Reinvestment in digital literacyConducting technology awareness programmes for locals is a sustainable way to expand the market for tech firms.
In Nepal, when we discuss the technology business and start-ups at any sort of public or private forum, the opinions of everyone pour forth—complaining about the lack of a government support mechanism and market sustainability. Nepal’s emerging tech markets have many things to be proven in terms of policy upgrade and reach. But in this generation of technology-based revolution, the chances of entrepreneurs getting frustrated by limited market growth is very high. This is directly interconnected with the baby steps of government awareness and the introduction of conflicting policies influenced by traditional monopolies.
The potential users of technology products or services, who live outside key cities, are left behind. The recent growth of tech start-ups and digital payment in Nepal has been appreciable, and the market in the Kathmandu Valley and other city areas has already started to adopt technology into daily life. But in the vaguely discussed concept of a decentralised Nepal, this success of adoption matters very little because a huge portion of the market is still unexplored.
One solution to expanding the tech market is digital literacy, and it has two simple processes: First, wait for natural growth as the government and private sectors expand technology education; second, invest in digital literacy to sensitise users about its benefits and impacts. The first one is definitely time and resource-consuming, but the second process is something an individual entity can carry out to create a market for itself.
The mention of investment may shock entrepreneurs because we are still far behind in the adoption of the start-up culture of venture funding, and the concept of philanthropy is still not applicable in Nepal’s context. But reinvestment can be the way forward, where a business that has already created a sustainable presence in city areas can reinvest a portion of the profits to organise any kind of digital literacy events outside key cities to sensitise potential users. At the end of the day, more sensitised users means a space for market growth, and this reinvestment can be part of its corporate social responsibility strategy.
Digital payment businesses like eSewa, Khalti, IME Pay, Prabhu Pay and others have started to gain momentum, and are disrupting the financial industry; but the market is very limited. Until now, they are all competing for the same users, but once they start reinvesting in digital literacy events or organisations, the chances of reaching unexplored potential users are very high. This will create a friendly competitive environment for everyone, and reduce the effects of monopolies. More importantly, this reinvestment should aggressively focus on basic hands-on technology awareness programmes for locals rather than big corporate conferences and shows. Priority should be given to rural areas and emerging cities like the provincial capitals and district headquarters where access to basic education already exists, but the people are yet to become tech-savvy.
Basic sensitisation of how the technology works will help users to make the right choice of platforms as per their needs; and they can easily adapt them in their daily lives, creating a market for everyone to grow. Also, it's not necessary that we reinvest the profits. This can start from the minimum viable product phase of development where adopting open-source software or data can help businesses save a good portion of their initial funding, and this can later be reinvested. For example, street maps are a huge part of ride-sharing platforms like Tootle and Sarathi, but most of them use corporate Google maps, which have certain pricing for developer access. So instead of that, they can use openly available maps like OpenStreetMap and reinvest the savings to improve open-source platforms and digital literacy.
For a better tomorrow
Some may find the concept of reinvestment indigestible because most of the technology-based start-ups are struggling to sustain themselves in the Nepali market. Therefore, spending revenue for literacy sounds odd, but it's something worth giving a try for a better tomorrow. The challenge of making literacy effective can be minimised by customising the content as per the local scenario. In some places, theoretical knowledge of how the internet works can be important, whereas, in other places, hands-on experience of using smartphones effectively can be prioritised. The technology business also needs to act carefully to make sure it is reinvesting in teaching, and not in marketing its products directly.
It's an opportunity for us to do an actual technology-driven business and go beyond smartphone reach and social media. Initiatives like this will help businesses to understand user needs properly to create localised platforms. An increase in market space is guaranteed. Also, this will help pressurise the respective government bodies. So, rather than waiting and depending completely on government and civil society, technology businesses and start-ups can take a step forward to contribute a small portion of their revenue for literacy programmes in their respective fields. Let's cut off costly ads marketing and sponsorships to organise international conferences at Kathmandu's five-star hotels. Let's come forward to support cybersecurity awareness in Nepalgunj, hackathon in Janakpur, data science workshop in Itahari, basic digital payment training in Dhangadhi, and many more decentralised literacy events.
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