The latest issue of Businessworld has an in-depth interview with Vinod Khosla in which Vinod refers to the economic model RISC — Rural Infrastructure & Services Commons. (Unfortunately, the reporter does not get the name of the model correct in his reporting.)
I had been thinking about the problem of India’s economic development for a long time. Even though my undergraduate work was in mechanical engineering, and my postgraduate work in computer sciences, I decided to study economics primarily because I wanted to understand how economic growth could be catalyzed. Around 1998, I started converging to the idea that urbanization is both a cause and consequence of development. But rural India was huge. Massive rural to urban migration is not an option for India. So I started thinking of some way of “urbanizing” rural India in rural India itself. RISC was born.
I continued to develop the RISC model while at Stanford University as a Reuters Fellow 2001-02. I was also putting the finishing touches on my PhD thesis at UC Berkeley in economics. The thesis was on the Indian telecommunications sector and the effect of universal service obligations on the sector. My thesis work was not related to RISC. I knew of Vinod’s interest in bringing telecommunications solutions to rural India. So I gave Vinod a copy of my model and he liked it and we decided to co-author the concept paper. He believes that RISC would be an appropriate model for the government to channel much of rural development resources. I believe it has to be a public-private partnership and that the driving force has to be the private sector.
Reuben Abraham who is working on his PhD at Columbia University was instrumental in getting me in touch with Rajesh Jain in April 2003. I had no idea of who Rajesh was nor had I heard of his IndiaWorld success. Rajesh thought that RISC made sense and decided to fund Deeshaa Ventures with RISC as a focus in September 2003. Implementing RISC is only a means to a larger goal of transforming India. I moved to Mumbai after an absence of 22 years in the US to lead Deeshaa Ventures.
We believe that the top of the bottom of the pyramid is ready for rapid adoption of not just technology but best practices from around the world and that will transform India. Rajesh’s other goal is to bring affordable technology to small and medium enterprises — SMEs are currently unable to afford solutions such as the Window/Intel ones because they are too costly.
Where we are with regards to RISC: fundamentally, it has to be admitted that implementing RISC requires at least 1) Deep understanding 2) Deep commitment 3) Deep pockets
I see the first bit the biggest hurdle. Take for instance the PURA model. President APJ Kalam has commitment and the influence to motivate deep pockets. But I feel that the PURA model does not reflect reality in some basic aspects. I have done a brief note comparing RISC and PURA. Rajesh discussed the matter with Khosla last month in California and Khosla said that he would forward the note to Kalam. Khosla told me that during his recent visit to India, he had spoken to President Kalam about RISC and also to the chief ministers of AP and Karnataka.
Currently, we are working on establishing partnerships with other entities interested in tapping the potentially enormous resources that lie under-utilized in India. The private sector has the opportunity to not just do extremely well by addressing rural India, but also do a great deal of good.
Deeshaa Ventures does not have the immensely deep pockets required for transforming India but does have understanding and commitment by the tons. I am confident that we are at the cusp of a radical transformation of India — what is required primarily is the vision and the hard work that will transform the vision into reality. I truly believe in Goethe’s advice:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do — begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.