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Women Empowerment
Published on: Feb. 13, 2020, 8:17 p.m.
A Vodafone application enables rural women to manage their business

By Business India Editorial

SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) was set up in 1975 with the main objective to undertake activities such as capacity building, health, education, financial security, relief and other developmental needs for its members. Rudi, a rural distribution chain created by SEWA in 2004, procures farm produce from marginal farmers at market prices, processes and packages them at various processing centres run by grassroots women and sell them to poor households in the villages at affordable prices through a network of grassroots saleswomen called Rudi bens (ben meaning sister in Gujarati).

Reaching over 10 lakh households annually with its products, the Rudi operations were dependent on the informal paper-based management system and word-of-mouth stock orders. Therefore, the challenge was to trace real-time customer needs of the lakhs of households, the need for inventory and stock reclaiming of thousands of Rudi bens who do door-to-door marketing spread across 3,000 villages.

To support the Rudi operations, Vodafone Foundation partnered with SEWA (Mahila Sewa Trust) in 2012, to launch Rudi Sanchar Vyavahar (RSV) in Gujarat as a JAVA-based solution to support Rudi’s at-scale operations – procurement, inventory management, and sales on a real-time basis. However, the challenge of low literacy levels among rural populations, especially women, was a barrier against the use of the solution. The partners worked together to upgrade and revamp the solution on an Android platform, taking advantage of the increasing spread and ease of use of smartphones that provided intuitive graphical interfaces. The application enables the Rudi women to place orders, track inventory and manage their businesses efficiently, using just their mobile phones. With the click of a few buttons and transfer of information via inexpensive text messages, the Rudi women can place orders for Rudi products from a catalogue of over 40 products.

The implementation of RSV with the backbone of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system has had a transformative impact on the entire network of beneficiaries. Increased efficiency in order placement and delivery are not the only features of the RSV application. Through the order placements, the system also captures rich data on the entire Rudi channel. The Rudi management has greater visibility into its performance by product, geography, and even individual Rudi women. Rudi management can easily see demand for stock in a particular district and can better manage inventory levels for that district. Since launching the RSV application, all this information is made available quickly and accurately. Furthermore, RSV is a personal business management tool for individual Rudi bens. They can log the information in the app and generate reports directly on their handsets. These reports include quantities of stock ordered, stock sold and credit outstanding reports, that Rudi women identified as crucial to managing their business. The use of this technology has had a tremendous impact on increasing their customer base and helps to build the credibility of the Rudi channel as a mainstream business initiative.

The success of the project is based in the seamless co-ordination of the two key partners in this project – SEWA and the Vodafone Foundation India. The activities used to establish a new supply chain and to reach out to new women and enhance the application contributes to the project’s purpose of enabling more women to benefit from the income-generating activities offered by the Rudi network’s RSV application. An increased number of Rudi bens becoming a part of the network will indirectly lead to an increase in the demand of Rudi products, which in turn, will have a positive effect on the farmers as it will enable them to sell more crops to Rudi processing centres.

Since its initial launch, the project has positively increased incomes of Rudi women and improved efficiencies for Rudi centrally – in some cases by over 300 per cent. In the dozen years between 2004 and 2016, Rudi achieved a consolidated turnover of Rs48 crore, and touched a million households across 26 districts of Gujarat. Nearly 90 per cent of the sale was re-circulated back into the village economy. Out of every rupee of sales through Rudi, ninety paise was spent locally, thus strengthening the rural economy. More than 25,000 members, including 10,000 small and marginal farmers and rural women from the poorest families were directly employed at various stages of the Rudi value chain. Rudi’s vision is to positively impact nearly 10 lakh farmers and rural women by 2025.

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