Daily Wage Earners Click Away On Laptops

by Julia Fernandes    Sep 20, 2004

If you thought that laptops were prided accessories of men in power suits only, think again. Your neighborhood hawker delivering your daily groceries now has her fingers on the touch pad as well

Technology is no longer the prerogative of the haves it has percolated down to the haves-not, thanks to NGOs like self-employed women’s association (SEWA). A member-based NGO, comprising of poor but self-employed women workers, it has harnessed and leveraged Information and Communication Technology (ICT), in a bid to establish a direct link between capacity building and means of livelihood.

CXOtoday uncovered varied and interesting facets of the use of ICT, which enabled this organization to bag the IT Users Awards 2004 in the NGO sector, awarded by NASSCOM.

Speaking to CXOtoday, Monica Raina, chief- ICT coordinator, SEWA, said, “ICT is widely recognized today as an enabler and facilitator for realization of organizational goals. Although technology by itself cannot solve problems, the use of ICT offers significant potential benefits in aiding the economic growth and accelerating the pace of social development.”

Mapping the current IT infrastructure, Raina stated, “SEWA has more than 500 computers deployed over its multitude of activities and projects in districts, village clusters, main offices, and sites. Of out this 400 were given by World Computer Exchange, USA. These machines are used for regular office work, apart from specialized functions like insurance, banking, craftwork, retailing, micro finance, etc.”

However, how receptive are the members to learning technology? Replies Raina, “Though these women are semi-literate, they feel motivated when they are explained about the purpose of technology. Its only when they see the results themselves, that they get convinced.”

These women constitute 93% of the labour force, of which more than 94% fall in the unorganized sector. Despite contributing 70% to the economy, they are lost in the annals of anonymity, as their work goes largely unrecognized.

SEWA’s women workers fall broadly under three categories,
the first being hawkers and vendors, second is home-based workers like weavers, bidi and agarbatti workers and the third category is manual laborers, such as construction workers, handcart pullers etc. Currently, there are 7 lakh members spread across seven states, with 5,30,000 residing in 14 districts of Gujarat.

Standard packages like inventory management, stock tracking, HR and payroll, finance and accounts, etc have been deployed across SEWA’s varied locations.
In an effort to streamline the process of production, management, and finance, SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre (STFC) is implementing Microsoft’s Navision. The solution includes basic finance, purchase, inventory, production, capacity requirement planning, and advance subcontracting.

Narrating a typical flow of the production process, Raina said, “The raw material that first arrives at the store is dispatched to the cutting department, which then forwards it to the printing or stitching department. The semi-finished product is then sent to artisans for embroidery work, after which it goes to the finishing department and finally to the warehouse, from where it finds its way to retail outlets and exhibitions.”

“To digitize the whole process, each department will enter the current status of the product in the system,” explained Raina.

Navision is being installed on an Intel Xeon based server with a RAID controller. In terms of connectivity, many locations are connected with a LAN, with database and web servers as the main hub. The connectivity is standard TCP/IP, with structured cabling. In some of the new infrastructure, a detailed network plan is being worked out, with a possible fibre backbone and standard CAT 6 cabling.

Most of the inter-location connectivity is through cable, dial-up, and ISDN mode. “A blueprint (still at the drawing stage) is being worked out for an umbrella-connectivity across all locations with a NOC planned at a central SEWA location,” disclosed Raina.

Talking about the two-fold inspiration behind the adoption of ICT, Raina said, “In line with our goal of making these women self-reliant and gainfully employed, ICT proved to be the means of providing better linkages within the supply chain (from vendors to customers and markets), with government departments, across their communities and other similar group.

“Also, the general lack of access to emerging technology especially when it is these grassroots communities who probably need modern means of communication more than the urban areas, more so as they are so wide spread and often live in hostile terrains,” justified Raina.

Outlining the future roadmap, Raina stated that they plan to deploy specific software packages by jointly collaborating between the ICT professionals and developers form leading IT firms. These centralized solutions, which will have modules for data collection, recording and basic analysis, will be implemented at the district level. A three-tier architecture has been conceived, which will first accept data uploaded from the village cluster level to the district office and then to the central head office in Ahmedabad with the key purpose being to monitor and evaluate member activities.

Also in the pipeline are plans to deploy Geographical Information Systems (GIS) on a pilot basis across districts. The micro plans of districts are being mapped onto cadastral maps and then digitized thus aiding the Village Development Committees in planning and monitoring their plans.