A Brief Introduction to RISC

I had been pondering India’s rural development for a while before I signed up as a Reuters Fellow at Stanford University in Sept 2001. As a Reuters fellow, I developed a model for catalyzing India’s rural development. I called it RISC — for “Rural Infrastructure & Services Commons”. Later, Vinod Khosla and I co-authored the concept paper. This is a short version introducing the why, what, how of RISC.
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Lee Kuan Yew on PURA

In an article in the Business Line titled “Kalam’s PURA will not work,” Lee Kuan Yew makes the case for urbanization of the population for India to develop.
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Planning Com’s No to PURA

The Planning Commission has recommended that PURA–Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas–be dropped from the Ministry of Rural Development’s Centrally sponsored schemes, the Pioneer reports. (Hat tip: Pranav Kumar Vasishta.)

I have argued against PURA because it makes no economic sense. However I suspect that the recommendation will be overturned and money will be wasted on PURA.

Marshall Plan for India?

Well, well, well, what have we here? (Hey, that would make a good site: http://www.whathavewehere.com)

Vinod Khosla’s Marshall Plan for rural India” is the subtitle of a “How the World Works” article by Andrew Leonard on Salon.com.

I must admit that the article is very well written. Here are some excerpts, for the record:

The daily drumbeat of biofuel headlines has made Vinod Khosla — co-founder of Sun Microsystems, former Kleiner-Perkins venture capitalist, and ethanol evangelist/entrepreneur extraordinaire — a hard man to ignore of late. But Khosla’s massive bet on renewable energy as the answer to climate change and peak oil (and big profits) may not even be his most ambitious scheme to remake the world. In 2002, Khosla co-wrote a paper with development economist Atanu Dey sketching out a plan to boost economic growth in rural India. It’s hard to think bigger than a bid to upgrade the living standards of some 700 million people — as the paper notes, one out of 10 people on this planet is a rural Indian. (Thanks to the India Economy blog for the link.)

Here’s a bit more.

Khosla and Dey’s basic proposal, however, is simple enough that one wonders why it hasn’t been tried before. The authors suggest that in part this is because the cost of connecting people with the right level of infrastructure and associated services was too great. But the same information and communication technologies (ICT) that have enabled Indian programmers to compete on a global stage can now also enable entrepreneurial rural Indians to gain access to the ideas and information necessary to boost their nascent business operations on a local level. “ICT is therefore the enabling technology that empowers the model,” write the authors.

Read it all. 🙂


I spoke about RISC at the “International Conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship” at XIMB last Saturday, Jan 13th. It was a brief talk and was largely based on a document that I had done for an infrastructure report published this month by OUP. Even though the document is quite brief, I think it does a good job of describing RISC. The rest of this post is the “what, why, how” of RISC—Rural Infrastructure and Services Commons.
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Recently I got an email from a researcher in Delhi who wrote, “I have been attempting to do an extensive survey of the PURA/Growth Pole concepts. I came across your RISC concept again while searching for related literature. . . What fascinated me the most was that this was the first piece written on such issues in India that is explicitly (and rightly) seeing this as a coordination failure problem, and talking about both infrastructure and accompanying services.”

He then went on to ask in what way RISC differs from PURA. My response, for the record:
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Journey to Kanpur — Part 2

Gates of IITK

It takes nearly two hours by road to get from the Lucknow airport (Kanpur does not have an airport) to the IIT campus in Kalyanpur outside Kanpur city limits. The road is fairly good by Indian standards and just before entering Kanpur city, it crosses the wide expanse of the river Ganga.

It was just a little before midnight when the car turned towards the IIT main gate. I felt a sense of nostalgia and sadness.
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Rajesh Jain’s article in Business Standard on Rural Economic Development

Today’s Business Standard carries Rajesh Jain’s article on Transforming rural India, the hub way in which he discusses the RISC model. Continue reading “Rajesh Jain’s article in Business Standard on Rural Economic Development”

As India Develops

My business partner at Deeshaa, Rajesh Jain has been focusing his Tech Talks under the heading As India Develops where discusses challenges and opportunities along the road to a developed India. The topics he introduces in these series of Tech Talks lie at the core of what needs to be done for India’s transition from an underdeveloped to a developed economy.

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Culture and Development

In an email to Yuvaraj, Mr. M V Subbiah of the Murugappa Group wrote:

Thank you very much for sending me the RISC model.

I have read it with interest and entirely agree that India has very little chance of being a major player in world without integrating the rural economy. Having said that and having been trying in our own small way to integrate the rural areas which we are working with in our sugar factories, I am beginning to believe that we need to get some help from specialists who understand the social anthropology of our people. I do not know if any one else in your team feels the same way.

I could not agree more with Mr. Subbiah that the cultural context of our economy is extremely fundamental to our economic development and therefore having the insights of cultural anthropologists is important.

In a sense, economics and anthropology are intricately linked because humans are cultural creatures and our aspirations and our drives are shaped by the culture that surrounds us. Our thinking is bounded by the limits that culture places on us and any fundamental shift in our thinking has to accompany, if not be induced by, a cultural shift.

Fortunately, we are immensely pliable creatures and given sufficient reason to change, we change. India’s economic woes can be traced to at least some extent our culture of acceptance of the status quo and a fatalistic acceptance of what is instead of striving to improve our lot. We need to expound a new vision and spread it throughout the nation so that we start to acknowledge our potential and thereby take the first step to realize it.

Change in the way we think about the problems we confront is critical because the same sort of thinking that has created the problems cannot possibly get us to the solutions. It is the avowed goal of our team at Deeshaa to think very deeply about the source of our problems to understand what it was that created them. Then we proceed from that understanding to the next step, that of creating a solution that is not mired in the old mistaken ways of thinking. Finally, we propagate the solution to all corners of the country, the first step of which is to implement the solution as prototypes to demonstrate that the proposed solution is feasible.

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