Rural outsourcer brings hope to remote village

By Ravi Nessman

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Oct. 6 2012 7:55 a.m. MDT

Since then, her family has added a wide brick kitchen and concrete living room to the small two mud rooms of its house. They bought a TV. She paid hospital bills for her brother, kept her family from having to borrow money at 60 percent interest from a loan shark and, in an incredible role reversal, helped pay for her brother's wedding.

Perhaps more stunning in a society where daughters are often viewed as an economic burden, Bisht is putting money away to pay for her eventual dowry.

Dewan Singh Bisht said he turns to his daughter whenever there is a financial emergency.

"I am very proud of her," he said.

Listening to her husband, Devki Bisht, 44, cries quietly as she squats over an electric stove, heating milk for tea.

She wants her daughter to be independent, to have a better life.

"It's not just a man's right to go out and work," she said.

Though they have talked about marrying her off, Devki Bisht now says she is prepared to wait years for the right family, one that will let her daughter keep working.

B2R faced some resistance when it moved into Simayal. Some families didn't want their daughters to work with men. Local youth, angry they didn't get jobs in the first round of screening, vandalized the office, Dolwani said. The company held a town meeting to ease the tension, and now holds similar gatherings before opening new centers.

It hopes to attract clients by charging at least 25 percent less than urban competitors, Dolwani said.

Rent here is 15 times lower than in the city, electricity is cheaper and with little competition for staff, turnover last year was just 4 percent. Urban outsourcers face 40 percent turnover, according to a report by the Monitor Group.

While workers in the Delhi suburbs make about 8,000 rupees ($160) a month, B2R's start at about 4,700 rupees ($95). Dolwani said the lower salary is justified by the lower cost of living here, and many workers say they are still saving significant portions of their salary.

The Monitor report puts that salary in line with that of other rural outsourcers and significantly higher than many other rural jobs. However, the report warns that future cost-cutting could create "digital sweatshops."

Bhuwan Butholia, 28, who used to make 8,000 rupees ($160) with overtime in an auto parts factory 150 kilometers (90 miles) away, said the lower salary at B2R was a reasonable trade-off for being able to look after his parents and live with his wife and 5-month-old baby.

His mother disagreed.

"We were poor. We are still poor," said Hira Devi, 58.

While Internet-based companies like B2R can provide some relief in poor farming areas, few believe it will eliminate India's need to build up urban infrastructure and attract more of its people to the economic hubs in the cities.

"It would go against almost all patterns of settlement. This idea that India can be a very developed nation and have half its people living in its villages ... to my mind it's kind of romantic. Maybe this stuff happens, but it's unlikely," said Partha Mukhopadhyay, a senior research fellow at Delhi's Center for Policy Research.

Still, the impact of bringing respectable jobs into the village has been enormous, said Madhavan, from the local development group. Other young people have come up with ideas for setting up their own businesses. Some families are adding rooms to houses to rent out to B2R workers who live too far away to commute. And directly across from the office has risen a mini-mall with snack shop, luncheonette and welding shop. It's a sign, Madhavan said, of faith in the future.

"You couldn't imagine this as a possibility five years ago," he said. "But today it's happened."

Follow Ravi Nessman on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ravinessman

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