‘‘It may take a little longer, but that is our goal: 100,000 rural youth,’’ he said.
B2R’s Dolwani said he is doing nothing more than pushing forward the entire premise of the outsourcing industry: Moving the work to where it can be done cheapest.
Growing disillusioned with his former life as an executive at urban outsourcing firms, Dolwani and a partner toyed with starting their own company in the hills of the northern state of Uttarakhand, where they had routinely vacationed to escape the city.
There was a ready supply of educated, frustrated youth, but could they do proofreading and data entry? Dolwani passed around a book of short stories by American teenage girls and gave an impromptu comprehension quiz to local youths, whose mother tongue is Kumaoni, second language is Hindi and who began studying English in the sixth grade. They had potential, he said.
B2R rented the only building of any real size in town and Dolwani began what he assumed would be the long, costly process of connecting to a faraway Internet line.
The fiber optic cable, they were told, was running right under their office, laid during an earlier program to spread Internet access, but never turned on, Dolwani said.
‘‘It was like a dead snake in the ground,’’ he said.
While he waited months for the state-owned telecom company to activate the line, he made do with achingly slow mobile data networks. Even now, he uses a wireless system that operates over radio frequencies as a backup.
They paid to upgrade the village’s phone and electricity systems, installed a generator to work through the daily power cuts, gave employees intensive English and skills training and opened for business three years ago. They replicated that plan in four other villages in the region, and employ nearly 250 people in total.
The B2R workers begin each morning with a prayer, a regimen of calisthenics, the national anthem and an ever-changing roster of games. Women once too shy to speak in public in this conservative society, now tackle male co-workers and talk trash during a raucous game of kabaddi. A few wear jeans in place of the traditional baggy salwar kameez.
Jagdish Sanwal, who had left town to work for Nokia, came back for B2R. Other men said they had been planning to leave when a job opened up. Most of the women said that for the first time they had options other than marriage. Families once wholly dependent on the vagaries of the harvest, now had a reliable income.
As she peels garlic and watches field hockey on TV with her father and brother, Shoba Bisht, 20, straddles the traditional woman’s role of domestic labor and the man’s role of earning money and being doted on.
Her mother packs her lunch for work and gives her time to rest after, but Bisht still helps cook dinner. She does laundry on her day off, but no longer collects wood in the forest.
Two years ago when she was offered a B2R job, her brother laughed and told her he would never let her take it.
‘‘In my family, girls are not allowed to go out for work,’’ said Bisht, whose last name is common in the region.
Her mother forced him to relent.
Since then, her family has added a wide brick kitchen and concrete living room to the small two mud rooms of its house. They bought a TV. She paid hospital bills for her brother, kept her family from having to borrow money at 60 percent interest from a loan shark and, in an incredible role reversal, helped pay for her brother’s wedding.
Perhaps more stunning in a society where daughters are often viewed as an economic burden, Bisht is putting money away to pay for her eventual dowry.
Dewan Singh Bisht said he turns to his daughter whenever there is a financial emergency.
‘‘I am very proud of her,’’ he said.
Listening to her husband, Devki Bisht, 44, cries quietly as she squats over an electric stove, heating milk for tea.
She wants her daughter to be independent, to have a better life.
‘‘It’s not just a man’s right to go out and work,’’ she said.
Though they have talked about marrying her off, Devki Bisht now says she is prepared to wait years for the right family, one that will let her daughter keep working.
B2R faced some resistance when it moved into Simayal. Some families didn’t want their daughters to work with men. Local youth, angry they didn’t get jobs in the first round of screening, vandalized the office, Dolwani said. The company held a town meeting to ease the tension, and now holds similar gatherings before opening new centers.
It hopes to attract clients by charging at least 25 percent less than urban competitors, Dolwani said.Continued...