The village entrepreneur and hero
Standing between dozens of charging cell phones and the open air of his shop window, Ranjeet Kumar may not look like a hero. But to his family and the people of his village, he is. "I always thought that to be successful, I’d have to leave my village to secure a good job. But thanks to Microsoft and my training, I don’t have to do that. I can make money here. And I can do it with confidence because I have my new skills."
The eldest of seven children, Ranjeet lives with his family in the remote flood- and famine-prone village of Rampur Mainat, in the Muzaffarpur District of Northern Bihar in India. Dirt roads lead to the dirt floors of thatched huts, normal living conditions for so many here. And like others in Bihar, where half of people in the state live below the poverty line, Ranjeet’s family has struggled to eke out a living.
Despite the challenges, people in this area look to Ranjeet as a testament of perseverance, entrepreneurial spirit, and family ties. “I’m responsible for taking care of my family,” he says. “Whatever needs to be done, I will do it.” Out his shop window is an expanse of flood plains and farmland, with villagers stooped over to inspect budding gourds, cucumbers, and other crops.
“My father is a farmer, but he knows the value of an education,” says Ranjeet. “He’s always said, ‘We will find the money for your studies.’ So I studied and worked alongside my father. We saved and saved for my courses.” Ranjeet’s family worked hard to support his studies, but even with their combined effort, their monthly income amounted to only 3,000 to 4,000 INR (US$45 to US$60). Most technical college courses were too expensive to pay for without neglecting food and other necessities for the family. Yet Ranjeet remained determined to gain access to higher education.
On the road to opportunity
Then he learned about the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), an international nongovernmental organization dedicated to developing and promoting creative solutions to problems that hinder social development. AKF partners with Microsoft YouthSpark—the global initiative to create opportunities for young people around the world—to provide curriculum, computers, and teacher training for tech centers, including one in Ranjeet’s district. YouthSpark is creating opportunities for young generations to learn computer science so they can create, and not only use, technology.
“I decided to take a computer technology course and a mobile repairing class,” says Ranjeet. Four kilometers of cycling and slow ferry crossings from one river bank to another afforded him plenty of time to think, helping his information technology and mobile device repair education to come full circle. “One day, as I was making the trip, I thought about how I could put my Microsoft training to work, and I saw an opportunity.”
“Most of us in the village spend a lot of time traveling for work, for school, even to charge our mobile phones! I thought: I could change that. I could open a mobile repair shop and use my Microsoft training to provide the people in my village with new services right from my home!” Ranjeet smiles, “So I got a generator, built my shop, and opened for business.” Because his village has no electricity, the generators he uses provide the power needed for villagers to charge their mobile phones and complete other tasks. In a place where farming is the expectation for most young people, Ranjeet serves as a role model, proof that viable alternatives exist and can be reached with the right opportunity.
Building a business with confidence
"I always thought that to be successful, I’d have to leave my village to secure a good job. But thanks to Microsoft and my training, I don’t have to do that. I can make money here. With a computer, I can update customers’ firmware and track how my business is doing. And I can do it with confidence because I have my new skills. My goal is to grow my business and to one day hire others, so they don’t have to leave the village and their families either.”
Building on the demand for his mobile repair skills, Ranjeet has expanded his shop to include photography and photocopying services. “I have used the camera and laptop provided by Microsoft to set up the photo studio and also purchased one color printer and copier," Ranjeet says. "This means that people from my village do not have to travel outside for these facilities.” Ranjeet also plans to start an iron fabrication workshop, helping locals take advantage of these services without traveling several kilometers to another village.
Now making up to 10,000 INR (US$152) a month from his mobile repair shop, Ranjeet has helped his family afford safer, more stable housing. “In just one year, we went from living in a thatched hut to a sturdy brick house,” says Ranjeet’s mother, Sunaina Devi. “Our difficult days are behind us.” As much a scholar as an entrepreneur, Ranjeet is now pursuing a bachelor of arts in geography with honors, as well as other subjects such as history, political science, and Hindi cultural studies. Ranjeet stresses he also wants his younger sisters to get an education, including computer literacy, to empower them and create more opportunity for their family.
Taking a break from the harvest, Ranjeet’s father, Chandeshwar Sehni, reflects on how far his son’s determination and training have taken the family. “We lived through hard times. We often had little food and no home of our own. We moved from small hut to small hut—rebuilding after each monsoon season. Since Ranjeet took the courses and started his mobile shop, life is much better and more secure. We purchased more farmland, and we are able to sell our goods at the market. We are now a happy family. My son makes me very proud.”
When asked about the future, Ranjeet describes plans that maintain a familiar theme of service to others. “My dream is get a job in the government sector, possibly something related to IT so that I can use my skills.... I want to do some good work and be an inspiration to many youths. On behalf of my entire family, I would like to say, thank you, Microsoft. You have given us a new opportunity in life.”