Tag Archives: India

Digital Study Hall: Beyond the Classroom

The Digital Study Hall is a project that aims to develop the rural educational system in India through the use of video. Students watch recorded instructional videos of some of the best teachers in the country. Here is a short example:

Teachers then supplement the videos with engaging activities and discussions. The majority of the students really enjoy the DSH videos, but issues with sustainability and theft have prevented the project from scaling up. DSH researchers constantly monitor the schools and without their oversight, the projects would would lose momentum and fail.

Although there are many flaws with DSH in the classroom, the implementation of DSH has created a network of teachers and parents. With the technology in place, teachers are being taught about gender rights and other social issues. Through videos, teachers are learning how to make parent-teacher meetings more interesting and productive by discussing social issues.

The Study Hall Educational Foundation launched a campaign called “India’s Daughters”. With all the teachers, parents, and students engaged in DSH,  over 22,000 people were mobilized for a rally against child marriage.

Even if the initial goal of the project has not been successful, the project has provided the technology and connections to give rise to other social change.


Thoughts on the Digital Divide


As usual, the fall semester comes to a close, even though it seems as though only a few weeks ago the year was just beginning. As an international development major, I have taken many courses concerning issues like food security, community and capacity building, economic development, and the politics of international aid and democracy assistance. While all of these sectors rely heavily upon information technologies, it has been very interesting to study ICTs in and of themselves. As an International Relations major, my personal interest lies within government policy, international aid, as well as grassroots organizing for human and child rights. It seems to me that when evaluating regions, countries, governments, or even individual communities and population centers, the concept of the ‘digital divide’ and the enormous resource and infrastructure disparities that persist is the most significant ICT concept to understand.

When we explored the many countries that we each respectively chose, I believe we started out with many perceived notions or connotations of what the present condition of ICTs and development ‘on the ground’ was. Maybe we each began with one dynamic fact or story that we had discovered pertaining to our countries, but the exploration has required a large research of information and reports from many sectors. My country of exploration was India, and I became not so much surprised by what I discovered as much as I became frustrated at the state of affairs within the Indian bureaucracy. The enormous (over 1 billion) population in India serves as both a source of strength for the Indian economy, but also an enormous capacity building and education problem. The fact that so many young Indians are unable to access an education and adequate health avenues in a state with such dramatic wealth and prosperity demonstrates the intrastate demonstration of the digital divide.

The more important demonstrations of the digital divide however pertains to the specific users of digital technology around the world, as even though the most developed states of Western Europe, East Asia, and the Americas use roughly half of the internet content, they represent only 15% of the world’s population. As more regional hegemonic powers around the world like China, Brazil, Russia, India, and Argentina grow their service industries and educate their populations, the digital divide will become the method by which we analyze the readiness of these places. It will be important to remember the efficacy and evenness with which we implement ICT strategies in order to better spread technologies throughout the world, as we must not allow only certain ethnic groups or populations to persist to control the rapidly evolving digital tools which will play more and more important roles in our lives.

Mapping to Decrease Maternal Mortality


Maternal mortality rates in India have been high over the past several years. This resulted in the government providing free maternal health services from governmental health facilities. However, there has been a problem with women being charged informal fees. This means that when a woman goes to a health facility, she is still getting charged for services that are meant to be free. This has especially been a problem in Utter Pradesh, a state in northern India. As a result of these informal fees, a campaign called Mera Swasthya Meri Aawaz (My Health, My Voice) has been launched. This program uses mobile phones to monitor informal payments in the Azamgarh and Mirzapur districts. People just have to use their mobile phone to call a toll-free number and report an out of pocket expense. These reports are then reported on a map, a deployment from Ushahidi, showing the facilities where informal payments were demanded, the amount charged, and the types of services that the informal payments were charged for. This information is being used collectively by community based organizations, women’s groups, and government health officials to try to end the practice of charging informal fees.

Before reading about this program, I had never heard of using mapping in this way. While this is not a disaster situation, it is important to stop the charging of informal payments in order to reduce maternal mortality in the long run. Not only will this map allow the government to track facilities that are charging informal payments so that they can put a stop to it, it also allows women to avoid going to facilities where they can see that informal payments are being. While it is already a big step that there has been reporting about informal fees, I hope that the government and community organizations will be able to use this map to put a stop to informal fees for good.

