In a recent Businessworld interview with Pradeep Kashyap, a marketing professional, who started MART, a rural research marketing and consulting company, Kashyap discusses the importance of creating sustainable linkages between rural India and the formal economy. Since its inception in 1993, MART has partnered with NGOs, MNCs, and Indian companies to promote marketing and livelihoods in rural India. By Poonam Kumar

What were you involved in after leaving the corporate world and before starting MART?

I worked in a large NGO for a year to learn about the development sector. Then I was appointed Marketing Advisor to the Central government. Thereafter I served as Chairman of the Marketing Committee of Khadi and Village Industries Commission. I also taught at IRMA and XIM. Then I started MART.

You were associated with ‘Shakti Amma’ campaign, whose idea was this? Could you talk a little about the idea and campaign.

I dare say, Project Shakti was my idea and co-created with Unilever. MART had been working with women’s micro-finance groups in UP and AP. We were helping to find viable income generating activities for them -vegetable and fish vending, dairy, tailoring, kirana shop etc. Because of my long career in the corporate sector, I got the idea that why can’t these women sell established and well advertised products of FMCG companies in their villages. We started the campaign with a pilot in Nalgonda district of Andra Pradesh with 50 women. For the next one year, we perfected the model of selecting entrepreneurial women, training them on HUL brands, setting up the ordering and supply system, payment system and developed permanent journey plans for the women. We studied their profitability and identified the fast moving products and brands in rural areas. Then we rolled out the model throughout Andra Pradesh and over the next four years across 12 states. We have appointed 46,000 shakti ammas.

What motivated you to write The Rural Marketing Book?

As a pioneer, I saw the importance of rural markets for companies, quite early. I realised there were not many marketing professionals with knowledge of rural consumers, their environment and needs. So I met the Directors of many B-schools and tried to convince them that rural marketing should be offered as an elective course as companies will need freshers with knowledge of this subject. Some Directors got convinced but could not introduce the course as there was no standard text book and no foreign author could write a book on this very Indian subject. This motivated me to write the book in a record time of 5 months, largely during night time while running MART during the day.

What do you think is the scope of BPOs in rural marketing? How viable are services such as the Kisan Call Centre when it comes to building relationships with rural clients?

I don’t think BPOs in rural markets would be viable for rural marketing. But if you mean setting up BPOs in villages then they are very viable for several reasons. Rents and salaries would be much lower. There are many graduates in rural areas. Thus finding educated youth will not pose any problem.

Kisan Call Centers are not valued by farmers because they do not get holistic and timely advice. These are manned by poor quality staff  that is not of much help to the farmer. Relationship building involves many dimensions -social, economic and political- and the kisan centre may not be able to deliver on all fronts.

IRMA (Institute of Rural Management Anand) is the only institute which provides education in rural marketing. What is your take on this?

Besides IRMA we have XIM, Bhubaneswar which offers an MBA in rural management. Then you have Institute of Rural Marketing, Jaipur and TISS in Mumbai. There are others too. But I think with the importance rural marketing is assuming in recent years, we do not have enough colleges catering to this important area of study

Do you think B-schools need to focus on rural management?

Not necessarily on rural management as the subject is vast and much beyond the need of companies but certainly rural marketing. Every B-school in India must offer an elective in rural marketing. I would go to the extent that it should be made a compulsory course.

Any message you would like to give to the students of rural marketing?

Rural marketing has a bright future and since it is in its infancy a lot of innovations and experiments will happen in the coming years. So a lot of excitement and new learning awaits you. Career prospects are also good as the importance of rural markets grow for companies. And most importantly you will get a sense of fulfillment.