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Changing eCommerce at the grassroots

Shillong techie Medarisha Lyngdoh is part of eSamudaay team that is working toward empowering rural & semi-urban entrepreneurs

The country’s IT sector has the highest representation of women at over 30%, according to various survey reports. In fact, India has been leading the way in women’s empowerment in the field of technology. Among them is Medarisha Lyngdoh from Meghalaya who is among the handful of women from the North East making an indelible mark in IT. But beyond her achievements, Lyngdoh, along with a group of young professionals with a vision, is doing yeoman work to change eCommerce at the grassroots level.

Lyngdoh is part of the team that has spearheaded eSamudaay, a platform that is decentralising marketplaces. The eSamudaay website describes it as a network of software nodes connected to the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) protocol. Each node hosts multiple decentralised marketplaces and multiple decentralised applications. Lyngdoh is the co-founder and COO of the venture that is based in Bengaluru, the IT hub of the country.


An alumnus of Holy Child School and Pine Mount, Lyngdoh graduated from St Anthony’s College in Shillong. “My initial schooling played a huge role in making me what I am today. The school was very focused on both academics and extra-curricular activities and all students were asked to participate so that they get to know what they are good at,” the young techie told Sunday Monitor.

She later went to Banaras Hindu University for MCA and the “shift was quite intense” for multiple reasons. The cultural difference, language barrier and the low ratio of female to male students could have been overwhelming for many students. However, Lyngdoh took these in a positive stride and shaped her career in technology.

“When one learns to accept and appreciate differences, it can mean a shift from negativity to being appreciative and accepting of the differences,” she asserted.

Lyngdoh has always been resilient and creative. In fact, her nous to create things in order to make work faster and easier drove her into technology that “fits the bill perfectly”.

“There is no joy like the joy of seeing the piece of code you write perform ‘magic’ and give the ‘aha’ moment to so many who struggle with doing things manually prior to technology helping them,” said the 43-year-old IT professional.

Lyngdoh started work as a substitute teacher at the age of 18. She said the early job taught her one thing — that one has to be a role model for children who look up to adults for inspiration and strength. Over the years, Lyngdoh has indeed become a role model for several children, especially girls, in her home state as well as in the entire northeastern region.

Tech journey & eSamudaay

Talking about the inception of eSamudaay, Lyngdoh said the CEO, Anup P., always had the passion to ‘Democratise Digital’. “Over the past 50 years, our communities have ceded our self-reliance to large corporations. The largest of them all are the global internet companies that harvest our data to assist in globalisation. The ‘Democratise Digital’ vision, which eSamudaay has taken upon to achieve is to reverse this trend and reap the benefits of the internet within our communities,” explained Lyngdoh.

eSamudaay started during the Covid-19 pandemic when a group of young techies, including Lyngdoh, came together after realising that this is the time to democratise digital, starting with eCommerce.

The venture started with baby steps and declared Udupi district in Karnataka as a ‘Digital Republic’ by creating Udupi eSamudaay, the world’s first Local Commerce company. Through this effort, the team is creating a Digital Platform for Udupi that is democratically governed and focused on community development.

“We started this with the hope that our efforts will spur similar efforts in the other districts of India especially those which are rich in culture and biodiversity,” Lyngdoh said.

In simple terms, eSamudaay is a set of software tools that can enable local digital entrepreneurs to set up their digital businesses. The tools have helped entrepreneurs set up local marketplaces in Tiers 2 and 3 cities. These have also helped entrepreneurs set up an ONDC seller network in Meerut.

“The set of tools has evolved into helping them build solutions on ONDC. The same tools have also been used at NITK (National Institute of Technology, Karnataka) to set up a campus eCommerce solution for students run by the students. So, to summarise, it’s all about what you want to build in the eCommerce space and we could help you crystallise your vision,” Lyngdoh explained the eSamudaay model.

Working with the grassroots

eSamudaay works with grassroots entrepreneurs, who are mostly from rural and semi-urban areas and have little or no awareness of the new-age technologies and how these could change the way business is done. So, for the team of techies, challenges were imminent.

Initially, the team members worked from metropolitan cities and faced difficulty in connecting with the grassroots. This prompted them to set up a living laboratory in the quaint town of Udupi, the hometown of four of the five founding members of eSamudaay.

