Technology-driven Platforms and the
Future of Work for Rural India


Within global commentaries on development practice and the future of work, a lot is said about the drawbacks of technological and digital platforms, especially the inadequate access of the poor and marginalised to smartphones or computers and the lack of skills to use them. Additionally, practitioners argue that digital platforms are often top-down and hyper-individualised given their use through smartphones, leading to disconnections within communities and erasures of collective narratives. The pandemic has further complicated matters. According to commentators, globally, labour markets are disrupted, affecting the poor and marginalised significantly. Remote work through digital platforms is a reality for many, but these narratives exclude the facts of masses of people. For many commentators, this reality is unfortunate and impossible to alter, especially for those in the informal sector. For global commentators and mainstream discourse, then localised community-owned and designed technological platforms that can foster collaboration within communities and connections with broader conversations on the future of work can only be ‘science fiction’.

An experiment however is underway in some villages of Uttar Pradesh (UP) to make science fiction a reality. Through experimentation, possibilities are emerging for bridging local realities with global perspectives on the future of work. A team of innovators and practitioners from Development Alternatives (DA) and its partners, the Indian Micro-Enterprise Development Foundation (IMEDF), Janastu and Medha, are co-creating technological platforms with communities to unearth aspirations and provide entrepreneurship support services.

The first is a hyperlocal platform called ASPi that facilitates conversations among young girls with its collaborative design. In the pilot, one girl anchors the ASPi device becoming the medium for several others to come together to discuss and debate life in their communities, their aspirations and ways to reach their ambitions. The second is an intermediary platform called udyaME that digitises enterprise support in advice, tools and processes to start, run and manage businesses. It’s spread in rural and peri-urban areas the team at DA and IMEDF envisions through networks of enhanced common service centres (CSCs) called Information Kiosks.

The pilots for the experimental platforms, ASPi and udyaME took place in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdowns in India, and young people and entrepreneurs, including women at the grassroots, have upheld the platforms, challenging mainstream assumptions about their lack of awareness and skills in being able to use  these platforms. The innovators at Janastu shared, for instance, how their virtual sessions to assemble the ASPi devices with the young girls who volunteered for the pilot turned into conversations on the tenacity of several girls in putting together the hardware themselves (using the instruction manual). The practitioners at Medha further spoke of the growing curiosity around technological platforms and devices due to the restrictions of physical distancing.

The growing excitement of entrepreneurs around the use of udyaME in DAs geographies in Bundelkhand and Eastern UP points to instances where aspirations of entrepreneurs find the support to fructify. As entrepreneurship and self-employment grows as an option in DA’s intervening geographies, existing and aspiring entrepreneurs are interested in figuring out how udyaME as an intermediary platform can transfer enterprise support services directly into their hands to start and grow their ventures. The entrepreneurs running Information Kiosks recognising the changing dynamics of work are eager at the prospects of being connected through udyaME to expand their offerings to provide enterprise support.

The experiences with the information kiosks indicate the potentiality of inverting the top-down supply-side view taken by multinational conglomerates such as Amazon in designing what the future of work will be. Aided by facilitative technological platforms, entrepreneurs in rural India, our experiences show, capitalise on community needs and global opportunities to digitise to contribute meaningfully to local socio-economic well-being. Ideas are emerging to set up local e-commerce platforms that connect the products available on hyper retail outlets like Amazon with hyperlocal needs due to the gaps in Amazon’s address identification system for rural India.

In essence, the experiments in UP ground the global in the local to shape a future of work that is dynamic, responsive and inclusive of rural realities. As we walk into the future, locally co-created technological platforms are the mediums to ensure that ‘work’ for the coming generations at the grassroots is not science fiction but opportunities to contribute with purpose, building resilience and solidarity.


Vrinda Chopra

Shivankar Mohan


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