Mobiles, Markets, & Methodology

Reuben Abraham on Markets from the Economist Magazine October, 2011

*An ICT4D student has commented and posted about this specific article previously; my goal is to provide an alternative critique of this article, and demonstrate the major flaws with Abraham’s article

This week in class, we continue our presentations and discussions of the various sectors that contribute to ICT development. Today, we had an active dialogue about the state of multi-national firms and businesses, as well as whether or not certain industries and business practices were positively or negatively influencing the developing countries that we focus on.

As part of this week’s dialogue, we read Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence From the Fishing Industry in India from 2007 by Dr. Reuben Abraham, whom posits that mobile phones add an overall increase to the livelihoods of those actively involved in the fishing industry in India. Abraham recognizes previous research by Forestier, Grace and Kenny from 2002, whom found that inequality in the short term increased as a result of disparate access to capital between those at the marketing end of the supply chain and those at the production end. However, Abraham nonetheless attempts to show that individuals actively involved in all facets of the production chain of fishing have experienced an increased sense of safety and security, a closer connection to their loved ones and family, as well a benefit during times of emergencies or illness. This empirical evidence no doubt proves that the mobile, at least as a mere object of daily consumption, plays an integral and treasured role in the lives of fishermen, middlemen, and other players.

Unfortunately, Abraham’s article is initially positioned to determine specific quantitative results proving that the integration of mobile phones reduced risk as well as losses, resulted in less wastage of time and resources by fishermen, as well as aided in the decrease of price dispersion and fluctuation in the marketplace. Not only are these economic conclusions proved misplaced by the empirical and quantitative evidence that Abraham conducts, but also the actual methodology that Abraham uses to conduct these surveys renders any assumptions from his work unfounded and inconclusive.

The first of these market assumptions that he seeks to explore is the notion that mobile phones result in “less wastage of time and resources” by fishermen and middlemen. Abraham notes that the “exploratory data” implies that fishermen should be able to be out at sea for longer periods of time due to the use of mobiles, but unfortunately 50% of those surveyed in the Kerala, India fishing industry did not respond to this question. This lack of conclusive data does not aid his assumption in the least. Additionally, the assumption that mobiles “increased fishermen’s ability to sell their goods in the highest priced markets” was completely undercut by the mere hierarchy within the Indian fishing industry. Due to the relationship between fishermen and the middlemen whom control the commissions from the fish, the fishermen were forced to sell their fish in the markets where the middlemen were able to achieve the highest gains. Unfortunately, this left a gaping hole in the idea that a greater awareness of market prices due to communication from the mobiles would result in a net profit increase by fishermen. Theoretically, this assumption could prove valid in a region where this relationship provides more freedom to fishermen, but as far as Kerala, India and this survey is concerned it is rendered false.

Abraham then attempts to underscore the notion that mobiles result in “decreases in price dispersions and fluctuations”, which would result in greater price transparency along the region. However, due to the inability to collect data in Kerala before mobiles began to be utilized in 1997 (aka: create a control group), it is quantitatively inconclusive to suggest that mobiles have helped to maintain even prices and competition across the region. Abraham’s footnotes add incredulity to the inconclusive, as he post-scripts that market players “would potentially lose subsidies that they currently use” if the data showed “higher incomes than that which was officially reported”.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, the assumption that mobiles helped to reduce risk and losses, which is a valiant and worthwhile market enhancement, was proven by the data to “not translate into increased incomes” by the fishermen. With an equal number of those surveyed responding that they observed both an increase of incomes and no change in their incomes, there was no clear indication that they were reaping a greater benefit from the mobile phone, even though 75% of those surveyed stated that they felt risk had decreased. Additionally, since these phones were not part of any subsidized program or initiative, and since data plans are often paid in a ‘pay-as-you-go” system, if anything the fishermen have witnessed a decrease in income.

Adding insult to injury, Abraham astonishingly mentions in a footnote that those surveyed were “uncomfortable with answering,” honestly, since it seems that they assumed he “was a front for the mobile phone companies”. The potentially catastrophic effects of his lack of proper methodology for this article do not favor Abraham’s market assessment in any way.

What began as an attempt to evaluate the benefits of mobiles in the fishing market in India resulted in demonstrably inconclusive quantitative data, as well as troubling information from an empirical survey that seems to not have been undertaken in a responsible manner. Perhaps there is an industry in the developing world in which mobiles can make an impact, or furthermore, a way to actually increase incomes and achieve higher fishery market results without causing “the poorest of the poor” to suffer initially (better boats and fish freezers perhaps?). But one thing is for sure: it is not the fishing industry in Kerala, India.

