With a vision to turn the country’s rural youth into entrepreneurs, Madan Padaki founded 1Bridge in 2016. It’s a platform that empowers rural entrepreneurs to provide a wide variety of services to the rural population by leveraging technology. During his skilling initiatives for illiterate or semi-literate rural youth, Padaki saw the lack of income-generating opportunities in villages, gram panchayats and even in districts. This was forcing the youth to migrate to cities. Around the same time, his team began exploring last-mile delivery for e-commerce companies in some district headquarter towns, using local youth as a way of generating jobs.
“We saw the e-commerce orders from these towns growing very fast,” says Padaki. “We did surveys in some gram panchayats and found that rural consumers had similar aspirations as their urban counterparts, but they were unable to fulfill them for various reasons-digital divide, lack of trust in online (transactions) and low penetration of various brands and services in the villages.” This prompted him to build a model that will provide rural consumers the same levels of access, choice and convenience as available to the urban consumers and use local youth as entrepreneurs for the purpose, thereby generating jobs.
A key challenge was to train the local youth to think like entrepreneurs and take ownership of the various activities they had no experience of doing. “This meant breaking the process of a sale to a customer into simpler tasks, such as registering a customer, conducting a survey, asking what the customer wants, making an inquiry, providing a quote and closing a sale,” says Padaki. “The tasks are monetised so that the entrepreneurs are motivated.”
1Bridge is now operational in more than 40 districts in south and east India, with over 1,000 rural youth engaged in delivering services to rural consumers. Padaki has also developed a programme to equip entrepreneurs with new skills through the 1Bridge Academy. He has launched the 1Bridge Virtual Reality Mall where these entrepreneurs carry a virtual reality headset along with the 1Bridge virtual reality app, and generate consumer experiences. He is also steering the non-profit Head Held High Foundation, which focuses on poverty eradication.