Nokia poised to help farmers to expand its rural base

Nokia is about to launch a set of “Life Tools” to be embedded in its mobile phones in an effort to expand its base into rural India. These Life Tools cater to the needs of the rural community with information on three different sectors namely Agriculture, Education, Entertainment. On agriculture, the Life Tool is likely to offer updated information on weather and market prices for the farmers produce on the mobile phone in the farmers native language.

As the old proverb goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Nokia’s datasheet on Life Tools provides an easy-to-understand picture. Evidently, this tool is developed not just to penetrate into rural India, but rather to the “rural world”.

If my everyday observation is any testimony, Nokia seems to have a wide user base at the lower economic sections of India, and this tool can be an excellent vehicle for informational empowerment of the rural Indian community. However, given that the rural buy is likely not going to buy these phones off a Nokia Priority Showroom, how Nokia is going to market this tool so that the buyer buys a low cost Nokia phone for its Life Tools rather than its ruggedness, ease of use or longer life would be an interesting point to observe. This may also be the crucial factor that may determine the tool’s success.

E-governance Gaining Momentum in India

A few weeks ago, Vinay wrote about the growing business opportunities in the e-governance sector. An exciting recent development in this area has been the announcement by the Government of India of knowledge kiosks being set up in Panchayats. The project is sponsored by the E-governance in Panchayati Raj Institutions (e-PRIs) and is projected to be completed in three years. Such a large-scale introduction of information technology at the Panchayat level opens up the rural market for entrepreneurs. There are a number of possibilities for public-private partnerships in delivering solutions within sectors such as education, healthcare, micro-finance, etc.

The progress of e-governance models has been slower than expected in India. Some of the challenges facing this sector were discussed at the Lok Sabha panel on e-governance. At this panel, Prof. Bhatnagar of IIM-A discussed the flaws in the strategy on e-governance: Continue reading

Inching towards ending polio

The Final Inch is a documentary funded by Google.org and produced by Vermilion Pictures, chronicling the final stages of the global fight to end polio. A large chunk of the movie was filmed in India, given that the country is the final frontier in the global effort to eradicate polio. There were 496 confirmed cases of polio in 2008 in India, accounting for 35 percent of all cases worldwide.

The documentary profiles the real heroes – the foot soldiers who are mobilized to deliver the doses of polio vaccine to young children.  India’s progress towards eradicating polio also highlights the relentless effort of the Indian government in undertaking the largest vaccination program in the world.

The Final Inch will be screened on HBO in 2009, and you can expect the DVDs to be out soon. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer:

Bridging the Wikipedia Divide: Wikipedia Academy

The logic is simple – only less than 0.1% of the Wikipedia readers contribute back, and my guess is that the percentage is even lower in India. The solution is Chennai Wikipedia Academy:

The Chennai Wikipedia Academy is NOT a brick and mortar entity. It’s a concept that embodies the spirit of sharing. It’s a simple initiative that anyone can start in their office, homes, community halls, schools or colleges. It’s simple. Arrange for a place where people who are knowledgeable about Wikipedia will help people who want to learn about Wikipedia.

We think the potential is immense in encouraging users in a country like India to engage more on Wikipedia. A quick look at the Wikipedia Contributor Stats shows that for the English language site, 52% of the contributors are from the US and majority of the contributors are from the English speaking countries Western world. 

The idea came out of a group session at BarCamp Chennai, a user-generated conference focused on technology start-ups. You can learn more about Barcamp here. And while you are it, also check out  Failcampa friendly unconference where people get-together to share and learn from failure

International Girl Child Day

September 24 marks International Girl Child Day, and this year, CRY (Child Relief and You) is launching a new effort focused solely on discrimination against girls. India PR Wire reports:

While highlighting known symbols of discrimination — feticide being the most prominent, the site explores the real reasons behind it, the social structures and patriarchy that perpetuate this. Celebrated as daughters, mothers and sisters, the girl is lost to these roles and the individual behind these roles takes a backseat.

Highly interactive and informative, the micro site has videos, an opinion poll, articles, volunteer opportunities, greetings, events, campaigns material downloads, an e-letter and much more

The issue of the girl child was previously covered here, here, and here. Take a look at CRY’s new website and spread the word.

