Interview : Karishma Kiri, Director, Microsoft CorporationInterview : Karishma Kiri, Director, Microsoft Corporation

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Karishma Kiri is a Director with Microsoft Corporation. Currently, she guides various emerging market strategies and incubations primarily focusing on product strategy and business development. Kiri has been leading Microsoft’s global rural computing (BOP) initiatives since its inception as a part of the Microsoft Unlimited Potential effort. A bachelors degree holder in business economics from the University of California, Los Angeles, Kiri talks about the Rural BPO initiative in her conversation with Jayalakshmi Chittoor and Vignesh Sornamohan. Karishma believes that governments, NGOs and corporates should encourage and guide local innovation and concentrate on sustainable content creation.

You have come up with the rural BPO initiative. Could you throw some light on this?

One of the things that we have been looking at is -what are the interesting livelihood opportunities that can exist? One of the things that directly inspired us was former President A P J Abdul Kalam’s PURA (Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas) initiative. And we thought, could a hub be created within rural environment, which would provide employment generation opportunities and help bridge the rural urban disparity? One of the initial projects that I know of is the DesiCrew Solutions started by Saloni Malhotra under the guidance of Prof Ashok Jhunjhunwala. And this is very interesting because we are using something we (India) are very good at – outsourcing and technology. And Microsoft has been doing a lot of research on this ever since we started our rural efforts. We have also tied up with DesiCrew for data entry and inputting data on our product launches. However, there were challenges on quality and capacity building. But the most important part was showing them that the ability exists and it is possible for them to handle technology, which made them confident. This is what we wanted to do. We did other programmes with Drishtee on e-Commerce and e-Healthcare. The main focus of all these projects was to let people know that they can do these things.

From a strategic decision maker’s experience what do you think about the future of the rural BPO?

I think the model will keep evolving. Some of the existing 5 seater, 10 seater BPOs will continue to stay but the challenges here is the quality or the output and the on-going pipeline of clients. I think efforts are on to create a hub village in a district with 15, 20 or 30 seater BPOs with the plan being that people travel to that hub for work. This, I think, is going to be a more sustainable model because there would be less traveling time as compared to visiting the cities or towns and this may also generate more employment. But, unless you engage more mainstream ongoing clients outsourcing their work, these models will continue to happen on the fringes. What is required is access to the channels and visibility. So the task for companies like Microsoft and organisations like is to identify the small but interesting companies doing good work and help them get visibility and provide them with the access points. Here magazines like i4d and telecentre magazine can contribute by documenting innovative ideas and promote young entrepreneurs with interesting ideas in this field.

What is your opinion on the role of telecentres in health service delivery?

For telecentres to be effective in providing health services, there has to be an involvement of the larger domain experts like Apollo Hospitals, Escorts, Aravind Eye Hospital and others with someone managing the end-points through e-mails, video conferencing, etc. But it is really important to have these health care centres. All of it can be brought under a business model with each point of the value chain affected. People are willing to pay for good healthcare. If there is need to connect to a doctor through a web cam they should be able to do that. But all of this is possible only through a hub with these facilities.

How is your telemedicine project experience in Bihar in partnership with Drishtee and Neurosynaptics?

Our team visited Bihar and the most interesting part of the experience was that people were really concerned about who was communicating with them at the other side of the web cam. So having a van of Apollo or any other reputed hospital and may be having the person in the hub wearing a t-shirt with an Apollo logo would make a huge difference, because psychologically it would make people comfortable with the process and help in mediating the conversation of the patient with the doctor. Apart from these, there are other things also which are very important like having adequate preventive care, insurance, medicine delivery, and above all, love and care. All these have to be there for this model to be successful.

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