The Indian ICT Economy at Large

In many ways, India is a leader among similarly developing nations, with high marks from independent analysts praising the quality of it’s management schools, the availability of new technologies and venture capital, as well as its highly competitive environment. Yet the economy for ICTs is limited by bureaucratic inefficiencies and underinvestment, particularly as it relates to fostering a robust domestic ICT sector to compete with states like China, Brazil, and the Asian Tigers.

From the small amount of information that is available as it pertains to the makeup of the ICT industry within India, it is quite clear that the country has neither historically invested heavily enough nor is it able to draw upon its existing resources in order to build ICT capacity.

As evidenced by data from the World Bank, the most recent figures as they relate to research and development expenditure as a percentage of GDP are unavailable, with the most recent data from 2007 indicating a historical trend of only .7-.75%. This is in sharp contrast to highly developed states like South Korea, which spent in 2010 roughly 3.74% of GDP on R&D, and the USA and Germany, which both in that same year spent roughly 2.8% of GDP. In an ominous continuous string of missing data, the most recent figures evaluating the number of researchers in R&D are from 2005 and show only 135 researchers per million people, compared to figures from Germany, South Korea, and China which showed 3,979 ppm, 5,481 ppm, and 863 ppm respectively. Statistical evidence pointing to India’s high technology exports in US dollars is also completely dwarfed when compared with that of Germany, South Korea, and in particular China. So what does this data indicate?

It is hard to adjudicate a lack of industry based on a lack of numbers as the only basis, given that more recent information as it relates to even much more developed economies is not available from the World Bank. However, with the data that is available, it is clear that India has not in any manner made a firm commitment by expenditure or investment in ICTs. India is noted for the vast foreign businesses that dominate their markets, yet it’s domestic manufacturing and research abilities are quite stunted. With this in mind, the NTP policy does begin to set precedent for a much more robust effort to integrate ICTs into the Indian economy of the future.

The information for this post came from the Indian National Telecom Policy of 2012, the World Economic Forum, as well as data on ICT development from the World Bank. Check it out y’all!

India National ICT Policy -2012

Here is the policy on ICTs in India from the Indian Department of Telecommunications from within the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. A previous posting on the ICT4D website under the National Policies listing showed this same article, but that hyperlink has since expired. Here is the updated link to the website.

India’s National ICT (or in this case STI) Policy 2013

On January 3, 2013, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unveiled his new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, or STI, for his country that is targeted for the year of 2020. Under this directive, the PM and his government seek to increase expenditures for research and development to 2 percent in the next five years, achieve much greater gender parity in science and technology, create more bilateral and multilateral global partnerships, and create more inclusive and widespread partnerships with universities to attract more talent. The goal here, according to the report, is to establish India as an expert in roughly five different fields, allowing India to sit comfortably among the world’s five most scientifically innovative countries. All of this is through a policy that is both very business friendly and relies predominantly upon the private sector to create and nurture these ambitious goals. Here is the link for a government outline of what the plan entails. An analysis of this plan by the Indian Express newspaper in Kolkata is here as well.

Youth In Kolkata, India ‘Map Their World’

Salim with Prayasam

Imagine living in a place where you have to walk an hour, sometimes two, just to collect safe drinking water for you and your family. A place where an open canal of sewage, pesticides, trash, litter, automobile pollution, and a plethora of harmful bacteria run dangerously close to your home. A place where politicians seem to only care about the issues of the marginalized during the month of the local elections, and the journey to school each day- if you are so lucky- could take hours. Now imagine this story taking place currently in the tenth largest city in the world, with not only a few but millions of people sharing this experience.

Since 1996, Amlan Kusum Ganguly and his team at Prayasam have attempted to not only aid the marginalized in these slum communities, but to also provide lasting solutions that pick up the slack where the government has been inadequate. Salt Lake City Prayasam, an NGO located in Kolkata, India, works in a holistic manner to provide resources to those whom are in need of it the most. The staff at Prayasam teach computer literacy courses, English “tuition” lessons, organize community action oriented festivals and marches, in addition to sports, dance, and music activities.

