Scaling the Rural Enterprise

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Imperial College Business School

Abstract

Rural contexts do not naturally nurture large scale, sustainable enterprises. Rural enterprises wanting to grow, struggle without the honed infrastructures for collaboration, communication and distribution found in urban-industrial areas. The difficulties in achieving sufficient scale create barriers to entrepreneurial activity and prohibit rural business ecologies thriving, in particular the transaction costs associated with dealing with many micro-level organisations. This project addresses the fundamental challenge of scaling up rural enterprises within the UK and India and how we might exploit digital technologies to achieve this.
Economies of scale and scope have enabled the creation of large-scale multinational corporations that sit atop the 'apex' of large supply chains. In order to provide the cheapest product possible companies place enormous price pressure on their suppliers, often exploiting digital technologies to manage their supply chains and co-ordinate supply and demand worldwide. Rural enterprises involved in supply chains are often disadvantaged and there are a significant number of examples where local producers participating in supply chains of national or global conglomerates are squeezed in the 'race to the bottom'. In the UK this has pushed many farming communities to the point of bankruptcy. Furthermore, since many value chains worldwide are now oligopolies, there are few other customers for these rural communities to sell their products, making it very difficult for them to change their role in the supply chain - they are beholden to sell their products to those companies that agree to buy. The need for enterprise innovation in this domain is recognised, not least as a means to combat poverty, the issue is how rural communities might achieve this scaling up and support it.
Rural communities are currently uncertain of the appropriate forms of enterprise needed to scale up their endeavours and lack access to the appropriate IT enterprise capabilities to support these. Scaling up is essential if these communities are to obtain higher than subsistence income levels for the materials they produce. For example, many rural enterprises and their associated communities of practice cannot ensure the ability to deliver according to schedule a certain amount of product at a certain quality level. Without achieving sustainable economies of scale and of scope, rural enterprises will not be able to participate fully in the global economy. We need to innovate both in terms of the enterprise and the technologies uses to support these enterprises.
Within this project we wish to understand the next generation of rural enterprises that may be enabled by mobile devices in rural settings. First generations rural enterprises have emerged that exploit the timely delivery of information and expertise using mobile devices with considerable success in rural areas. Our focus in this proposal is the establishment of the next generation of enterprise where these mobile devices are used to scale up the activities of a rural enterprise by support the definition and management of enterprise wide processes between distributed members of these emergent rural enterprises.

Planned Impact

We aim to create direct economic impact by developing and deploying socio-technical solutions to enable communities in the UK and India to achieve sustainable economies of scale and scope that will facilitate their long-term participation in a global digital economy. Our emphasis is on focused concept demonstrators with local communities that provide direct initial benefit and with appropriate follow on investment will yield major socio-economic benefits.
Our community-based solutions will inform the development of an Extensible Rural Enterprise Toolkit that will be made accessible to others beyond our initial communities. Our solution will also provide empirical evidence to inform policy initiatives as well as creating market presence and demonstrating the capability of rural enterprises within local and global business ecologies.
The project necessitates an approach that is both interdisciplinary and cross-cultural in nature, not least because of the potential for participation in a global digital economy. The programme further aims to significantly document new interdisciplinary knowledge transfer techniques that involve academia, industry and the NGOs in the UK and India.
Finally, it aims to build a new research community and nurture links between the industrial, NGO and academic researchers in the UK and India.
This project targets a broad set of beneficiaries. Identified beneficiaries in India include: the non-edible oil community members themselves; governmental Ministries and Departments, Development Agencies working in rural development; R&D institutions with a special interest in the application of Science and Technology (S&T) for rural development; NGOs and other "intermediary agencies" engaged with rural enterprises; financial institutions with a mandate for the promotion of rural enterprises; and Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and other community-based organisations in the project region as well as elsewhere. These are mirrored in the UK where beneficiaries include the Ceredigion Region community members involved in the producing high quality food products. Governmental and NGO organisations involved in promoting enterprise in the region and beyond.
We will directly engage with these beneficiaries from the outset and then at key stages as we refine the Extensible Rural Enterprise Toolkit. This will ensure that their concerns are addressed in the course of inquiry and that findings will meet their needs and interests. Impact is embedded into the programme of research, which includes workshops to disseminate the findings and catalyse follow-up activities among Development Agencies, R&D Institutions, Financial Institutions and S&T NGOs.
All project partners are experienced in managing projects involving Intellectual Property (IP) considerations and industrial and international collaborations. The team will adopt an open approach to innovation and development, with generated IP being subject to collaboration agreements as appropriate.

Publications

10 25 50

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/J000604/1 01/10/2011 22/07/2012 £1,263,925
EP/J000604/2 Transfer EP/J000604/1 23/07/2012 30/06/2015 £1,053,173
 
Description We have demonstrated and developed a framework for food strategy for local authorities and implemented it within the London area.

