SARI: Sustainable Access in Rural India

Michael Best
Colin Maclay

The Sustainable Access in Rural India project (SARI) seeks to show that viable markets exist for information and communication services in rural poor areas by inventing and deploying innovative technologies, assessments, and business models. The ultimate goal is to link these activities to sustainable human development objectives. SARI is part of the Digital Nations consortium of the MIT Media Lab and Harvard's Center for International Development; other key partners include IIT-Madras and the I-Gyan Foundation.

Through the development and introduction of appropriate and enabling technologies and applications, SARI will foster economic development and improve health and learning. It will do so in a financially sustainable way, even as it reaches into the poorest and most disadvantaged communities. SARI's diverse partnership of universities, non-profits and the private sector has begun to implement a unique project that will begin by wiring approximately one thousand neighboring rural villages in each of two Indian districts.

Why connect so many villages? SARI's magnitude is essential because it will allow us to benefit from the Network Effect, which will be far more empowering than a few connections placed only in more urban areas. The large number of users helps support financial viability by aggregating demand, develops richer content and community by integrating people, and provides a powerful environment for research.

There has been a great deal of enthusiasm about the value of information and communications technologies (ICT) but precious few unqualified successes and little or no rigorous evaluation. The SARI project counts on a collaborative and interactive research agenda drawing on the expertise of Harvard's Center for International Development, IIT Madras and the MIT Media Laboratory. The key research areas include: 1) technology, applications and content, 2) assessing social and economic impacts, 3) and business models for financially viable and self-sustaining access.