Madan Mohan Rao

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2005


This profile was prepared when Madan Mohan Rao was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.
The New Idea
Rural Telecom Foundation (RTF), of which Madan Mohan Rao is one of the founding members, has created a system to bring telephones to rural India for the mutual benefit of households, small business people, state-run service providers, and the government, while subtly creating important shifts in relationships among families and villages. Through a series of experiments, the RTF has created the GramPhone—a cheap and easily run village-based exchange that takes into account the short-distance communication needs of rural people.
The copper wire, switchboard and handsets that together make telecommunication possible are the material elements of RTF’s idea; and the conviction that lasting social change can be brought about through expanding the means of communication is its substance. Over 90 percent of India’s rural households still do not own a telephone. As someone who is closely associated with rural Andhra Pradesh, Madan understands how this condition inhibits or thwarts economic entrepreneurship, new social transactions, and the ability to respond to crises that telephones allow. Through telephones, rigid caste, class, and gender hierarchies are being gently but irrevocably displaced.
The GramPhone works because it harnesses existing materials more efficiently than the conventional telephone system, overcoming the problems of cost and scaling typically associated with rural areas. By improving the prototype, Madan has made the GramPhone commercially viable for all parties: the user, branch operator, and the state corporation that owns the lines. Rural telephones generate money for the national economy, meet policy objectives, and serve as a simple and practical way for millions of people to fully participate in the day-to-day affairs of their neighborhood, region and country.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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