Ekgaon: Focus on the People

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Jul 01, 2011

Mobile coverage reaches over 90% of the world's population, but mobile services in traditionally rural, lower-income areas have lagged compared to opportunities in more urban areas. One company in India, Ekgaon, is tapping into the rural market by bringing financial, agricultural, and citizen-oriented mobile services to under-served regions. Vijay Pratap Singh Aditya, CEO of Ekgaon, explained to MobileActive.org how his company developed and evolved over the years. 

With a focus on under-served markets, Ekgaon partners with financial institutions, agricultural organizations, NGOs, and corporations to bring mobile services to those who need them. Users of the agricultural system receive personalized and customized soil nutrient management information and crop advice along with weather updates, market information, and alerts; users of the financial services use mobiles to manage savings, remittances, insurance, investments and mortgages; and citizen services allow users to monitor and report on the delivery of government programs.

Explains Aditya, "Earlier, we were very technology-focused, very technology-oriented. We thought the technology will make things work. But over a period of time we understood that technology will not necessarily solve issues, you have to get the technology to work in the [right] context. [...] So we graduated from a technology focus to a user focus." In order to reach their target users, Ekgaon creates tools for basic mobile systems that are accessible to a wide number of rural residents.

Targeting Rural Users

When Aditya looked at the mobile landscape nine years ago, he realized that there wasn't enough of a focus on ways to bring mobile technology to rural users. In 2002, Ekgaon launched their financial services division, while the agricultural and citizen services followed in later years. Ekgaon works by partnering with companies and organizations (such as the Sabaragamuwa Development Bank for financial services, the Kazhi Kadaimadi Farmers Federation for agricultural programs, and the Women's Organization for Socio-Cultural Awareness for citizen services) and helping those companies and groups incorporate mobile outreach services for rural users into their existing programs.

In order to make Ekgaon's services available to the most number of people, all of the services run on basic phones. Says Aditya, "We go for the lowest denominator in terms of phone technology," so everything is provided over basic SMS and IVR so that users don't need high-end phones to participate (although Ekgaon now offers a few web-based programs as well). Programs are written in JAVA, and use MySQL and PHP.

Ekgaon has a very customer-oriented approach; the company looks for ways to improve the lives of people living in rural areas and then brings in partners that will help meet their needs. Aditya explains, "In the space of mobiles and mobile services, a lot of fancy work is being done. But that fancy work is all focused on technology, it's not focusing on the user. That is where I think the major problem lies." To bring accessibility to the users, Ekgaon services are available in 16 different languages so that many people can understand and use the mobile services, and sign-ups are available via SMS and IVR. The areas of deployment are linked to Ekgaon's partnerships, and they currently have financial programs in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka and agriculture and citizen services in India.

The Services

Ekgaon has partnered with different organizations to promote mobile technology in its three different sectors: 

Finance: Ekgaon's first work was with mobile banking and transfer systems, which debuted in 2002. Today, Ekgaon has partnered with roughly 20 different financial and microcredit institutions, and Aditya estimates they have approximately 750,000 clients total. Ekgaon shares its mobile suite of tools with microfinance institutions and banks in order to provide multiple mobile banking services (such as credit, savings, remittances, insurance, and mortgages) to previously un-banked or rural customers.

Agriculture: Ekgaon's next set of tools were agricultural services with a focus on helping rural farmers access information such as weather alerts, market price updates, soil nutrient advice, and crop management recommendations. Ekgaon partnered with four different agricultural-focused organizations, and reach roughly 11,000 farmers through the services, which offer information through SMS, IVR, out-bound call (OBC) and web-based information portals. It has recently partnered with the Multi Commodity Exchange of India to take its services through its network of service points in six states of India. 

Citizen: Citizen services is the most recently launched branch of Ekgaon's suite of tools, and it incorporates web and mobile applications to give citizens a way to monitor and report on the delivery of government programs and services.

Prices differ based on the service and the partner organization, but are kept low in order to be affordable for low-income users.

Making it Work

Ekgaon’s goal is to bring mobile services and tools to the people who need them most. Aditya says the company works hard to make sure they are providing rural users with useful and appropriate tools. He explains the challenge as: "I think technological difficulties are hardly an issue – because we work on open-source, we have a global community who helps us out in case of technological difficulties. Our difficulty mostly lies in how to make things work in operational scenarios, where operational issues constrain us from implementing the technology – getting the right partners, getting the service at a cost that will be affordable for our customer base. This is the most important challenge we face – how to enable the service at the lowest cost." 

With mobiles becoming such a huge part of everyday life, incorporating financial, professional and quality-of-life tools into basic mobile phones gives people a chance at improving their lives. Through its partnerships with other companies and organizations, Ekgaon is aiming to make the mobile phone a source for accessible and affordable services for people who live in rural areas. 

Basic Information
Brief description of the project: 

Ekgaon is a suite of mobile tools that the company incorporates into existing programs. The group creates financal, agricultural, and citizen-oriented tools (designed mostly as either SMS or IVR services) for an audience of primarily rural-based mobile phone owners.

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