Tom Friedman wrote about the growing rural BPO trend in India last year after traveling to Ethakota, a small village east of Hyderabad where Satyam Computer Services, one of India’s outsourcing giants, set up a data center. In a New York Times Op-Ed, Friedman describes the challenge of setting up shop in areas with unreliable access to electricity (only 85% of India’s villages are wired, according to the most generous estimates) — one telemedicine center he visited was powered with car batteries.
Friedman seems to think that despite these infrastructural hurdles, rural BPO seems promising. For one thing, knowledge workers aren’t forced to leave their families back home to find work increasingly cramped urban centers:
Suresh Varma, 30, one of the data managers, was working for a U.S. oil company in Hyderabad and actually decided to move back to the village where his parents came from. “I have a much higher quality of life here than in an urban area anywhere in India,” he said. “The city is concrete. You spend most of your time in traffic, just getting from one place to another. Here you walk to work. Here I am in touch with what is happening in the cities, but at the same time I don’t miss out on my professional aspirations. … It is like moving from a Silicon Valley to a real valley.”
As outsourcing workers in India’s offshore hubs become increasingly frustrated at the poor lifestyle their jobs impose, the value proposition of rural BPO work for young professionals may be on the rise. This may also be true for firms like Satyam — employee attrition, a major cost center for most firms in this industry, tends to be lower in areas where outsourcing jobs hold more prestige.
Unlike in the city, where outsourcing workers come and go, “in the village, nobody gives up these jobs,” said Verghese Jacob, who heads the Byrraju Foundation, which plans to gradually hand over ownership of the data centers to the villagers. “They are very innovative and positive, and because some of them had never worked on a computer before, their respect for the opportunity is so much more than for a city child who takes it for granted.”
Could the same be true for the relative prestige of such jobs in areas where outsourcing is yet to take off, such as most of Africa?