One of the most recent developments that has arisen out of the NGO has been its partnership with Matt Berg of the Millennium Villages Project at Columbia University. Utilizing about a dozen smart-phones, the youth that volunteer and intern for the NGO canvas their communities gathering data about health, political promises and more.

Furthermore, since their community had not previously been listed on Google Maps, they decided that they would make a map of their community themselves. Through a project known as Map Your World, the youth began utilizing GIS mapping technologies within the smart-phones and digital cameras. As a result, the community teams have been able to successfully track polio vaccinations, government sponsored trash pick-ups, as well as water sources and other essential information.

Recently, their work garnered the attention of a pair of documentary filmmakers from Stanford University and the Sundance Institute. Released earlier this summer, the film, The Revolutionary Optimists, follows their successes and struggles as they work to spread the word about the change that each person can enact. They have also been featured on TEDxChange 2012, a recent interview with HuffPost Live, and at the Skoll Urban Forum in the UAE.

CGnet Swara: Bringing News to Rural India

CGnet Swara provides an innovative solution to information gaps in India, where Dalits (untouchables), tribal people, and residents of rural areas lack sufficient access to technology and information. Created by Shubhranshu Choudhary, the social business has developed an important resource for marginalized individuals in the greater Bhopal area.

Choudhary moved the social business from Dehli to Bhopal, where operating costs are lower and the depth of poverty and disconnectedness are higher. The operating center was converted from an old mushroom farm to a tech hub. This compound provides free, high-speed Internet to members of the community, many of whom lacked access to Internet before Swara moved to Bhopal. This technology center is the operating headquarters for CGnet Swara, a voice-based mobile news network. The network, which currently averages about 500 calls per day, is accessed via mobile phone. The service is accessible on simple-function cell phones, and allows users to listen to local and national news stories, as well as report their own news. A tool like this not only connects individuals with the world around them, but also gives them a voice with which to share concerns, stories, and announcements.

Bhopal citizens using CGNet Swara.

Mohan Yadav, a moderator for information entering the network, underscored the importance of the program in saying, “This way, the voices of Dalits, Adivasi (tribal people) and women are taken far – to the whole world,” he says. “We knew for the first time that we were not alone and that there were many concerned people in whole world.”


United Villages: “Drive-By Wi-Fi” for Consumer Goods

As an American-born college student who has grown up in the age of instant gratification, I’m used to clicking a few buttons to obtain the information or products I desire. Just a few clicks connect any company’s products to my hands at home; and likewise I am connected to the customer base of that company. But for a rural Indian villager of my same age, and a growing Indian supply chain company, that instant connection appears more difficult to foster.

Chicago-born Indian entrepreneur Amir Alexander Hasson recognized this disconnect between rural village-dwellers and limited supply chain companies, and in 2004, he founded United Villages – India’s first network of consumer goods using wireless and transportation infrastructure. United Villages offers voicemail, text messages, email, Web search, and e-shops to people living in rural areas, especially kiosk owners, through “drive-by Wi-Fi” technology (Mobile Access Points or MAPs) installed on existing buses and motorcycles. Whenever a MAP-installed vehicle is in range of a mobile device or Internet connection, it provides access for Wi-Fi enabled kiosks along the road. In addition, United Village sales people regularly visit rural villages via such motorbikes and take kiosk-owners product orders. This way, the network of growing Indian companies is brought to rural customers via wireless Internet infrastructure and personalized customer service, without villagers ever having to leave their doorsteps.

Locals in the Indian village of Kalapathar wait to use the internet and, inset, the bus that makes it all possible.

Initially, I was skeptical of the 4D aspect of United Villages. It had seemed to me that Hasson had found a way to profit from the digital divide because after all, United Villages is for-profit model. However, as I read deeper into the meaning of the digital divide, I grew a greater appreciation for this technology’s connectivity – its capacity to bring products, services, and information to people typically excluded from the global marketplace. Wireless Internet also allows rural Indians to browse locally relevant websites. The potential side effects of United Villages are that these products, though they aid Indians in big cities, may not be relevant to the needs of rural villagers, perhaps exploiting their vulnerable finances with wasteful consumerism, and adding to environmental pollutants over time.

But that is up to the choice of consumer. I see United Villages as aiding in the advancement of global economic liberalism in the developing world, which provides rural consumers with the means to make informed product choices and with practice, instant connections around the world.