Kuppam HP i-community Village Photographer program

Anirban Mukerji

anirmukerji@gmail.com

Introduction

The Village photographer program was a initiated by to pilot ICT based self–sustaining solutions which are scalable, that provide local communities with economic growth and HP with new opportunities and business model innovation for emerging markets.

The Village photographer program matched HP’s existing capability in low cost photo printing, with a need in rural areas i.e. a demand for a low cost solution that delivers photographs in a timely manner.  

Need analysis

The current available solution for photography the “mini lab” is a capital intensive equipment costs over 20 Lakh Rupees and is available only in cities , both of which imposes several limitations on rural consumers. Firstly it takes both time and effort for the prints to reach a consumer in the village and also requires the entire film roll of 36 exposures to be used up before it can be given for processing, an issue for the rural consumer as he may require only 1 or 2 photographs and not a whole roll. Because of these reasons only need based photographs like passports and very important occasions like marriages are captured on film and a large no. of other photo occasions in villages are largely ignored.

HP Digital photography solution

HP has introduced photography in Rural India in two formats

a)  The Village Women photographers - This solution has been piloted in the Kuppam HP i-community. Here the HP Digital photography solution consists of a HP Digital camera, a portable photo-printer and a solar power-pack, each component of the solution leading to an economical portable photography solution for villages and small towns of India and other similar emerging market countries.

The portable printer that is used in Kuppam has the advantage of printing directly from a camera and removes the need to invest in an expensive computer for interfacing with the printer. The options in the printer allow it to print sizes ranging from passport size to 4” X 6” maxi size pictures. The quality of pictures printed on the HP 145 compares favourably with pictures printed in “photo labs” that are 100 times more expensive.

It is no secret that most villages suffer from irregular power and even in electrified villages there are areas like a temple or a school where grid power may not be available. The Solar power pack developed by the HP EMS team not only enables photo printing in places where grid power is unavailable but also saves wastage of material incase of a sudden power shut down during photo printing process.

Both the lightweight small size photo printer and the solar power pack has the advantage of printing photographs at the place where the photos are required – a tourist location, a wedding party and offers door delivery of photographs to the rural consumer, a service not possible with the existing conventional solution.

An important aspect of the Village women photographer program is that the Village women photographers of Kuppam are members of the Self Help Group Movement and this aspect of the program has helped in several ways. Their membership of the Self Help groups has trained them to work as a team and they help each other by sharing tips and business insights. Membership of the self help group movement also enables them to draw upon support from the local district administration and access funds specifically allocated to support the Self Help group movement in the country.

Initially HP hypothesized that photo id printing would be the most popular application however the results from the field indicate that the photographs taken have covered the whole gamut of village  life including marriages, family occasions, photographs of children, festivals etc.

b) The HP Digital photo kiosk

In this format the digital photography equipment including a digital camera and a HP color inkjet printer is added to the existing Village internet kiosk. In the Kuppam Community Information Centres (CIC) the CIC operators prefer to use an all in one (Printer cum Scanner) machine because besides photography job orders they also receive many requests for scanning, modifying and enhancing old photographs. In other kiosks run by other operators like n-Logue and Drishtee the printers have ranged from rudimentary color inkjet printers to sophisticated hi-volume business inkjet printers.

In most kiosks (n-Logue and Drishtee) a large proportion of photographs have been passport ids.


HP has created a revolution in rural India by introducing the digital photo studio.  For Drishtee, it has become a good source of revenue generation for its kiosk operators who operate at the village level.  The highlight of this digital-studio is the instant and good quality of photograph at an affordable price.  This invention has also saved time and money of rural people who used to travel to the nearest photo-studio located at the nearest town.   -   Satyan Mishra CEO Drishtee


Key Insights from the rural digital photography program

Some of the key insights that HP has gained from this program are that while it was known that there existed a demand for passport photographs but a latent need for capturing events, festivals, family occasions etc was discovered through this program. Also it was noticed that quality demanded by the rural community is stringent and digital photographs are constantly compared to photos obtained from analogue photo labs. Taken together it demonstrates that good quality equipment i.e. High resolution Digital cameras and photo quality inkjet printers are essential for carrying out a successful digital photography business in rural India.

Another insight HP got from the program is that while training the village women and kiosk operators on use of equipment is easy and this training does not take up more than a day, continuous monitoring and motivating the photographers is important for the success of the program.

However the most important learning from the Village photographer program pilots is the need for an entrepreneurial instinct in the photographer. Some of the more entrepreneurially inclined photographers have delivered results that are twice the average. A good example of this would be Ishwari, a photographer in V. Kota of Kuppam. She earns about 700- 1000 Rs. a month trough photography and even though she is barely literate she is learning the Adobe Photoshop program as she feels that this can help her earn more revenues. Similarly another CIC operator in V. Kota promoted the start of photography services in his CIC by announcements though autorikshaw’s and use of the village youth clubs.

Conclusion

The Village photographer program has been a success on many fronts across both the formats i.e. both the individual women village photographers and the internet kiosk formats. The program in Kuppam was initially started in the Gudipalle Mandal with 4 women and thereafter has expanded to 12 women in V. Kota Mandal. Besides helping the women increase their family incomes substantially, it has also helped in increasing their self confidence and social standing in the villages they reside. They became more mobile, interacted with multiple people, were able to speak out for themselves and gained the support of their families. This is a commendable achievement all the more because most of the women in the group were barely literate and had never worked in a technology driven business before.

Photography services have also been added to many kiosks of both Drishtee and n-Logue and it is reported that this service is crucial for the kiosks in achieving financial sustainability. As a result of this both Drishtee and n-Logue have added photography services as part of their core offerings and have replicated them across their network.

In the two years of the photography program HP had gained key insights in promoting digital photography in villages and the various components that go to making such a program a success like the equipment configuration, selection and training of entrepreneurs, program management, promotion strategies etc. and feels confident that such a program if implemented in scale can both fulfill a need in rural India and also be a substantial source of earning for the rural entrepreneurs in India and other emerging market countries.

Even in 2008, two years after the withdrawal of HP from the program, the Kuppam village women photographers are still in business and earning Rs. 1500/- to Rs. 2000/- per month.