A toolkit has been developed that includes software, policy briefings and case studies as a result of the study and co-creation of work with communities and enterprises in rural wales and rural UK, some highlights:
TiqR - a piece of software that allows end-users to mark check boxes on e.g. community newspapers or local menus and receive more information. This can also be used offline (UoS)
AqR - a piece of software that allows end-users to create audio bookmarks and transfer them to one another (UoS)
PaperChains - a piece of software that allows people to build up audio messages for one another over a period of time on a piece of paper, e.g. a greeting card and then play them back at another time. An example of this could be used to create a track and trace system for logistics and enterprise management. (UoS)
CodeTalk - allows people to build up messages around barcodes. This could for example be used to link messages to barcodes on products and add extra information, e.g. recipes or link to farmer information (UoS)

Basket: this software allows a number of individual, local suppliers in a town to co-ordinate together online in a similar fashion as a supermarket. Consumers can purchase products from separate shops and have them delivered or collect them as one shop or one "basket". (UoN).

A series of policy briefings and case studies have been prepared for enterprise and policy leaders who wish to become more informed about how best to set up and manage their enterprises. In addition, a series of policy briefs cover recommendations for Welsh, English and EU policy makers to understand which policy levers they can work with to increase the ability of rural enterprises to function effectively.

With regards to the Indian collaboration, there has been good collaboration between some parts of the project including the Swansea team and the Imperial College team. This includes exchanging learnings around software for rural enterprises and also the business model for rural enterprises.

There were a surprising number of similarities between the enterprise settings between India and the UK and a key finding is that despite the strong differences in context between the two nations rural areas, there is much to be learnt from one another.
Exploitation Route The software has been made open source by both UoS and UoN and will be made publicly available on the website enterise.info. This work may of course be of interest to other HCI researchers and can be taken forward as contribution to the HCI body of knowledge.

On this website, the case studies of how to establish an enterprise or use technology to improve rural enterprises will also be placed, allowing people to access the information and apply it in their own businesses. The research case studies provide a unique perspective on the rural economy of the UK that has never been taken before - in particular not looking at the rural economy solely as a tourism or agriculture. Moreover, the investigation of impact of ICT in rural enterprises is a unique and new contribution to the academic knowledge in this space and can be built upon by others.

In addition, we are working on making a joint UK-India toolkit which will be released next year, allowing for a potential broader spread of impact, but this will be reported in the next period.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://enterise.info/index.html
 
Description The findings are currently being implemented in rural Wales (the basket software) and as a result the findings are in an early state of reporting but there has been initial good feedback from the community in question.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Xerox Research Bangalore 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact dissemination of research

discussion
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Digital Technologies for Sustainable Local Agri-Food Systems Event 3rd - 4th July 2014, Imperial College London 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Event description:

Our Agri-Food Systems workshop, organised by Sustainable Society Network+ saw over 45 academics, practitioners and representative of public institutions attend with the aim of:

• Developing a research narrative about the use of ICT for the management and coordination across Alternative Agri Food Networks (AAFN) and their scaling up to develop sustainable local agri-food systems.
• Understand different needs of different actors involved in AAFNs and how DTs can support them in scaling up.
• Present best practices for the use of DTs in AAFNs and for their scaling up;
• Discuss current agri-food governance and policies and develop policy recommendations.

Food supply chains are one of the most important areas of investigation in the next decades as people become increasingly concerned with traceability of food supply, costs of food and the environmental impact of large-scale agricultural systems.

Digital technologies have a role to play in the co-ordination of local and "short" supply chains. Within this workshop, we will bring together a variety of researchers and others active in food supply chains in order to explore the use of digital technologies (DTs) in alternative agri-food networks (AAFNs) in their scaling-up process and also in the food supply and distribution system to cities focusing on the "Urban Food Strategies
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://sustainablesocietynetwork.net/digital-technologies-for-sustainable-local-agri-food-systems/
 
Description IBM Research Delhi 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact dissemination of research

further collaboration
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description ICT at the Nexus of Environment, Food and Energy September 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Event description:
Sustainable Society Network+ will be hosting an event in September about the role that ICT might play at the Nexus of Environment, Food and Energy.
This promises to be a very exciting event and we will be hosting some of the UK's leading academics in this space
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://sustainablesocietynetwork.net/ict-at-the-nexus-of-environment-food-and-energy/
 
Description IIT Bombay 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact dissemination of research

discussion
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Microsoft Research Bangalore, 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact dissemination of research

sparked discussion and further collaboration
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
 
Description Sustainable Society London Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact Talk contributed to a workshop that generated a lot of discussions even after the event.

several applications were made to SSN+
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://sustainablesocietynetwork.net/digital-technologies-for-sustainable-local-agri-food-systems/
 
Description University of Cape Town 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact dissemination of research

further collaboration
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description University of Grenoble 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact dissemination of research

discussions
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014