are their own small-scale social commerce solutions, there is an opportunity to provide rural India with a higher standard of living, but also generate employment opportunities. Social commerce enables village dwellers to work independently within their village, offering them easy solutions and comfortable development. This is a crucial opportunity, especially for rural women who would prefer to work in their village, upgrading their strongest asset, deep ties with their neighbors whom they have known for generations. Village women have played an active role on most social commerce platforms as they have a stronger network in the community and understand household needs as they are the ones running the operations.

The factors that have contributed to the strengthening of social commerce in the villages, such as strategic supply chain, after-sales service, easy and punctual flow of goods and services with efficient and fast logistics, sales generation have also obviously generated jobs and income for the same people. Rural clients who are the focus of their own services understand the information better here. This gave them the opportunity to practically learn the business modules and grow.

There has been a strong demand in the rural community for access to high quality solutions and this not only provides an opportunity for social commerce to make its way into rural India but also generates income in terms of execution of the depths in the villages. Indian villages are deeply interconnected and would not always allow foreign intervention in their village business process and hence it is important to provide jobs within the village not only to understand the increased needs and knowledge of clients, but also to create a strong and deep hold in the sector.

About Keneth T. Graves

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