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Smart Villages for Rural India: Building vibrant, sustainable rural communities to stem urbanisation

The Smart Village Strategy revolutionises development with programs that create economic opportunity & make communities stronger.

Photo of United for Hope
20 19

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Our Smart Village Strategy tackles one of India's biggest economic problems: urbanisation. Within the next decade, more than 200 million people will migrate from India's rural areas to its urban centers, driving up levels of pollution, crime, infrastructure breakdown and housing shortages in cities. Meanwhile, rural communities have become less attractive to live in. The rural poor face a complex web of challenges: a lack of non-agricultural jobs, low income potential, poor infrastructure and healthcare, corruption, bad governance, low education levels, and more. The cause and effect relationship among these problems forces a constant stream of people to seek better lives in urban areas, which further degrades villages. Our mission? To rebuild the bridge between rural populations and their villages and stem urbanization by transforming rural India into a place of opportunity and prosperity through our Smart Village Strategy. The strategy is based on 3 pillars: Social Enterprise, Education and Community Service. Social Enterprise, the first pillar, combines small business creation with the supply of basic needs such as clean water and solar energy to create local jobs and improve living standards. We work with our partner social enterprise Shakti Empowerment Solutions to identify enterprises and build them in a hybrid for- and not-for-profit model. Education, the second pillar, supports the first pillar by countering skills shortages. We educate the whole community using different approaches based on the target audience. Initiatives include vocational training, and after-school education aimed at teaching hard skills, influencing mindset, opening new perspectives and mentoring. The third pillar of Community Service focuses on health solutions, and access to digital services and information from the government and other sources. We work closely with local leaders and the government to advocate for better infrastructure, funding and improved facilities.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are the rural poor in Eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP), India. Currently we serve 25,000 people across 10 villages from one community center, where programs are developed and launched. Beneficiaries of our Social Enterprise pillar are small shop owners, brick factory settlements and rural families without access to basic services. Our social enterprises give them access to basic and environmental services and create non-agricultural jobs. Our Education pillar targets children ages 10-14, rural unemployed youth ages 16-30 and the general community by equipping them with employment skills and influencing mindsets to foster better futures. The Community Service pillar targets the whole community (people and planet alike) through initiatives around sanitation, waste management, connection to health and government services, and digital access to information enabling them to lead more dignified, safer and healthier lives.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

We bridge solutions in 3 unique ways: 1. Interdependent Projects The complexity of our approach is new in rural N. India. Our holistic vision bridges every aspect of development & involves the local population in mapping their own future, ultimately stemming a massive rural-to-urban shift. 2. Scalable approach We ensure scalability via a flexible, hybrid non/for-profit model, & testing and refinement of projects in pilot phases. This potential is underused in UP due to the lack of entrepreneurial expertise & guidance on modern ways of working. Development organizations are few, even fewer are those engaged in social enterprise. Many work on a silo basis, missing the crucial importance of comprehensive development and making our work even more impactful. 3. Expertise Our Indo-European team is an asset in the rural scenario. We work at grass-roots level, & train & employ locals. By building trust and a network, we have transformed a forgotten rural community into a Smart Village.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

United for Hope uses its Smart Village Strategy to build sustainable economic and social structures in rural India with the goal of making villages centers of opportunity and progress.

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
  • Yes, we are a registered social enterprise.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

After spending years living in rural communities & piloting projects around sanitation & education, founder Tara recognised that even when provided with a toilet or improved schooling, an Indian child will still not be able to remove themselves from a similar life trajectory as their parents. Jobs & a new economic ecosystem are required to achieve societal transformation. Armed with this experience, Tara devoted herself to adopting learn-improve paradigms that form the core of our SV Strategy.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

'Prosperity' is influenced by several factors: lack of quality education, barriers to starting a new business, patriarchal practices, caste discrimination, government neglect, and general lack of opportunities to earn good wages. As all these factors fuel each other, the foundation of economic growth is very weak, leaving prosperity levels stagnant. The very problem of urbanization also influences prosperity through brain-drain as educated people leave the area and seek employment elsewhere. 'Planet' is influenced by contamination, lack of awareness of harmful practices, slack governance, shortage of affordable energy alternatives, careless behaviour and actions leading to constant environmental degradation. Waste contamination is a problem as is the use of diesel, kerosene and fossil fuels for energy generation, wasteful farming practices, arsenic-containing water supply, air pollution due to burning waste, and many other issues.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