Just a few days ago, I came to know that farmers in Meghalaya are selling tomatoes at Rs 4 while people in Shillong are buying them at Rs 80/kg on the same day. This is due to a lack of information and access to the market. We are working on a project to connect with producers from remote areas like the North East to help solve this

“This gave us the perspective of working from smaller towns and set the tone for our further communication with the next set of entrepreneurs. One of the key things we did was to communicate with our entrepreneurs in native languages as much as possible, which also led me to test out our product by setting up a hyper-local marketplace even in Shillong with the help of local entrepreneurs,” Lyngdoh said.

Another perennial challenge in rural areas is poor internet connectivity. However, the eSamudaay team considered this a constant factor and developed various features that would work even if there is no internet connectivity. For example, if a seller is not being able to accept an order because he does not have the internet or the phone is switched off, “we have the ability to do it from a central console manager by the entrepreneur. Another example is that delivery agents are able to mark orders delivered even without the internet,” explained Lyngdoh.

But one of the critical challenges for the team is onboarding of small retailers. eSamudaay is working with ONDC to democratize eCommerce, and to do so and reach every corner of Bharat, it has to work its way to onboard small retailers at zero cost. “This is a challenge we have been trying to overcome using master catalogs but a lot more work is needed here. Hopefully, the participants in the ONDC network will solve this together,” according to Lyngdoh.

When asked whether eSamudaay has any plan to spread its wings to Meghalaya and other parts of the North East, Lyngdoh pointed out that the team is passionate about enabling producers and helping them get fair value.

“Just a few days ago, I came to know that farmers in Meghalaya are selling tomatoes at Rs 4 while people in Shillong are buying them at Rs 80/kg on the same day. This is due to a lack of information and access to the market. We are working on a project to connect with producers from remote areas like the North East to help solve this,” Lyngdoh shared the team’s vision.

According to Lyngdoh, the eSamudaay team wants to see the venture reach every corner of India after 5 years, with local entrepreneurs running successful local eCommerce and connected to pan-India via a robust network of ONDC as well as the eSamudaay network, to form partnerships with. The team also wants to have a network of developers who are building modules to the eSamudaay tech stack and helping these local entrepreneurs meet their digital needs.

At the same time, Lyngdoh pointed out that for success, it is crucial for a team to perform together

“Investing in the right kind of people is critical to how your life and company will shape up. At eSamudaay, we have people who have worked together for decades and had stuck with each other through thick and thin. We also have young people who are passionate about their work and that is very important. This is the same message that we pass on to our entrepreneurs. Find the right team that believes in you and your vision and the rest can be taken care of,” Lyngdoh said.

“Secondly, as a technology enabler company, it is critical for us to understand that there are so many nuances required by the market, and to be able to achieve that, we have to ensure that our product is flexible enough to handle these nuances. We also have a very open tech architecture to ensure that customisations and extensions to the technology are open to anyone who wants to do it, removing the bottleneck of resource constraints,” she added.

Growth of ONDC

Last year, a report by Publicis Groupe and Digital India Foundation observed that ONDC promises to “enhance product discoverability while increasing customer reach and reducing the cost of sales”. In fact, it is expected that ONDC will increase digital consumption to $340 billion by 2030, according to McKinsey.

Enumerating the growth potential of ONDC, Lyngdoh said the works of eCommerce are currently heavily skewed in favour of buyers at the expense of sellers. “With ONDC, this will change. All seller apps will be able to provide access to every buyer connected to ONDC. This means access to users will be commoditised and commission will be for other benefits, for instance, cataloging. This will enable smaller sellers to profitably sell online,” she said.

While there have been predictions of ONDC growth, research reports have also pointed out that ONDC has to go a long way to match the technological superiority of the likes of Amazon and Flipkart. When asked how the eSamudaay team is working on technological advancement, Lyngdoh said the tech-side journey has been a fun ride.

“We started working with ONDC super early… we got a chance to learn many industry best practices around technology as well as e-commerce processes by being part of the ONDC network,” she said.

While eSamudaay is taking humble strides toward making ONDC a game-changer, Lyngdoh in her capacity is setting an example for women in the North East. Her journey is inspirational for many who want to make a career in IT.

When asked why only a few women from the region are joining the IT workforce, Lyngdoh observed, “One reason could be that we do not have many engineering colleges in North East. There is not much awareness about career opportunities in this sector, which I believe is changing in recent years, and I am hoping to see the figures improving. There are also not many technology companies in the North East, which means anyone who wants to work in this space has to move out and that is sometimes a distance much more than just the kilometres.”

However, with success stories such as Lyngdoh’s, one can hope that this distance will be bridged, enabling talented women from the region to write their own stories.

~ Team Sunday Monitor

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