Helpyourbody, a Piramal Healthcare Campaign

The Piramal Group, a research and diagnostics firm based in Mumbai, is partnering with the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), NGOs, and more than 25,000 doctors across India to create a new campaign called “helpyourbody.” As LiveMint reports, helpyourbody is a

crusade against chronic diseases, aiming to provide affordable medicines in rural areas.

The programme… will emphasize on imparting knowledge on healthy food for healthy body and target each and every individual.

Through the three phases of knowledge, action, and care (which is the Piramal tagline), the campaign will first work to partner with thousands of doctors, then make “helpyourbody” tests available and employ detection camps, and finally build communities and involve local NGOs.

Dr. Swati Piramal, Director of the Piramal Group, is quoted as explaining the dire need for this CSR initiative:

India is expected to be the chronic disease capital of the world with 70 million diabetics, 213 million hypertensive patients and 60 million suffering from arthritis by 2025. According to the WHO, the cost of chronic diseases, including welfare losses, is estimated to be Rs 15,01,200 crore by 2015.

With those those numbers providing motiviation, the campaign, according to the helpyourbody website, aims to minimize “economic loss by 2% every year and [earn]  the nation Rs. 67,500 crores by 2015,” as well as save about 1 million human lives.

Small Steps, Big Possibilities

In the past week, I’ve come across several stories that highlight isolated successes or intriguing ideas that are being implemented on a small scale. Here’s a quick recap:

  • In the Chandni Chowk area of old Delhi, iGovernment reports the introduction of greener rickshaws, run by solar batteries. Obviously such vehicles can only go short distances and for short periods of time, but in an congested area like Chandni Chowk, greener autos may make a large impact on the surrounding environment:

It would be run by a solar battery, which would suffice for a journey of 70 km. The battery would take five hours to be charged with the help of solar panels in the charging unit which will be functional above the Delhi metro stations, an official of the city government said.

  • A waste management system (an issue we’ve covered here and here) in Maharastra shows a PPP at work – a privatized system in a city named Latur requires residents to pay Rs 20 per month for garbage pick up. This case shows that the involvement of both an NGO and a private system can result in efficiency:

Of the 183 who have been employed, around 75 per cent are women. Rather than a monthly salary, the women are paid per tonne of garbage collected. As an added incentive, they can sell the recyclable material of the garbage in the market.

But is the system fair (especially to the rag pickers)? The article paints a rosy picture, and it would be interesting get a sense of what the reality is on the ground.

  • Community radio has been making waves in Jharkhand with a program called “Chalo Ho Gaon Mein,” which is narrated in the local language and touches on a number of issues. A project manager at the NGO AID (Alternative for India Development) explains in this article by The Hoot:

We realized that all these problems were stemmed from the fact that the people of the region were unable to express themselves and speak freely about the problems that they were facing. So, setting up a radio programme seemed like a good way to give a voice to the voiceless. A programme for the villagers and by the villagers that would not only address their issues and make them more aware, but would also reach out to other people who could make a difference to their lives.

As with many solutions to social issues, these approaches are taking place as pilots or for specific regions and populations – but all are encouraging and may shed light for the bigger picture.

Who let the Dogs out?

The folks at LiveMint have a radical idea to address the stray dog problem in the Indian cities – Privatize them! [Via India Uncut]

The fundamental problem is that stray dogs are “public property”, which creates what economists call “negative externality”. Those who feed and pamper the dogs while benefiting from wagging tails and warm cuddles are not held responsible for the nuisance dogs inflict on other citizens.

What is the way ahead? Privatize stray dogs. The municipalities of India’s metropolises should put stray dogs on sale. Animal rights activists and dog lovers are free to buy and own the canines as pets. They shall be held legally liable for damages their pets inflict on others

Very intriguing and compelling argument. I’m just worried about enforceability of such an idea. But, I’m sure its worth a try.

Making condoms cooler through cellphones

It’s definitely an out of box and innovative idea, and could be just what is needed to make the word ‘condom’ more socially acceptable in India. The BBC World Service Trust has launched a condom ringtone for cellphones, a 45 second short which repeats the word condom over and over again [via BBC World Service Trust]

The latest phase of our campaign to normalise condom use in India the BBC World Service Trust has just launched a mobile phone ringtone campaign to promote the use of condoms.

