Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai has said that in these tough times, “the ability to be online has been a lifeline for so many of us”. While the sixth edition of Google for India was headlined by the ₹75,000-crore Google for India Digitization Fund, small businesses, too, were on everyone’s mind. Pichai mentioned one of the most exciting success stories has been the digitisation of small businesses.

“Just four years ago, only one-third of all small businesses in India had an online presence. Today, 26 million SMBs are now discoverable on Search and Maps, driving connections with more than 150 million users every month. What’s more, small merchants across the country are now equipped to accept digital payments. This has made it possible for more small businesses to become part of the formal economy, and it improves their access to credit,” he said at the virtual event on Monday.

Talking about the Covid-19 impact on small businesses and creating economic opportunity, Caesar Sengupta, general manager and vice president of Payments and Next Billion Users, Google, said, “Now more than ever, to survive and grow, every Indian business must be a digital business. And we are investing in helping Indian businesses go digital and helping Indian workers learn, grow and find better jobs.”

He talked about the Spot platform on Google Pay, which enables merchants to create branded commercial experiences that bridge the online and offline worlds. “It’s been exciting to see how businesses have used Spot to scale services to their customers through Covid and lockdowns—two great examples are Dunzo and 5paisa,” he said, adding that Google enabled offline store discovery on the platform in March, when the lockdown started. Using this tool, people can find out whether essential items are in stock at stores near them; the safety precautions the store is taking; and its timings. And in two months since its launch, the tool has been used by more than two million users. He said that in March, when the lockdown started, the platform enabled offline store discoverability with the new Nearby Spot, available across India. In just 2 months since launch, it has helped 2 million users.

For small businesses, there were two more tools. The first one was the Grow with Google Small Business hub in India. This is “a single destination where businesses can access digital tools to maintain business continuity, find resources like quick help videos, and learn digital skills—in both English and in Hindi”, Google said in a blog post. The other initiative was an edutainment series—in partnership with Prasar Bharati—which would be shown on its network. This initiative was “designed to help business owners adapt to the evolving challenges of Covid-19 with online tools, learn from other companies, and plan for the long-term future,” Google said. Sengupta said the series would show small businesses how they can adopt digital tools and adapt to the current situation, using examples of real-life Indian businesses.

Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google and Alphabet
Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google and Alphabet
Image : Google

To support people who are looking for work, he said that Job Spot on Google Pay now allows for remote interviews and remote work listings so that people who are unemployed can secure employment and income more quickly during the pandemic. Sengupta also spoke about the need for new skills. Under Google’s Digital Unlocked programme, more than a million individuals and businesses have learnt digital sales training, he shared.

Google said when the pandemic had led to schools being shut, it had enabled free access to the premium features of tools like Google Meet, besides free education tools like Google Classroom. “The results have been heartening, including at schools like Podar, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Nehru World and GD Goenka,” Google said.

To help educators use digital tools to deliver classroom learning both in schools and through the Internet, Sapna Chadha, Senior Country Marketing Director, Southeast Asia & India, Google, announced a partnership with CBSE to train over 1 million teachers in 22,000 schools across India by the end of 2020, to “deliver blended learning that combines the classroom approach with online learning, using free tools like G Suite for Education, Google Classroom, YouTube and more” it said in a release. And to support underserved low-income communities, she announced a new Google.org grant of $1 million to Kaivalya Education Foundation (KEF) as part of the Global Distance Learning Fund. “Using these funds, KEF will work with the Central Square Foundation and TeacherApp to train 700,000 teachers to deliver virtual education for students so that they can continue learning at home over mass media such as TV and radio, wherever smartphones or internet access are not available,” it said.

HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank', who also spoke at the event, commended Google’s efforts to bring “technology and thereby, knowledge and learning to students in every part of the country”. “The internet has emerged as a lifeline during the pandemic, which needs to be strengthened and we welcome Google’s initiatives like free access to learning resources, as well as their collaboration with CBSE to train 1 million teachers on tech-enabled education. I welcome Google’s commitment to invest in India over the next five years and we look forward to Google’s work in transforming India into a global knowledge superpower, with a focus on science and research.”

Earlier, Pichai said that the pandemic has supercharged the adoption of digital tools. “Digital payments, for example, have enabled families across India to access goods and services during lockdowns.” He acknowledged the importance of “a strong foundation of digital connectivity” in India. “Thanks to Prime Minister Modi’s vision for Digital India, the country has made huge progress in getting a billion Indians online. Low-cost smartphones combined with affordable data, and a world-class telecom infrastructure, have paved the way for new opportunities.”

He said that Google’s efforts in India have deepened “our understanding of how technology can be helpful to all different types of people. Building products for India first has helped us build better products for users everywhere.” He mentioned Google Pay, which helped Google build a global product; and Google’s AI-powered reading tutor app Bolo (now called Read Along) which is being rolled out to the rest of the world. “Now children in 180 countries can learn to read in nine languages, with more to come.”

He also mentioned the AI flood forecasting system, which was “designed to keep people safe during India’s monsoon season. I’ll never forget how the 2015 floods in Chennai impacted so many families. I’m hopeful that this technology will bring greater peace of mind to the hundreds of millions of people affected by floods each year around the world.”

Announcing the fund, Pichai said, that India’s journey was far from complete. “There’s still more work to do in order to make the Internet affordable and useful for a billion Indians. From improving voice input and computing for all of India’s languages, to inspiring and supporting a whole new generation of entrepreneurs... Through this effort, we will invest ₹75,000 crore, or approximately $10 billion, into India over the next five to seven years. We’ll do this through a mix of equity investments, partnership investments, and operational, infrastructure and ecosystem investments. This is a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy.”

The investments, he said, would focus on four areas important to India’s digitisation:

* First, enabling affordable access and information to every Indian in their own language

* Second, building new products and services that are deeply relevant to India’s unique needs, including consumer tech, education, health, and agriculture

* Third, empowering businesses, especially SMBs, as they continue or embark on their digital transformation

* Fourth, leveraging technology and AI for social good, including digital literacy, outbreak predictions, and support for rural economies

“I’m very happy that Google is recognizing India’s digital innovation and the need to create further opportunity. There is immense scope for Google to deploy artificial intelligence and undertake new initiatives in the field of agriculture, weather prediction, healthcare in the wake of COVID-19 challenges and most importantly in digital education. Today, India's app economy is growing very powerfully, but we must not just download apps. It is important also to upload apps from India. I am sure with this new fund, Google will also focus on promoting our startups further,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union minister of law & justice, communications and electronics & information technology, while delivering a special address at the event.

“Today, we are recommitting ourselves to partner deeply and support India in becoming a truly digital nation by making the Internet helpful for a billion Indians and empowering India to become a leading digital economy,” said Sanjay Gupta, country head and vice president, Google India.

“Our goal is to ensure India not only benefits from the next wave of innovation but leads it. Working together we can ensure that our best days are still ahead,” Pichai signed off.

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