Why Smart Villages Are the Future of Emerging Economies

Smart Village Movement, September 1, 2021

Anna Fitter for Smart Village Movement in Alliance with Berkeley Haas

Nearly 65 percent of India, or 850 million people, live in villages. About 200 million of them live below the poverty line and lead a life of labor.  For a long time, the socio-economic empowerment of underserved rural populations worldwide has come from a heart-centered place of goodwill and compassion. Aid programs and welfare policies bring short-term benefits without ensuring any long-term, sustainable outcomes. There is no doubt that targeted and finite aid programs that address specific goals and emergencies do help address rural problems in the short term. However, they are unlikely to lay the foundation for long-term sustainable economic development.  Once government funding for a program ends, there is little to sustain it at the village level, reflects Prof. Solomon Darwin of Berkeley-Haas Center for Growth Markets and author of How to Create Smart Villages: Open Innovation Solutions for Emerging Markets,  also hailed as the Father of the Smart Village Movement.

It’s time we balance our good intentions with clear judgment, agile thinking, and determined action that are required to help address this significant concern of inequity and poverty that we all face as a global community. We can achieve this by putting practical ideas and processes into place so that the intrinsic human traits of independence, self-sufficiency, and self-determination can flourish among rural communities.

Life in Villages

India is changing fast, and the world is intrigued by her transformation from a Third World former colony to the world’s largest democracy and global economic power. But despite this rapid metamorphosis, the gap between the rich and poor has only grown wider. Innovations in technology, industry, and market linkages that can enrich lives and create livelihood opportunities rarely reach rural India, where life remains much the same. So how do we disrupt the system? How do we change the game?

Redefining Rural Development with Smart Villages: Empower Villagers to Shape Their Future

The answer is simple according to Solomon Darwin: Villages are scalable and sustainable with little or no investment; it is not about building infrastructure; it is about building people. Empowering people will generate a perpetual stream of income for generations through market expansion and job creation. He states that villagers do not need heavy infrastructure or higher education; they only need access to four things now available on digital platforms: 

a) tools, b) resources, c) information, and d) markets to trade without barriers and middlemen. Villagers will build their own infrastructure to further scale their expansion. This is the power of organic growth rather than infinite capital infusion and free handouts.

Triple Helix Process of Innovation: Better Together

SVM Model of Collaboration and Co-Innovation

When government, academia, and business come together with rural communities, it creates an environment where decisions are made quickly to allow innovation and digital technology to create holistic solutions at the village level. This is the Triple Helix Model of Innovation  birthed at UC Berkeley Garwood Center of Corporate Innovation that Smart Village Movement adopts to bring sustainable economic development to rural communities. The benefits to this model reach all stakeholders—

  • Villagers gain opportunities to learn, combine innovation with indigenous technology and connect with global markets.
  • Governments gain massive research insights that can help them formulate relevant policies and encourage entrepreneurship in their state, while increasing tax revenue from participating companies while ensuring collaborators ease of doing business in their state.
  • Universities gain access to a database of rural communities’ pain points, providing students with the education resources for targeted research.
  • Businesses tap into rural pain points and aspirations and access an efficient structure to test market fit in the rural context. They help resolve relevant customer needs and have a first-mover advantage in a rapidly growing market.

The Role of Smart Village Movement

Usha Tailoring Center for Livelihood Training of Rural Women in Smart Village Movement Mori Pilot Program, Andhra Pradesh, India

Smart Village Movement’s role is to facilitate this model of sustainable rural development through collaboration and co-innovation.  We strive to represent a broader approach that honors all 3 aspects of progress: economic, environmental and social. In our version of a Smart Village, shared knowledge is the real power.  Ultimately, the goal is to increase the Happiness Index of people in a sustainable way.

There are many benefits of investing in Smart Villages:

-A Smart Village benefits the inhabitants, making their life more comfortable and enhancing their opportunities for sustainable growth. 

-They are more attractive for companies to test their offerings for relevance in the rural context. Businesses will then make long-term investments in these communities where their innovations and services are readily adopted.

-Rural communities evolve to be resilient, independent and connected. Smart Villages create an ecosystem for empowerment around them, contributing to the more efficient use of available resources in all neighboring villages. This helps to build a sense of community and belonging, which in turn can make these regions more autonomous while connecting them to the fabric of the entire nation in deeper ways. 

One Smart Village at a Time

Many forces seek to divide the world, whether based on race, gender, class, or religion. But there are also some powerful forces driving towards a more equitable society. These forces are access to entrepreneurship, education, digital technology, and opportunity for all. This is one of our guiding principles – let’s get people the tools and opportunities and allow their natural human ingenuity to flourish. Empowering underserved rural communities by connecting them to our Open-Innovation Platform has been an effective tool for Berkeley Haas-Smart Village Movement. 

“Our mission is to build people and empower them by connecting them to a global ecosystem and markets through digital technology,” asserts Dr. Anil Shah, Executive Chairman of the Smart Village Movement. We envision a day where there are millions of Smart Villages around the world — rural communities who use innovative solutions and digital technologies to improve their resilience and standard of living.  They build on local strengths and opportunities, thus increasing the overall quality of life.  

We are all connected to this tapestry of life. It is now critically important to reverse the exploitation of the natural world if it is to sustain us for generations to come. Now is the opportunity to put shared knowledge, Open-Innovation, and sustainable impact at the center of our economic model, one Smart Village at a time.

Stay tuned for updates and new developments in this monthly blog. 

Sign up to receive articles like this and the Smart Village Movement Monthly Newsletter here.