To develop strong partnerships, we work with community leaders & local government to identify ways to collaborate and to create synergistic alliances. We work in close cooperation with the area Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the District Panchayat Raj Officer (DPRO) in Kushinagar, both responsible for village development in our field of operations. Our multi-tiered approach has already ensured successful collaborations for education, social tourism and sanitation (we made our first village Open Defecation Free), and we are moving towards becoming an approved agency for the implementation of government programs. Many international companies, social startups, university organizations & NGOsssupport aspects of our social enterprise activities through social impact funding, in-kind or financial support, and pro bono work. To name some: IEEE SV, Clean Water e.V.; Munich RE; Impact Hub; Enactus; Engineers Without Borders UK & Rotary International.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

In Uttar Pradesh, we see daily examples of creative solutions worked out under extreme conditions. Jugaad - a Hindi word meaning "flexible approach to problem solving"- is the most heard word locally. We believe there's huge potential in this resourceful environment and that well-executed social enterprises can generate impact. Further, a nearby, famous Buddhist pilgrimage site (Kushinagar) and ongoing government infrastructure improvement increase the potential for tourism enterprises.

Geographic Focus

We work in UP, India's most populous state (228 million) and home to 16% of the population

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

We aim to fully develop our existing prototype in the next 12 months and once fully operational, begin work with 2-3 additional Smart Villages (SV) within the next 24 months. Our plan is twofold: 1. Expand programs in our current SV (e.g. waste management, new social enterprises around agriculture) 2. Begin building our second SV, using all our previously-won best practices. Our ultimate goal is to develop a self-sustaining SV that will be a blueprint for every village in N. India.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No
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Attachments (2)


An example User Experience Map of one of our next projects to bridge planet and prosperity: Waste Management.


The Smart Village approach and individual projects are explained in more detail in our presentation.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Christina Schwanke

Hello! As promised as I expressed on my page I think these projects make for interesting and thought provoking reading.

Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk project offers a different view point but what I found to be very valuable to our project is the resources he shared, specifically

2. Rodney Lobo -His idea focuses on a problem I have heard discussed by individuals within the tech industry. @Developing skills to solve problems from a young age
(Update 2: May 28 - User Experience Journey attachment added)
  In my limited understanding this is an issue that needs to be tackled and within rural communities it may make a dramatic difference.

With these divides growing each year globally I am so glad to know there is a community of individuals working toward a solution. I would love to know how your program expands and evolves. Please connect with me on Linkedin or Facebook.


Photo of Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk

Dear Christina,

Thank you!, very nice to hear that my resources are useful, a more general description (with additional resources) can be found at and in my contribution.

Since my Refival project has been designed in/for a European context (with declining and ageing populations) and in relation to refugee or migrant integration, it would need some adaptation for other environments, but its basic structure is universal and based on my intercultural communication models (

The "Universal Basic Employment" contribution I made this year to Openideo ( is a complement to last year's Inclusion Sourcing ( approach and addresses the current general lack of solidarity in Europe which likely will become a growing (there already is an enormous gap between Northern and Western Europe versus Southern and Eastern Europe) problem in the coming 10 years due to expected job losses and further urbanization.


P.S. There also is a very good and inspiring book on the "impact Sourcing" movement where and are both part of. It is written by Leila Janah, the founder of Samasource,

Photo of United for Hope

Thanks for the info Christina. I have also been in contact with Hans independently and he told me about Rural Shores and I am checking that out. I have also connected to you on LinkedIn & FB.
Likewise you can find us here
All the best for your project, Tara

Photo of Rodney Lobo

Hi Christina Schwanke Thank you for sharing our idea.

United for Hope 
Recently, it was concluded that all villages in India had access to electricity.

Although the conclusion is based on an arbitrary number for the access to electricity -- 10%-- which is truly insignificant. Villages can still have hundreds of people living in them, and having access to electricity is one of the important factors that contribute to its economic development, but it is not the only one.

Education, healthcare, sanitation and many other factors play roles in the development. Your initiative of making rural areas attractive is crucial to its overall development. Agriculture is still the primary occupation in India, but it cannot alone be sustainable. However, by having access to non-agricultural jobs, villages have a better chance to sustain the whole community.

Photo of United for Hope

Hi Rodney, thanks for taking the time to read our idea.
It is indeed true that many villages in Indian now have electricity access (not sure about all) but many people within those communities do not have access and in rural areas electricity is also unreliable - sometimes out for days on end. Without alternatives to agricultural jobs, people just move away, especially those with education - thats what we try to offer - dignified jobs and training across a number of areas.
Thanks again for your interest, if we can be of help to you, let us know. Best, Tara

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