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How Digital India is sustaining the economy through the pandemic and giving rise to a new empowered, enabled entrepreneur

CNBCTV18 logo CNBCTV18 21-07-2021 Samay Lund
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Celebrating the 6th anniversary of the Digital India Mission and taking forward the discussions from the Vision Digital India 5.0 summit hosted in 2020, Network18 brings a series of discussions that will bring expert opinions and insights from the minds of those who are spearheading this change at Vision Digital India 6.0

In 2015, the Government of India launched the Digital India programme with a vision to empower every citizen through digital access to information, services, benefits, and good governance. Over the past six years, the programme has grown significantly. According to Statista, as of February 2021, the country's digital population was approximately 624 million active users. Ensuring last-mile digital access will be critical to the government achieving its target of becoming a $1 trillion ecosystem by 2025.

The Digital India programme is built on nine pillars:
  • Broadband Highways
  • Universal Access to Mobile Connectivity
  • Public Internet Access Programme
  • e-Governance: Reforming Government through Technology
  • e-Kranti - Electronic Delivery of Services
  • Information for All
  • Electronics Manufacturing
  • IT for Jobs

While the initiative has made significant strides since its inception, it got a significant fillip with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The government announced the first lockdown on March 24, 2020, to curb the spread of the virus. Digital platforms became the only connection to the outside world as businesses, work, education, and monetary transactions all moved online overnight.

According to a report by the US-based National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), within 48 days, India witnessed a significant increase in the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and social media. Mobile consumption increased 12% from 23 hours a week to 27 hours. Social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter saw a spike of 87%. To not much surprise, gaming platforms also witnessed a 26% rise with more children isolating at home.

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Financial Empowerment

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) estimates that, in 2020, Indians were making over 100 million digital transactions a day, amounting to over ₹5 trillion ($67 billion), a 5x increase from 2016. Apex Bank estimates that this will grow to 1.5 billion transactions a day worth ₹15 trillion ($200 billion). The biggest game-changer has been the launch of BHIM, a payment interface built by the National Payments Corporation of India.

The growth of digital platforms has also helped bridge several other gaps impacting everything from delivery of government schemes and services to livelihoods across urban and rural India. One of the critical areas was the need to sustain the supply chain for essentials when the lockdown impacted road transport. According to a World Bank Report, an example of this was when the Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society enabled doorstep delivery of vegetables in partnership with the Odisha Livelihoods Mission, Mission Shakti (a self-help group for women under the state government) along with its partner NGOs and local officials. With the help of a digital platform, the society arranged for vehicles to transport the produce from the farmers and get passes from the police to ensure seamless delivery, and digital payments and electronic weighing scales to ensure contactless delivery to the customer. This approach gave households access to fresh produce and confirmed that farmers' livelihoods were unimpacted.

Supporting Women Micro-entrepreneurs

Across Gujarat, a group of self-employed women weavers feared the worst when news of the pandemic broke. Their first thought was how this would impact their livelihood. However, they learned all the necessary digital skills through the Leelavati Project, a digital literacy programme conducted by the Self Employed Women's Organisation (SEWA). According to a World Bank blog, these micro-entrepreneurs could share photographs of their products with online customers and close transactions using digital payments. Many women have also been able to step up and support their families, whether it is helping their fathers and husbands initiate digital payments in their businesses or paying the utility bills at home. The report quotes Junaid Ahmad, World Bank's Country Director for India, as saying, "Digital financial inclusion was a development priority for India even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it is indispensable."  

The Digitisation of India's MSME Sector

However, the most significant impact of COVID-19 in digitisation has been on the country's MSME sector. A recent report by CNBC TV18 has said that small businesses in India are being forced to move away from traditional business practices, and increasing numbers are moving their operations online. According to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), around 63.4 million MSME units in India contribute approximately 6.11 % of the manufacturing GDP and 24.63 % of the GDP from service activities and 33.4 % of India's manufacturing output. In a survey conducted by Bluehost, a web solutions provider to MSMEs, of over 400 MSMEs in June 2021, 72% of payments are now taking place digitally, while only 28 % still transact in cash. The survey also found that one in two MSMEs said that doing business digitally was proving more successful when dealing with existing customers and acquiring new customers. Over 80% surveyed said that they now had a website, for many it was the first time. They also said they would continue investing in digital tools.

On the occasion of the sixth anniversary of the Digital India Mission, the Network18 group is hosting a series of actionable discussions on the key sectors utilising digital platforms to scale their businesses and create convenience for their customers.

The 2021 edition of Vision Digital India 6.0 will feature conversations with lawmakers and some of the most prominent business leaders and influencers in both the enterprise and policy space. Among the topics discussed will be e-Governance, the growth of SMBs, Cloud technology as an enabler, and perhaps most importantly, data privacy and security, as we all increasingly move our entire businesses and lives online.

This is a partnered post. 

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