Akodara where Technology is an integral part of daily life

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Rusen Kumar from Ahmedabad

AKODARA/AHMEDABAD: Thanks to ICICI Bank every 860 adults have their bank account and enjoying digital atmosphere in Akodara village in Gujarat. It is a small yet progressive village, which is also recognized as India’s first  Digital Village, where technology is an integral part of daily life. Country’s largest private sector Bank, ICICI Bank adopted the village 2 years back and worked to recreate this from just a village into Digital Village.

Digital village offers a wide range technology integration with commerce and services to make the village economy work with latest technology in banking, education, and management. Bank has developed solutions, which got integrated with existing infrastructure, and established well-defined process that ensures smooth transition to the technology-led platform, while maximizing the benefits. ICICI Digital Village was dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to celebrate ICICI Group’s 60 years in 2 January 2015.

Chanda Kochhar, MD & CEO, ICICI Bank said, “Our aim has been to show that technology can be used to eliminate barriers that separate rural and urban India – to realise the vision of a rural India that is not “rural” but “rurban” – that is, villages where residents can access modern facilities & services like their urban counterparts.”

“The ‘Digital Village’ at Akodara, showcases the spirit of our commitment to leverage technology for improving the lives of people and the Government’s ‘Digital India’ vision. Our approach is based on 3Cs: Cashless payment ecosystem; Comprehensive application of digital technology spanning education, healthcare & skill development; and making the village fully Connected through Wi-Fi.”, she added.

Akodara 

It is located 62.1 kms from state capital Gandhinagar where major occupations are farming and dairy. The population of Akodra is 1,054 as per census 2011 consisting 510 male and 544 female members. There are about 860 adults in the village. Akodara is situated on Gujarat State Highway 145 in route of Himmatnagar to Ranasan. It is a village in Sabarkantha district headquater Himmatnagar. Major occupations in the village are farming and dairy.

As part of the digital village, the Bank delivers a wide array of banking & payment solutions including cashless transactions, payments processing, tablet based savings and loan origination, Close User Group (CUG) card services and support infrastructure. All financial transactions in the local market is cash less through mobile platform, debit cards and internet banking, instead of the conventional mode of transaction, i.e. cash. Apart from banking, the education institutes in the village use technology to impart education and health care. Bank has established a dedicated Wi-Fi tower to make village Wi-Fi enabled, with high-speed broadband.

e-Facilities at Village

Banking

  • Bank Account for Everyone
  • Branch and ATM
  • Customised SMS Banking
  • Debit Card Transactions
  • Dedicated insurance Assistance Kiosk
  • Payment Automation
  • Direct payment to farmers account for sale of agriculture products
  • Automation of payments on sale of milk products of Animal at Hostel at VLCS
  • Card based transactions at Gram Panchayat
  • Card based transactions at Farmers’ Cooperative Society

Education
Integrated projects and computer with smart board feature in class rooms
Digital audio visual learning content
Vocational Training for village youth
Digital learning content in Anganwadi
Automation of School attendance and day to day school management
CCTV cameras for supervision and monitoring
Financial Literacy Training

Infrastructure
E-health centre for diagnosis and medication
Internet connectivity through Wi-Fi tower
Electric display of spot and future prices of commodities
Revamped RO plant and payment system
Recreation Park
Digital clock

Village at a Glance 

Population (Census 2011): 1,191, Male: 538, Female: 653
In the age group 0-6 years: 84
No. of Households: 215
Literates: 1,015
Illiterate: 176
Main Crops: Cotton, Caster and Wheat
Farmers: About 200
Banking (at May 31, 2015)
Savings Accounts: 1,036
Financial Literacy Training: 540

Social Infrastructure
Anganwadi
Animal Hostel
Primary to Higher Secondary School
VLCS
Diploma in Elementary Education College
Ayurveda Primary Health Center
Open University Study Center
RO Water Plant
Skill Development Center
Farmers’ Cooperative Society

Role of ICICI Bank 
‘ICICI Digital Village’ at Akodara in Sabarkantha district of Gujarat enables villagers to use technology in various aspects of life including banking, payments, education and healthcare among others. Here, financial transactions are cashless, text books are paperless, children read books on LED monitors and Tabs, patients can avail the facility of telemedicine and wi-fi connectivity is available across the village.

The digital village initiative has three dimensions. The first dimension is to enhance access to banking and provide seamless banking services. For that:

The Bank is using pioneering technology of tab banking to open savings bank account. Tab Banking allows customers to open accounts without submitting physical documents. The accounts are being serviced by a dedicated branch and an ATM. All adults in the village now have saving accounts.

The Bank is providing technology-enabled banking services to the villagers including statements, alerts, remittances and fund transfers on the mobile phone. The villagers’ accounts are also being linked to Aadhar to enable direct transfer of government benefits into savings accounts.

The Bank is creating a cashless, digital payment ecosystem for the village. It has created an end-to-end payment solution leveraging Rupay cards and SMS banking at the village shops, at the mandi for sale of agri-produce and at the cooperative society for sale of milk.

The second dimension of the initiative is to leverage technology in the social sectors for improvement in the lives of the villagers. For that,

The Bank is digitizing school attendance and school records and implementing a school management software in the village school

The Bank is providing smart boards, integrating projector and computer at the school and the anganwadi, with audio-visual digital content for classes 1 to 10

It will provide digital access to telemedicine via mobile or video conference, giving villagers access to medical expertise

The Bank will bring its skill development programme to the village through the ICICI Academy for Skills

The third dimension of the strategy is to create enabling infrastructure to make technology available, and access and disseminate information. The key elements of this are:

High speed broadband connectivity throughout the village via wi-fi using a wi-fi tower.

