Unique project finds missing links in rural consumer behaviour

Unique research: Students of IIM-Udaipur in a tribal village as part of a “rural immersion” activity.  

Focusing on the consumer needs of southern Rajasthan's tribal population, a Consumer Culture Lab (CCL), established at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Udaipur, has taken up research to find out the correlation between the choices of rural populace, Internet penetration in villages and the challenges faced by those at the bottom of the pyramid. Researchers have extensively toured the tribal-dominated region to understand the ground realities.

The CCL was set up in 2020 as a unique initiative to develop an atmosphere of creative research in the field of management in order to bridge the knowledge gap and shift the focus on consumer culture and qualitative explorations. The lab has also highlighted new opportunities for the rural people to bring forth their narratives through social media platforms.

The latest project launched by the CCL involves social and anthropological study of the tribal population in Udaipur, Dungarpur and Banswara districts in Rajasthan. It would make available a “softer aspect” of cultural practices affecting consumer behaviour to the business analytics which had so far depended solely on data mining and statistical analysis, IIM-Udaipur Director Janat Shah told The Hindu.

Prof. Shah said the CCL had made an intervention in a hitherto unexplored realm of digital anthropology, which would make a significant impact on big data analysis to anticipate consumer trends and help make cogent business decisions. “If the product maker or service provider observes a consumer in his cultural perspective, his choices can be understood in a better way,” he said.

About 30 students of IIM-Udaipur have volunteered to visit the remote villages and study the underlying phenomenon of the tribals' choices and preferences in the consumption of various commodities. The lab has enabled the researchers to develop a nuanced understanding of the way of life, indigenous food practices, celebration of festivals and social interactions among the tribal population.

IIM-Udaipur, which has completed 10 years since its inception, has provided an opportunity for “rural immersion” to its students through a course on Indian social and political environment, in which five-member teams spend a week in villages. The students, in connection with the local voluntary groups, have been working in areas of livelihood, health and education through participatory rural appraisal methods.

Some of the assignments of students have assessed the opportunity gaps for the village youths, financial and digital inclusion in the villages and the daily workload of rural women and its impact on their health. Their findings on malnutrition and open defecation were presented to the local administration to facilitate government's intervention.

Prof. Shah said the rural immersion, which had been halted during the pandemic, would be restarted for CCL's activities. Regular interaction with tribals, who comprise 85% of the population in the region, will not only inculcate sensitivity among the management graduates to relevant issues, but will also equip them to formulate policies and come up with new strategies for rural development.

IIM-Udaipur faculty member Rajesh Nanarpuzha, supervising the CCL's operations, said this year's theme was identified as “understanding consumer in the digital heartland” to study how the villagers were interacting with the devices. “The Internet and smartphone penetration is growing faster in the rural areas. Our research is aimed at understanding how the villagers make a productive use of digital contents,” he said.

The IIM-Udaipur, which was recently featured in the prestigious QS world university rankings for masters in management-2022 for the third consecutive year, has accorded the highest priority to research and built a strong foundation for it. The institution has set an ambitious target for its inclusion in the world's top 100 universities by 2030.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 3:36:00 AM |

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