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Monday, June 09, 2014

 

Mobile technology plays a role in empowering people of India

"While bridging information and communication gaps has been its biggest contribution so far, innovative use of mobile technology has greater resonance in developing countries especially with a huge population base as in India. Being used as a tool for change - social as well as economical - keeping in view the habits, needs and demands of specific user communities, the gadget and technology can bring many little wonders in regard to grassroots development and governance."

N A Shah Ansari

 

Technology and gadgets are just not for comfort but they can give immensely for social good, in fact they can do wonders in effecting social change. The spread of mobile telephony and its multiple applications and usage make it a technology with a lot of possibilities. However, attempts are made to address some of the issues of different communities of India by using mobile technology and applications and are met with mixed success. While bridging information and communication gaps has been its biggest contribution so far, innovative use of mobile technology has greater resonance in developing countries especially with a huge population base as in India. Being used as a tool for change - social as well as economical - keeping in view the habits, needs and demands of specific user communities, the gadget and technology can bring many little wonders in regard to grassroots development and governance.

The IVRS based Daily Monitoring System (DMS) by Mid Day Meal Authority in Uttar Pradesh works as an automated Management Information System (MIS) where data of children availing mid day meal is made available instantly on daily basis. This system works through an interface between computer and mobile phone. Everyday, after the mid-day meal is served to about 135 lakh children in almost 1.5 lakh government and government-aided schools, IVR calls are placed by individuals to the teacher-in-charge of the schools from a virtual number through PRI lines. The teachers, in turn, key in the number of students who availed the mid-day meal on that day. The system is, thus, able to give exact information about the number of children who could avail the mid-day meal in the State on a particular day and also help the District and State level authorities in zeroing in such schools where meal was not served for one reason or the other. The system, in its nascent stage as of now, has been pegged at tracking the number of children availing meal on a day and also the schools where meal was not served. In the long run, when the system stabilizes, all monthly and quarterly progress reports could be generated through this system and the funds and food-grain ploughed in the schemes could be effectively monitored. The intervention made at decision making levels from the State to Division and District level has borne fruits and the number of schools where meal was not served regularly has come down significantly. The end result is a success story that is worth emulating by various other organisations involved in different sectors. Most importantly, it has brought in a system of accountability and transparency only because the data is available instantly.

Soochna Se Samadhaan Sewa (Information to Solution Service) project by Society for Development Alternatives, Delhi provides voice based information to rural communities by a phone and voice-mail-based service available through both landline and mobile phones. Specifically, it provides farmers with the access to a network of agricultural experts and, also, a database of knowledge developed by infusing global expertise to the local contexts to make it useful to farmers in resolving various issues, enhance productivity and make a good businesses. The technology also has the facility for storage of the queries in audio and text format. As te queries are recorded and stored at a system database, a farmer himself or with the help of a volunteer can easily make a call to the specific number and register a query. Knowledge workers from agri-business organizations analyze these calls and collate appropriate answers and make them available to the farmers within 24 hours. Since the project launched in mid 2005, its beneficiaries and coverage area both have a tremendous increase. The project now covers more than 1200 villages in 13 districts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh with the help of 20 field volunteers. Till March 2011, the project has generated and resolved more than 175,000 queries. Even though this Soochna Se Samadhan Sewa is a paid service and has taken time to register in the minds of farmers, it has succeeded in achieving its goal of serving the farmers in need of knowledge of both timely and general importance.

Kisan Sanchar has been conceptualized by Sristi Gyan Kendra in 7 states of India to provide a scope for documenting and disseminating time bound authentic and executable knowledge related to agriculture, animal husbandry and allied professions, market intelligence to the small and marginal Farmers. The project provides opportunities to the farmers to organize themselves in the form of small production clusters through which they can sell their produce directly to the buyers. It also provides career counselling to the heirs of small and marginal farmers. The project also has a scope for organizing farmers into crop communities (big production cluster) which can be linked with a corporate buyer in the form of Contract Farming Project. A farmer having a mobile phone and little understanding to read message and interact with call centre as per his requirements can avail and use the services under this project in the best manner. If his phone is compatible with unicode fonts, then he can also read messages in his local language. Smart Farmers can implement the ideas and knowledge based upon experiences of experts to reduce the cost of agricultural production by multiplying the output. This service is currently being provided to 34,483 farmers in 7 states of India.

Chala School Ku Jiba (Let us go to school) is an initiative by Odisha’s Konark based Radio Namaskar, the first community radio in the State, to bring back all the dropout students to their respective schools. During situation analysis and listeners survey Radio Namaskar got to know about the trend of dropout of mostly girl students in different schools in its coverage area. Basing upon this fact, the management committee of Radio Namaskar which is constituted by community members decided to start a new radio program to ensure that the dropped-out students go back to school. Radio Namaskar attached a dedicated mobile number with the programme to facilitate an interface with the listeners in particular and people in the coverage area in general. Even though the response was not very inspiring in the beginning, it picked up gradually. The listeners from their side started informing Radio Namaskar about dropout students of their village or locality which was then broadcasted through the community radio. The cases were brought to the notice of village heads and PRI members through Radio Namaskar who then took the lead in motivating the parents to resend their children to school. As a result, at least 165 schools in and around Konark turned out to be ZERO DROP OUT SCHOOLS. Through an integrated operation of Community Radio and Mobile technologies, this project could change the school education scenario of the area.

India is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing mobile markets today. Mobiles currently provide more than 600 million points of connectivity in India, through which information and opportunity flows.  Citizens with an access to the world through this little gadget can tap into the benefits of broad economic and social growth much more easily than those who are not connected.  With development taking place in almost all spheres, India is witnessing large-scale movement of the population from the countryside to the urban India which poses new challenges for both rural and urban economies. Also, the global economic environment goes through a much harsher phase making it essential for India to take advantage of all possible opportunities to sustain the growth. Mobile is indeed a real powerful instrument for those who are often poor, illiterate, and have no access to roads. And, it’s not just an hypothesis now. With all the examples, there is no doubt that the dynamic mobile technology bears a lot of possibilities to be used for public good.

(Author is the Chief Executive of Community Radio Station 'Radio Namaskar' and is, also, the Associate Editor of hotnhitnews.com)

       

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