The Relevance of Smart Cities vs. Smart Villages

Smart Village Movement, February 13, 2023

Prof. Solomon Darwin
Executive Director Garwood Center of Growth Markets
UC Berkeley, Haas School of Business.

Previously Published on October 1, 2020 on LinkedIn.

Recently at the TIEcon 2020 Global Summit, I was asked to moderate a panel of impressive global managers of Smart Cities to lead the discussion on Smart Cities of the Future.

Having taught the first Smart Cities class at UC Berkeley in 2015 and having my students develop smart city frameworks for the cities of San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, and Berkeley, I have learned much. My students were also invited by Prime Minister Modi’s administration to develop frameworks for three Smart Cities in India – Ajmer, Allahabad, and Visakhapatnam – under the US-India 3-agreement pack under President Obama. Yet the technology embedded in smart cities becomes obsolete very quickly. Like all knowledge assets, their value evaporates very fast. It is a high maintenance job and comes at a high cost. However, as humans we cannot do without them – we fell into the technology trap in our hunger for knowledge in search of a comfortable life.

Our studies have shown that Smart Cities cannot be sustained without villages and rural communities that foster them. To make villages in India smart, little investment in digital infrastructure is required. This empowers the majority of our people to create value for themselves – a breeding ground for innovation. This is where the soul of India lives. In 2016, Berkeley started the Smart Village Movement – work is underway in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, and Meghalaya. We are working with over 40 global brands and many local start-ups to create scalable and sustainable villages to support smart cities.

Pay Now or Pay Later: Empowering 3.4 Billion People are living in Rural Areas

The COVID-19 crisis is a game-changer that will eventually benefit rural economies around the world. Around 3.4 billion people are living in rural areas lacking access to resources, tools, knowledge, and markets to find their way to prosperity. The exodus of millions of migrant workers from cities and back to their villages in India demonstrated that digital infrastructure that connects rural populations to the rest of the world is critical. Governments are missing resources to singlehandedly provide all the needed solutions for given challenges.

How to Create Smart Villages is my new book, co-authored with Henry Chesbrough and Werner Fischer, calls upon large corporations, governments and universities to take up the responsibility in solving villagers’ needs while tapping into exciting growth markets. If we do not empower rural populations around the world, we will pay a much higher price as a global community just as we are now paying. We no longer can say “I am not my brother’s keeper” in this interconnected world. To get valuable results from innovation, businesses, governments, academics, and civil society must be reconciled while opening up their relevant resources, knowledge, and expertise.

This book provides rare, unique insights from business-driven innovation in a demanding territory like rural India through powerful Open Innovation ecosystems to accelerate economic and social impact. It captures all the successes, learnings, and failures since 2016 to contribute towards a more effective sustainable world. Rural villages are the source of life for towns and cities around the world. Smart cities cannot exist without rural villages; making villages smart must be our first priority. Join the Smart Village Movement to light up the dark world when providing a new, exciting way towards villagers’ prosperity.

About The Author

Solomon Darwin is the Executive Director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation and Center for Growth Markets at Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley. He is considered the “Father of the Smart Village Movement” and has experience in corporate management and academia. He is an advisor to multinational companies and government leaders in emerging markets. He chairs innovation conferences and forums and has published four books on smart village development and open innovation solutions for emerging markets.

He published four books to support his thesis: “How to Create Smart Villages: Open Innovation Solutions for Emerging Markets”, “How to Think like the CEO of the Planet”, “The Untouchables” and “Smart Villages of Tomorrow: The Road to Mori” which has brought him to the forefront of the movement to develop rural communities globally.