Bharti Airtel rises to the Covid-19 challenge and discovers the purpose of telecoms

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Oct 21, 2020

Marmeen Mehta, Global CIO of Bharti Airtel  Source: TM Forum

Marmeen Mehta, Global CIO of Bharti Airtel Source: TM Forum

  • India’s Bharti Airtel may be experiencing a buffeting by the stock market, mostly it seems on what financial observers call an expectation of “de-growth”...
  • ...But it’s also experiencing that feel-good feeling that comes with having had a ‘good’ pandemic. 
  • That’s something just as important, but doesn’t show up in the stock market numbers

Bharti Airtel’s response to the huge national problem and human tragedy presented by Covid-19 has had a profound effect on the organisation, according to Harmeen Mehta, Global CIO of Bharti Airtel, speaking at TM Forum’s Digital Transformation World today.

She talks of discovering “the purpose of telecoms”.  It’s a purpose that is often obscured, if not forgotten, in the hurly-burly of quarterly results, profits, ARPUs and all the rest of the profane measures of ‘success’ in today’s telecoms world. 

The pandemic and associated lockdown, however,  seems to have re-concentrated minds at Airtel on what the telecoms mission is really all about. 

Now, she suggests, it’s not just about ‘connecting people’ - that trite, worthy-sounding phrase so often trotted out in telecoms mission statements. It can also be about getting people to connect with, and help,  each other. 

That appears to have been a major discovery for Harmeen and the rest of the company. Getting and staying connected became a compelling imperative as tens of millions of displaced people hit the road in India as the factories and places of work in the cities were shut down. They then had to get back to their home villages (often walking several days the whole way like streams of refugees).

All that displacement caused huge problems and misery and Bharti Airtel rose to the moment and came up with its ‘superhero’ programme. 

People really struggled through the lockdown to recharge their SIM which, because of Airtel’s services, had already become their bank.

“We got young people to go out and help other people find recharging points and arrange banking and money services,” she said. And because of the grave circumstances, people rose to the challenge and helped each other get access to the services they needed to communicate with their families and organise their money.

“The bank SIM really revolutionised the country as financial services and banking moved online,” says Harmeen.  With the SIM approach “there are so many new business models you can create.  You can focus on the things that matter the most and you can help simplify the life of poor people.  We’re talking about billions here - people not dollars.”

Huge disparity of wealth starkly illustrated in this view of Mumbai

Huge disparity of wealth starkly illustrated in this view of Mumbai

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