Rikin Gandhi reverse-emigrated to India to join a bio-diesel startup – which went under the week that he landed in the country. After that, he cold-emailed Microsoft Research to get a job. Three years later, he took the findings from his research to start a non-profit named Digital Green. Today, Digital Green is a leading organization which empowers smallholder farmers to lift themselves out of poverty by harnessing the collective power of technology and grassroots-level partnerships. To date, it has reached over 2.3 million farmers in 18 countries across South Asia and Africa. It is known for popularizing an innovative, bottom-up approach for farmers to record and share their own videos and agricultural best practices.
In our conversation, Rikin walks us through the ups and downs of his tumultuous journey in setting up a non-profit. He shares how they managed with zero cashflow in their first year, and what has and has not worked in collaborating with other development partners. He gives us a window into the culture of fearless experimentation which continues to infuse Digital Green today despite its scale and adoption.
To find out more, access the show notes at https://AidEvolved.com.
- Digital Green: Rikin is founder and CEO of Digital Green, a non-profit that empowers smallholder farmers to lift themselves out of poverty. Digital Green has reached over two million farmers across 18 countries in Asia and Africa.
- Pico Projector: Here’s an example of the kind of pico projector used to share Digital Green videos in rural communities.
- Green Champion: Digital Green has experimented with a variety of platforms – including reality TV! They produced the show Green Champion, which was broadcasted on four major networks across India.
- Kisan Diary is an accounting application designed to help smallholder farmers manage their own finances. Developed by Digital Green, it is today used by 40,000 smallholder farmers.
- Loop is a logistics and supply chain mobile app to help farmers amortize the cost of transporting fresh produce.
- FarmStack: Digital Green’s open source protocol to give farmers greater control over their own data.
- Blockchain Chicken Farm: recent travelogue on the sociocultural impacts of technology in China’s rural communities.
- Kentaro Toyama was the assistant managing director of Microsoft Research India who received Rikin’s cold email about his desire to work at the lab. Kentaro’s decided to take a chance on Rikin. This decision would pave the way for Rikin to spend years at the lab researching and testing out ideas in the ICT for agriculture space.
- The Digital Study Hall from Professor Randolph Wang: Rikin credits Dr. Randolph “Randy” Wang with the inspiration for Digital Green. Dr. Wang’s research at the time focused on community video to improve the quality of education in rural India.
- The GREEN Foundation: Rikin’s gives a shout out to the GREEN Foundation, who worked with Digital Green during their first deployments. They are the reason for the ‘Green’ in Digital Green!
- Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology: Rikin’s recommended reading is this book by Professor Kentaro Toyama. It reminds us to be skeptical of the tech zealots and to remember that people are at the core of social change.