Enabling farmers to access the latest information on prices of agricultural commodities on NCDEX.

Creating a website for the village.

Establishing a water treatment plant to provide clean water to the villagers.

The Bank’s approach is based on 3Cs:Cashless payment ecosystem; Comprehensive application of digital technology spanning education, healthcare & skill development; and making the village fully Connected through Wi-Fi. Details as below:

Cashless Payments

In Akodara the Bank has opened savings accounts for all houselholds.

Furthermore most of the adults in Akodara now have a savings accounts.

Various cashless transactions are facilitated through Debit Cards, SMS Banking, Online Banking, Cashless Payment Processing and other modes.

Accounts opened in the village have been linked with Aadhaar number, and eligible villagers are getting the direct receipt of government subsidies in their accounts.

The Bank has also setup an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) to enable cash withdrawals by customers. ATM in Akodara village is the only ATM in radius of about 6-7 kilometers.

(i) Savings Habit:
The Bank has conducted focused a comprehensive training and awareness program covering aspects of financial literacy and cashless transactions.

In this training, the Bank is using audio-visual tools for emphasizing the benefits of banking, introducing the customers to various products and services of the Bank and training attendees on how to use the digital banking modes.

(ii) Cashless Payment Processing:
The Village Level Cooperative Society (VLCS), which acts as a milk collection centre has moved completely to cashless payment mode for milk payments.

The Bank has developed a dedicated and customized SMS banking platform for Akodara.

This enables the villagers to do basic four transactions (Balance Enquiry, Mini Statement, Fund Transfer and Prepaid Mobile Recharge) just by an SMS.

A customer just needs to send a SMS in simplified SMS format to initiate a transaction and on successful transaction customer would receive response in vernacular language.

The Bank has also developed a micro-ATM based solution to facilitate the local Arthiyas/Mandi Commission agents to make payments to farmers for their produce. This is one of the unique technology put in by the Bank where the financial transaction during the sale happens through the device, where seller’s account gets credited just by swipe of Debit Card of the seller and at the same amount is debited from the account of the Mandi Agent.

Himmatnagar is the first Mandi in Gujarat enabled for cash-less transaction facility.

Villagers can also use banking services with Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) on National Unified USSD Platform (NUUP) with their registered mobile number. In this a customer cam avail services like accessing mini-statements, do balance enquiry and undertake fund transfer apart from SMS Banking.

(iii) Debit Card Payments:
The Bank has established 3 micro ATMs, one each at Gram Panchayat, VLCS and RO Plant.

These micro ATMs is used for payment of services rendered by villagers and also for payments made for purchase of goods.

(iv) Insurance:
The Bank tied-up with its subsidiary insurance company to offer the life insurance products to villagers.

A Kiosk based solution for insurance facility is put in the Branch. This kiosk will help customers evaluate their needs and life goals and suggest insurance coverage and product.

IndiaCSR Awards Logo (3)Comprehensive

School Automation:
Primary, secondary and higher-secondary School

The Bank has installed a portable integrated projector and computer with smart-board capabilities in the classrooms. This is an all-in-one device combining the functionality of a computer, projector, DVD player and speaker.

Internet can be connected from the device to access any online content.

School management software and digitized attendance system have been installed in all 3 schools in Akodara.

The schools have started using smart boards in classrooms, audio-visual curriculum of state education board in vernacular language and other such relevant equipment.

Anganwadi:
Existing Anganwadi has been renovated to make it more children friendly and with an ambiance to encourage learning.

The Bank has put up LED TV and provided video-based educational content replacing paper charts and black board based teaching.

Skill Development:
A Focused and customized Office Administration course has been designed for Girl students of Class 11-12.

Classes for this course are conducted over the weekends. The course focuses on making students employable while completing their schooling.

eHealth Facility:
The Bank has collaborated with e-Vaidya an e-Health service provider to setup an e-Health centre in the village.

Using the latest advances in satellite and internet technologies, reliable power backup and customized software, this centre enable remote diagnosis and audio-visual communication between villagers and qualified doctors at a Central Medical Facility.

The Bank has conducted 2 health camps at eHealth facility setup at Akodara.

Around 350 villagers have participated at these health camps. At these camps, basic health checkup is done, including monitoring vital parameters of the body such as blood pressure and Body Mass Index (BMI).

Water Purification:
The Bank has facilitated the village cooperative for reviving the community-owned Reverse Osmosis (RO) based water treatment plant.

Connected
Wi-Fi Connectivity:
The Bank has setup Wi-Fi tower in collaboration with Govt of Gujarat to provide internet connectivity to entire village. Wi-Fi connectivity is on subscription basis.

Revenue earned from subscription will go to Gram Panchayat, who will use these earnings for management and maintenance of Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Village website:
A dedicated website for Akodara (http://akodara-digitalvillage.in/) is live. This site is aligned with the Digital Village vision and will help the village to bringing in more attention to their development and get more and more support for growth and expansion.

Market Prices:
Key commodity prices from nearby markets are displayed on a digital screen setup at the Bank’s branch.

Cyber Kitly:
The Bank has also sponsored an initiative named ‘Cyber Kitly’ whereby villagers can surf the internet and also have access to a small library.
Additionally, the Bank has enabled infrastructure changes in the village including:

Construction of a village gate,

Putting up a digital clock in replacement of the non-functional analogue watch at village tower.

Creation of a small recreational area adjacent to the branch.

(Rusen Kumar is the Editor at IndiaCSR. He visited the village on July 8, 2015) 

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