Based on his education, interests and career decisions, Rikin Gandhi was headed toward being launched into space to explore other-worldly elements as an American astronaut. Instead, he surprised everyone, including himself, when he committed to a very earthly cause—educating farmers of developing countries using innovative, simple technologies. Rikin is now the CEO of Digital Green, a non-profit organization aimed at bettering farmers’ livelihoods, which has successfully grown to 200 Indian villages in a span of two years.
What is Digital Green?
Digital Green is an agro-business non-profit. When I was working at Microsoft in Bangalore, India, the Emerging Markets department wanted to find ways to use simple technology to better the lives of marginalized communities. We became an independent organization with advisory support from Microsoft. My group wanted to develop a way for farmers to share effective farming techniques with each other, to increase each farmer’s knowledge and skill-set. So, we developed a method in training farmers: how to use video cameras and simple editing technology to produce their own films.
It’s like a library of farming videos — that’s great! What are some topics of the videos, and who sees them?
Yeah! It’s like a library of tips that are useful for those in the agro-business. Topics range from methods to conserve seeds to community organization. One topic we re-visit often is how to tap into the collective bargaining capacity to negotiate better with traders. In every village that we operate in, one ten-minute video is produced and shown. Generally, two farmers are involved in producing the film, and most farmers come to watch the film. On occasion, we show videos produced in village to other areas if it is relevant to their farming needs.
What’s your background in?
It’s a funny story, actually. I did my Master’s degree at MIT in aeronautical engineering, with the goal of being an astronaut. After graduating, I joined a software company called Oracle, and applied to the Air Force. Meanwhile, I went to India to check out a friend’s biodiesel venture which would supply electricity in an environmentally-friendly way to people who didn’t have access to it. This is when I got really interested in the farmer’s cause.
So you were heading towards space. What happened?
When I was in India and waiting on the response from the Air Force, I was reading a lot of biographies about astronauts. Every single one of them had the same message: “This world is such a special planet in this universe. Why is there war? Why is there poverty?” and all of the astronauts got into social services after. Some became teachers in bad areas, others got into environmental activism. At this time, I became very interested in the daily challenges that farmers in rural India faced. I just thought, “I don’t need my fifteen minutes of fame to go into space.” Also, I am genuinely interested in the technological aspect of this industry! Socially and intellectually speaking, I was and continue to be really engaged with this puzzle.
What are Digital Green’s goals for the next few years?
We are currently in 200 villages in four states in India. We have plans to take this model to Africa, and spread it to a total of 1,200 farming villages in Africa and South Asia.
How can Daily BR!NK contribute to your success?
We actually are looking for paid employees! If you are up for a really rewarding job that is part adventure, part socially-conscious, and part critical thinking, we should talk.