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From Funds To Edtech Commitment: Four Key Takeaways From Google For India 2020

From Funds To Edtech Commitment: Four Key Takeaways From Google For India 2020

$10 Bn fund to be invested in businesses, social impact projects and towards supporting the government's digitisation efforts

Plan to empower businesses in their digital transformation journey

Pichai said the fund would also back uses of AI for social good in health and education

With an eye on tightening its grip in the Indian digital economy, tech giant Google announced a slew of plans to help accelerate the adoption of digital services in the world’s second-largest online market. Marking one of its biggest commitments to a growth market, Sundar Pichai, the Chennai-born CEO of the search giant, announced a $10 Bn fund to help accelerate India’s digital economy.

“We’ll do this ($10 Bn investment) through a mix of equity investments, partnerships, and operational, infrastructure and ecosystem investments. This is a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy,” he said via video conference at the company’s annual event focussed on India.

Google’s keenness on utilising opportunities of the Indian market was unveiled in its four-fold approach. Besides a fund, it also vouched on the future of India’s digital economy, by concentrating on four primary areas.

Google For India Digitization Fund Announced, But Needs More Clarity

Google announced a bonanza, but did not reveal how it would be releasing these funds or any commitment per year. It has just announced the corpus and the target areas at the moment, but no other details are yet known.

The areas of commitment are:

  • Enabling affordable internet access and information for Indians in Indian languages.
  • Building new products and services that are relevant to India’s unique needs and challenges.
  • Leveraging technology and AI for social good in areas like health, education and agriculture.
  • Empowering businesses in their digital transformation journey.

“As we make these investments, we look forward to working alongside Prime Minister Modi and the Indian government, as well as Indian businesses of all sizes to realize our shared vision for a Digital India,” he said.

Speaking at the virtual event, union minister for IT and electronics Ravi Shankar Prasad hailed Pichai’s announcement and described it as a “big boost” towards realising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of making India a $1 trillion economy. “The story of ‘Digital India’ is that of development, empowerment and inclusion. Delighted that Google will invest $10 bn in India. Under the leadership of PM Modi, we’re moving towards a $1 trillion digital economy and for that, it’s a big boost. Thank you Sundar Pichai,” Prasad tweeted.

Betting Big On Edtech

Speaking at the sixth edition of Google For India, Sapna Chadha, head of marketing for Google in India and Southeast Asia, announced Google’s partnership with Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), Skill Education and Training. The partnership will enable over 1Mn teachers from 22K Indian schools to deliver blended learning that combines the classroom approach with online learning using free tools like GSuite for education, Google Classroom and more.

Further, to skill low-income communities who might not have access to devices and the internet.  Google announced a new grant of $1Mn through its global distance learning fund. Using this grant, Kaivalya Education Foundation will work with Central Square Foundation and TeacherApp to train over 700K teachers over the next year. This training will help teachers to deliver virtual education for students to continue learning at home. Chadha also noted, for those without access to smartphones or the internet, TV, radio, and other channels will be used to reach children.

Chadha also acknowledged that there is much to do to bridge the digital divide and online learning should only be used to supplement information delivered in the classroom.

Following Chaddha’s address, India HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal said that the Google partnership will help India in becoming a global centre of knowledge. He also added that Google should work on expanding its content library from eight Indian languages to 22 official Indian languages.

Digitising Small Businesses

The digitisation of small and medium businesses (SMBs) across the country has also been pivotal to the transformation with 26 million SMBs now discoverable on search and Maps, Pichai said. He added that Google Pay has been a part of their success story in India which has enabled the Indian families to access the essential goods during the lockdowns.

“Just four years ago, only one-third of all small businesses in India had an online presence. Today, 26 million SMBs are now discoverable on Search and Maps, driving connections with more than 150 million users every month,” Pichai said.

The company’s digital payments app has over 3 million merchant user base in India, atop Google executive earlier said.

Talking Heads

Earlier in the day, Modi tweeted that he had an interaction with Pichai, discussing the company’s work in India’s digital economy.

Taking to Twitter, Modi said, “I spoke about the new work culture that is emerging in the times of Covid-19. We discussed the challenges the global pandemic has brought to areas such as sports. We also talked about the importance of data security and cyber safety. I was delighted to know more about the efforts of Google in several sectors, be it in education, learning, Digital India, furthering digital payments and more.”

In response to Modi’s tweets, Pichai tweeted, “Thank you for your time, PM @narendramodi  – very optimistic about your vision for Digital India and excited to continue our work towards it. Later today we’ll share our next steps on that journey at #GoogleForIndia.”

Google’s massive bet on the Indian digital economy and startup ecosystem comes at a time when Indian startups are facing a financial crunch due to the Covid-19 induced lockdown. According to a recent report by Datalabs by Inc42, the average percentage of layoffs across Indian startups is 22%. Moreover, even celebrated game-changers for India’s startup economy, unicorns such as Ola, Swiggy, Curefit, Zomato have all shed employees in chunks. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as, except Ola, these companies’ losses have expanded over the past fiscal year (FY 2018 to FY2019) by 7.3x for Zomato, 6.1x for Swiggy and 2.5x for Curefit.