SVM History: Beginnings of Our Journey

The Smart Village Movement was birthed and founded at UC Berkeley-HAAS Garwood Center for Growth Markets by Solomon Darwin following the 2016 Innovation Round Table discussion hosted by President Shri Pranab Mukherji in New Delhi, India. It was this forum that proposed the idea of the Smart Village Movement through an open-innovation approach to empower the subcontinent and connect India’s rural populations with Industry 4.0 ecosystem to enhance their participation and well-being.


Prof. Solomon Darwin meeting Pranab Kumar Mukherjee (13th President of India), 2019

Prof. Solomon Darwin meeting YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, HCM of Andhra Pradesh, 2019

Darwin had spent his early formative years in rural South India and takes inspiration from the sentiment expressed by Mahatma Gandhi that, “The soul of India lives in its villages”. His first-hand awareness of the severely debilitating living situation in his village Moripodu, where he grew up, found alignment with the Andhra Pradesh former Chief Minister Chandra Babu Naidu’s need to improve the situation in his rural constituencies. The Berkeley Open Innovation Approach to Smart Villages was first sponsored and adopted by Andhra Pradesh in the summer of 2016. Darwin’s return to his roots was a fortuitous event for Moripodu – it transformed from a struggling rural community to the first Smart Village in the world.

The First Successful Pilot Program - Moripodu Village

This first prototype of a Smart Village validated two things:

  1. Readiness of the villagers to embrace digital technology to empower themselves and
  2. Willingness of global technology firms and other corporate partners to invest in prototyping new business models in India.

Learnings from this pilot program are discussed in Darwin’s book The Road to Mori: Smart Villages of Tomorrow (2018). The success of SVM in Moripodu served to showcase how digital technologies can improve the lives of rural people and thus the Smart Village Movement was established as the way forward and expanded throughout Andhra Pradesh, the Northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, and now actively in Meghalaya.

Smart Village Movement Impact Areas

  • Active Pilot Program area with Current SVM Projects
  •  Inactive Area with Previously completed Pilot Program or soon-to-launch SVM Program

In 2019, California based Indian-American philanthropist Dr. Anil Shah, a physician and medical entrepreneur by profession, who served India by adopting and nurturing individual villages, connected with Solomon Darwin. Darwin’s vision and Open-Innovation model found a perfect synergy with Shah’s purpose and determination to empower marginalized rural communities in India. Dr. Shah took on the Executive Leadership of the SVM NGO that now manages and facilitates on-ground operations between the State Governments, Academia, Corporates and the Rural Communities.

To date, more than 60 Indian and global companies and Indian startups such as Microsoft, IBM, Google, Tata Chemicals, Hygge, Salesforce, WIPRO, SAP, Apollo Hospitals, E-Fresh Global, Watsan, Gramin and more have chosen to deploy staff and equipment to the villages to support the goals of this project. Today the movement which is founded on the Open-Innovation concept as articulated by Henry Chesbrough, Faculty Director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation continues to gain traction among academics, governments, global firms, and startups.

CTO Round Table organised by SVM team with Conrad Sangma, HCM of Meghalaya and his officials, 2020

Dr. Shah, Chairman SVM meeting Pema Khandu, the HCM of Arunachal Pradesh; 2020