Villages 2.0: Create Smart Villages ahead of Smart Cities

On 24th September 2017, TEDx organizers and team members gathered to host TEDxGlobalDay at Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai to discuss and explore potential solutions on how we can make villages smarter in the country.

India is home to a population of 1.324 billion people out of which 69% lives in Villages. When such a huge amount of the population lives in villages, it’s imperative that we develop our villages first than solve the problems in the cities.

The event started with a 2 hour streaming of TEDGlobal>NYC Talk. Some of the speakers include Naoko Ishii, Chair, Global Environment Facility, Robert Muggah, Urban issues expert, Igarapé Institute, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Musician, Per Espen Stoknes, Chair, Center for Green Growth, Christiane Amanpour, Journalist, CNN and Elif Shafak, Novelist.

This was followed by a discussion by the participants on theme “Villages 2.0: Create Smart Villages ahead of Smart cities”. The discussion generated a lot of interest, and I have put together some of the important highlights of the discussion in this post:

Financial Inclusion

Income inequality continues to be a problem in the country. Income inequality in India has peaked to the highest level since 1922, according to a research paper by Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel. One of the main reason is due to the lack of proper financial infrastructure in rural areas. 40% of the population still does not have access to banking.

Financial inclusion should be the first step towards creating smart villages. Banking facilities should be available to the people in the remotest area. Most of the financially excluded people who live in villages are uneducated and they often hesitate to go to a bank. They often lend money from a money lender who would charge exorbitant rates and often fall into a debt trap. Banks also find them less creditworthy. Thus, the attitude of bankers has to change first.

In Bangladesh, we have seen how Microcredit has successfully helped lift 10 million people out of poverty between 1990 and 2008. A similar model has also started in India.

We must also realise that it should be a collective effort of the people — Self-help groups can help people with credit. Banks should also offer its customers a ‘no frills’ account so that people could save more. Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) is aimed at the same. During India’s Demonetization in 2016, there was an increasing focus on opening accounts under PMJDY which would promote financial inclusion. Banks must also ensure that customers find them easily accessible and simple to operate.

Hygiene & Sanitation

More than half of the rural population (52.1 percent) of the country still defecates in open, according to Swachhta Status Report in 2015. According to the same report, only 45.3% of the rural population has toilets. One of the main reasons for Open defecation is the behaviour and mindset of people who have continued the practice of defecating in the open for centuries.

Rwanda’s success story in improving access to sanitation and water is something that we can learn about. They have implemented a strategic policy that shows us that to improve sanitation and water supply, you really don’t need to spend very high. Bangladesh has also reduced open defecation from 34% to 1% between 1990 and 2015.

Currently, the government with “Clean India” campaign aims to end open defecation by 2nd October 2019 (150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi) and plans to install 75 million toilets across the country. Building toilets will not solve the problem. People should be educated about the merits of good sanitation rather than talking about the hazards of open defecation.

TEDx Organiser visited a village nearby to understand the problems and later had a discussion around the same to come up with solutions.


Primary education still continues to lag in the country. Most schools in rural India are run by the government. One of the main problems is that there is a shortage of good teachers in these schools. They are often paid poorly and is a reason for dissatisfaction. Absenteeism of both students and teachers further add to the woes.

Teaching equipment is limited to a blackboard and chalk, and books do not always reach the students on time. Some schools have a lack of even these basic facilities. On our visit to a nearby village, we found that students have the same textbook irrespective of the class/grade they are in. Most of these schools have only a single classroom and students of different class/grade study together.

Children in villages and cities should be given the same opportunity. Technology to a particular extend can help solve the problem. MOOCs are a classic example of this. More people can now browse and learn from top universities. Digital aids can help the teacher reach out to the students better in terms of communication and learning. A simple webcam and Internet access can make a huge difference. Education of a girl child should shift from last to the first priority. Learning should be a continuous process and its scope should widen.


Finally, infrastructure has to improve significantly in the rural area. Robert Muggah on his TED talk at TEDGlobal>NYC provided the foundation for the development of new cities. We believe that the same as applies to villages. Villages should be developed to be resilient. Building roads, power supplies, and buildings will not solve the problem unless it is effectively used. There should be proper planning of infrastructure. Innovative techniques like rainwater harvesting, installation of solar panels can help most of the problems.

Thus, India’s development story has to begin in the villages rather than with cities. Each individual’s contribution can make a huge difference. Cities can decongest by moving people and businesses to smart villages. This will increase revenue, resources and job opportunities will increase in rural India.

There are a lot of challenges that India faces. People spend more time watching negative news rather than acting upon it. We believe that “Ideas Worth Spreading” is the first step towards bringing up a change in the society and would like to appreciate TED for giving us a forum to discuss and take action.

Let us know how we can make villages smarter in the country in the comment box below:

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