India has the potential to rapidly transform itself from a developing nation to world economic, social and cultural leadership by “leapfrogging” traditional technologies and embracing the Digital India mission. SKILLS2017 conference sessions will explore and debate the way forward in four strategic areas: financial inclusion; agriculture; education and healthcare.
To begin, however, the conference will discuss three critical questions related to digital infrastructure for rural empowerment: the provisioning of high speed and high capacity broadband; mobile and related wireless technologies; and data governance and security issues. Currently, India is far from a leader in these areas, ranking 131 in the ICT Development Index in 2015. India is 105th in the world and lowest in the Asia Pacific region in average Internet speed. And, over 55,000 villages have no mobile connectivity.
This opening session will set the stage for later conference discussions with the opportunities and challenges of provisioning last mile infrastructure and localized services and applications in rural areas and developing nations.
The appearance of financial inclusion in rural India, with transformative regulatory and technological changes, is well documented. India set a Guinness World Record for the achievement of the most new bank accounts, with over 200 million bank accounts opened as part of the Pradhan Manthri Jan-Dhan Yojana [PMJSY].
However, according to numerous reports, financial literacy, a necessary condition of financial inclusion, has become a major impediment to inclusiveness, resulting in high bank account dormancy: 28 percent of the total; and at lower income levels, only an average of 10 digital transactions, compared to 163 in Brazil, 420 in South Korea and 429 in Sweden in 2015.
Clearly, much concerted effort needs to be undertaken to turn financial illusion to financial inclusion.
This session will explore solutions for transcending the financial literacy to achieving true financial inclusion by leveraging the technology innovations and outcomes implicit in the Digital India Mission. The session will provide an overview of the emerging opportunities in financial services with rising internet penetration; increasing mobile access; government making credit more available to the country’s chronically undeserved sectors; and demonetization that lead to a higher usage of payment applications such as m-wallets, online transactions and net banking.
Education around the world is changing rapidly, through the exploitation of broadband Internet services for online learning and the increasing availability of ever-cheaper learning tools such as mobile phones, tablets and software services. These new digital tools offer the best opportunity for rural economic empowerment by transforming India’s more than 1.4 million schools and 36,000 higher education institutes to advanced learning centers using the latest technologies to improve the speed and efficacy of learning.
India has increased basic literacy rates from 12% at the time of independence to 74% (as per 2011 census). Despite this impressive improvement, the “digital divide” – lack of access to digital products and services – as well as “digital literacy,” are critical impediments for the development of livelihood and life skills.
This session will explore challenges and opportunities of leveraging wireline and mobile infrastructures by educational entrepreneurs and governments to ensure rural India is not left behind, as it will have the world’s largest tertiary-age population and second largest graduate talent pipeline globally by the end of 2020. To deliver its demographic dividend -- with the world’s largest youngest population of people under 35 – it must act now to understand the challenges and exploit the opportunities of digital and online education.
Fundamental to empowering a growing rural economy is providing accessible and affordable healthcare. India can ill afford to neglect this critical component of economic success, as the World Economic Forum, for example, predicts that the economic burden of non-communicable diseases in India is likely to be $5 trillion between 2012-30.
This session explores the challenges and opportunities for using new digital tools, technologies and disruptive healthcare innovations for dramatically improving access, cost and efficacy of healthcare for India’s rural poor. The SKILLS2015 conference on Clean India clearly demonstrated the necessity of proper sanitation for rural areas and the requirement that life skills and livelihood skills were an essential component of success. Further the role of women and children were deemed to be critical for overall success.
This session moves this understanding forward with a discussion of India’s strategic necessity to employ digital healthcare services that include the vital engagement of women and children. As with other critical Digital India activities, this session will explore the strategic necessity of stimulating social and economic entrepreneurs to develop commercially viability products and services.
India’s agriculture sector is the mainstay of Indian economy, generating 17 % of its GDP and employing almost half of its workforce. The digital transformation of agriculture is not only critical for rural India, but is a critical imperative for the nation’s food security and economic growth.
Eighty-five percent of Indian agriculture is held by small farmers who are handicapped by lack of information on climatic conditions, new agricultural knowledge and technologies and access to logistics and market information, resulting in low yields and incomes.
Digital tools and knowledge in rural hands offers the potential to outpace any other agricultural improvements and will dramatically energize the Indian economy.
The proposed goal of doubling rural farm incomes (Rs 3,844 in 2013) by 2022, requires a 15% compounded income growth rate over the achieved increase from 2003 to 2013. Digitalizing rural India is the single most important strategy in making that goal a reality.
Session presentations will explore how the use of Digital India initiatives can accelerate agricultural productivity and dramatically improve farm-to-market logistics, resulting in growing and sustainable profitability for rural India. The session will also explore the challenges and best practice solutions for empowering farmers with digital literacy, given the low illiteracy levels in rural communities.