India’s First B Corp Uses Uber-like Tech Model to Connect Supply Chains and Smallholder Farmers
(3BL Media and Just Means) - In the same way that the San Francisco Bay area will be read about in North American history books—or history apps, rather—Bangalore is creating historical tech waves in India. That country’s first certified B Corp, eKutir Global, is shaping that tide. What started as a vision to empower small farmers and shareholders with tech solutions for planting, selling and connecting has developed into a tool used by big name corporations to increase efficiency and directly connect with their supply chains.
Disclaimer: At first glance, the skeptic in me arose. Another technology that claims to empower smallholder farmers? Another app to help farmers predict weather patterns and market prices? Do farmers in India care about using smart phones? Three conversations later with co-founder and CEO, Suvankar Mishra, and I know this platform is different. eKutir uses a systems thinking and context-based approach to their technology. They view their tech platform as a tool and not an end-all, be-all solution to global poverty. Developing partnerships with a variety of stakeholders including micro entrepreneurs, farming communities and big corporations drives their business. What’s most convincing is that as farmers are convinced of the benefits of technology in their farming practices and in their homes, eKutir knows they might be out of jobs. And they are OK with that.
Here’s an example of how the eKutir tech platform works:
A multinational beverage company sources their teas and coffees from small shareholders and cooperatives all over the world. The business development department wants to stay on top of growing trends and market prices. Supply chain managers are concerned that farmers are paid fair wages by middlemen distributors. Both departments want to know what’s working and what’s not and iterate their processes as farmers provide feedback. Currently, this exchange of knowledge is tracked through spreadsheets and bulky software. eKutir Global streamlines this communication through community-based, micro entrepreneurs who gather data from the farmers and input this into an app. Think of the Uber model for agricultural reporting. Training and creating buy-in for farmers to use the technology themselves has been a challenge, one that eKutir has seen many other companies face. The micro entrepreneur eliminates this bottleneck and creates hundreds of jobs.
“These are digitally skilled entrepreneurs that work with the farmers and become the conduits of every organization to work more efficiently and engage with these farming communities. Graduates, high school grads, anyone looking for an entry level position—they live in the community and have the potential to earn two to six thousand dollars. Our team trains them with the platform and like Uber, they onboard and take on as much work as they want,” explains Mishra.
Customers pay to license and set up the technology. They also pay for eKutir to collect and analyze the data that comes into the system. eKutir provides a recommendation for business development and a farmer rating which is in turn used to develop a credit score for farmers; they know creating access to credit for farmers is a leverage point for ending poverty. As part of what eKutir calls the Agri Suite, eKutir customers have access to information about helps them plan to maximize crop production; analyze soil qualities and plant health; manage for disease and other risks; and connect with individual farmers. The goal is efficiency and empowered farmers.
“Any product or solution should reduce risk and increase outputs. eKutir does this. It will be a solution that is long lasting. We tested this with farmers over and over. We know it works,” says Mishra.
So why did eKutir Global join the B Corp movement? In terms of creating impact, for eKutir this was a no brainer. Their use of their technology has always been missional; creating jobs through micro enterprise and connecting low-income communities to clean energy and clean water is a priority. Mishra also saw the value in the B Impact Assessment as a way to manage their impact across their numerous programs.
“Are we creating access to credit for farmers? How do we contribute to the environment? Can we give credit back to the people that are part of our communities? We were strongest in impact and outcomes and that’s because there is a lot of evaluation conducted at eKutir, whether or not it works,” says Mishra.
Mishra also saw the value in the community in the B Corp movement. He’ll fly across the world in a few weeks to attend the annual B Corp Champions Retreat with the rest of us. Engaging with other social entrepreneurs fuels him to do more through eKutir Global and most importantly, for the farmers and micro entrepreneurs of India.
(Image: Copyright of Bioversity International)