Traveling with the India DM 2011 team, meeting social enterprises that were trying to breakthrough the traditional mould of development, I was struck by the way technology was being leveraged. It came through as such a critical tool – an enabler that could single handedly shift the equation and bring possibility to the remote rural parts of India – shifting the balance of development and growth. Bringing in possibilities , empowerment and real access.
Here is an illustrative sample of ideas that highlight the kinds of technology applications that are evolving as a result of entrepreneurial activity powered with a social spirit.
Techno-possibilizing rapid development.
MERComs Framework: A mobile phone enabled community governance system
This is a collaborative project that leverages the technical expertise of Ekgaon, the resource generation capabilities of Concern worldwide and the strong grass roots presence of WOSCA to address the (well known) lack of accountability in government schemes. A software that runs on a mobile phone allows (Gram Panchayat level) volunteers to ensure government schemes such as Pension, NREGS, PDS etc reach the people it is intended for by visibilizing the gaps between the stated and the real. The data on Government schemes is collected by the volunteer (through RTI, concerned officials and other legal structures) this data is then tallied with Actual figures (collected monthly by the volunteers) and transferred onto a web application server as an SMS. Any discrepancies or incorrectness (is identified automatically) are generated as a report by the server. This report is used to notify the concerned officials through fax and text messages. Thus exposing people to a possibility of holding the Government accountable for any scheme (or) service meant for them, that however does not reach them. More at http://www.ekgaon.com/award2/
Bhoomika Eye Hospital: Connecting Eye care specialists & rural India
In most of rural India there exists a vicious cycle: Poverty and Malnutrition leads to eye disorders such as Cataract and Glaucoma while these eye disorders (over time) limit the income earning capacities and force the people to remain poor. No matter how many NGO’s run free eye camps year over, all of them put together have not been able to address even a percent of the Poverty – Eye disorder cycle (sustainably). Due to lack of information, time, resources and lack of expert/ specialist doctors (in remote locations) villagers often resort to local quacks (who charge around Rs 50 per consultation) where more often than not only help in worsening the situation. The Bhoomika model enables people in rural India to access the expertise of leading eye care specialists (through software, V SAT connection and a high resolution camera lens) for a consultation fee of Rs 60 (only an additional Rs 10 to what they pay the quacks). This helps make the local clinic or hospital into a specialty center thus fundamentally shifting the free eye camp paradigm to a fee payable, quality service. The villager also sees the value in paying for it as it enables him/ her to get the specific support needed based on a specialist recommendation. This is a model in development and prototyping currently.
Digital Green: Tapping into local expertise and learning
A model that identifies, documents and showcases ingenious solutions and expertise within the community (related to agricultural best practices). This is quite contradictory to the Government and CSO way of working with remote, rural farmers. The contradiction is that the traditional model believes strongly that knowledge supported by scientific research and analysis must be passed onto the farmers to adopt; Whereas Digital Green’s model believes that there are locally known indigenous solutions (to persistent problems) existing within the community itself and if this can be showcased the farmers would be more open for adoption. Baseline studies and research conducted by Digital green show that farmer adoption rates increase by 10 times (when compared to other agriculture extension dissemination methods). Thus achieving the end goal by treating the farmer as the experts and the producers of learning versus ignorant farmers who need to be trained. More at http://www.digitalgreen.org/
United Villages: Rural Distribution empowered by Mobile Inventory Applications
This model enables local retail shop keepers (in remote villages) to procure their requirements via a simple and easy to use java application installed on their phones or Sub SE’s mobile phones. In effect United Villages plays the role of a pro-active wholesaler, who gets to know the retailers requirements through the mobile app and delivers the required inventory to him within a period of 3 days (without requiring the retailer to travel and meet anybody for the transaction). The customer (small retail shopkeeper) benefits from this model in 2 ways: Firstly it eliminates the effort, time and travel cost (usually bus fare till their nearest town / city) retailer would have to incur and secondly the retailer need not lock in working capital (a precious resource for small retailers) to procure goods more than what they need currently (as they tend to procure 3 rounds worth of products at one go in order to avoid expending time, money and effort). The convenience this model brings to the retailers is evident from the fact that United village is able to cover approximately a 65% retailer market (in their active zone) in a short span of time without any credit cycles. More at http://www.unitedvillages.com/
While roads, water, electricity take time to reach remote parts of India, technology is paving the way via virtual access, thanks to some enterprising and innovative social entrepreneurs.
Co-Authored by: Aditya Tejas, Research Associate, Innovation Alchemy, who spent a few days in Bhubaneshwar and Jaipur meeting these teams.
(Important Note: These examples are only an illustrative sample of ideas that highlight insights from the India DM outreach.These do not represent any preference or bias on behalf of the India DM Team.)