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In Bangalore, a BPO with a heart

John Ribeiro | March 25, 2009
The firm hires only physically handicapped people to work on data-entry jobs

By hiring people with high-school certificates, Vindhya E-Infomedia is not compromising on quality, Giri said. Using graduates for some BPO processes is a waste of skills and expensive, he added.

On the flip side, there are some disadvantages to focusing on hiring handicapped people. A person who has only one hand is not as productive as a person with both hands for a data-entry job, Giri said. "But I can't tell him I am going to pay him half the salary," he added. Average productivity at the company hence turns out to be quite low.

Data entry is also the more commoditized part of the BPO business, and Vindhya E-Infomedia is facing competition from a lot of low-cost, mom-and-pop operations in Bangalore and other cities.

"We are now trying to position ourselves as a premium operation with guarantees on delivery schedules, and error-free work," Giri said.

The competition and lower average productivity in the business also mean that the salaries at Vindhya E-Infomedia are lower than those of multinational companies and large BPO companies operating in Bangalore.

But the company tries to package some thoughtful programs for its staff, including subsidized food, sharing the cost of housing for staff that come from outside Bangalore, and loans to employees to help them buy cycles and motorcycles specially modified for use by physically handicapped people.

Shivagami S. said she quit a job at another BPO in Bangalore to join Vindhya E-Infomedia, even though she now earns half as much. But she has no regrets, because working among other handicapped people makes her comfortable, she said.

"I wasn't comfortable in the other job, because my colleagues at the other job made me conscious that I was different and were at times jealous if I got any concessions," she said.

Shivagami, a polio victim who lives with her parents, said that at Vindhya E-Infomedia she feels "wanted and respected."

Lionel Lewis, who has a speech impediment, said he had been unfairly sacked at a bookstore where he was working. Although the salary is less at Vindhya E-Infomedia, Lewis said he likes working with the company.

Giri recognizes that his business model will not make him a lot of money unless he increases volumes, adds new kinds of outsourced business processes and hires more people. He plans to add more facilities and aims to have 5,000 staff by 2015. There is greater interest from customers, both in India and abroad, he said.

The company has also set up high-speed communications links that enable it to do a lot of the data-entry work online for customers. "We even do online claims processing for a client," Giri said. The work environment does not, however, use any technology specially designed for the handicapped, he added.

Getting more staff is not likely to be a problem as the company expands, as by Giri's estimate there are at least 1.9 million disabled people in Karnataka state who are qualified to be hired. Bangalore is the capital city of Karnataka.


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