The ringtone campaign is part of a wider mass media campaign by BBC World Service Trust to prevent transmission of HIV in India and highlight safe sex practices. The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

While TV, Radio and Print are used widely for socially-relevant messaging, this is probably the first time the cellphone ringtones are being used as a medium for creating awareness on a social issue. This is clearly a smart move, given that as of June 2008, a stunning 25% of India’s population had access to a cellphone.

Check out the video below. You can also download the ringtone here.

Dont miss this Groundbreaking TV Show

Last week, we wrote about Rohini Nilekani’s excellent op-ed in The Hindu, on the changing face of philanthropy in India. She is in the news again, Rohini will be hosting a new show on NDTV 24/7 called Uncommon Ground. The show will bring leaders of corporate India and the not-for-profit sector together to discuss challenges that India face today.

The show kicks off this Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 9:30, with Mr. Mukesh Ambani & Dr. R.K. Pachauri featured in the inaugural episode. Here is more on the show from the press brief from NDTV 24/7

Uncommon Ground’ is unique because there has never been a dialogue like this before on Indian television. Marked by lively discussions and intense rguments, each episode of Uncommon Ground will have a well known corporate head facing an equally well known social activist or developmental scientist. It aims to open up lines of communication that would spur the growth of modern India in a manner that is both rewarding and inclusive

India Celebrates World Environment Day

June 5 marks World Environment Day, and India is also celebrating in innovative ways. Here are several stories of how people and organizations are marking this day:

The show will present the journey of short listed candidates who will perform various time bound tasks and the winner, chosen through public voting under the guidance of a panel of eminent judges, will be declared as India’s Environmentalist during a 24-hour telethon, which will be a part of NDTV’s nationwide environment campaign later this year. The entries for the reality show will be open between June 5 and July 5, 2008.

The website http://www.green.ndtv.com, will enable visitors to write and read articles, view environment specific messages from eminent personalities and download environment collateral, screensavers and wallpapers. The website will also have a dedicated section on India’s Environmentalist, where people will be able to file their entries for the reality show.

  • Biker and creator of TreeCycle Project Shrenik Rao is partnering with UNEP to bicycle around India, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. He will “interact and discuss issues relating to the environment and global warming with individuals from all walks of life” along the way. Individuals wishing to support this journey can pledge to plant trees as part of UNEP’s Plant A Billion Trees campaign.
  • SOS Children’s Villages partnered with Coca-Cola India to hold painting competitions around environmental topics in 31 villages across the country with hundreds of children.
  • YES BANK, a new age private sector bank, today announced the launch of YES COMMUNITY, an innovative Responsible Banking initiative to be executed through micro-events being organised at the Bank’s retail branch network nationally. In the first year of its inception, YES COMMUNITY has adopted the theme of ‘Planet Earth’ for the Financial Year 2009. [Source: Moneycontrol.com]

A Magical Fable About Global Warming

A documentary fable by Mumbai filmmaker Nitin Das was handpicked to be a part of the UN Environment Programme’s “Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign.” Over two billion trees have been planted around the world under the campaign, and all sectors are encouraged to engage in voluntary action to address the issue of climate change. The film will be a part of the campaign’s advocacy:

Meanwhile the film by Das, portrays the journey undertaken by a small boy in a tiny Himalayan village who is entrusted by his chieftain to seek solution to the problems of sudden food shortage and climate change in his once prosperous and happy village.

The boy trudges up mountains and journeys to an old sage at the top of the mountain who hands over a fistful of seeds to him with the counsel that planting them will restore the lost peace and happiness of his village.

See what the monk says to the little boy about the solution to global warming by watching the video below.

TC-I Tidbits

Here is the daily dose of headlines:

  • Water supply: In Chennai, city officials have made it mandatory that buildings connected to the main water supply install meters to measure consumption.
  • Government transparency: The Central Information Commission (CIC) will now require political parties to make their income tax returns available to the public. Sending the exact opposite message, the Lok Sabha may put forth measures to make it more difficult for the common citizen to access records relating to parliamentary proceedings. Moreover, the Chief Justice stated that the Supreme Court’s proceedings fall outside the ambit of the recently passed Right to Information act.
  • Education: The creamy layer of OBC quotas will likely reflect preexisting norms used for central government employment. Along these lines, children, organized by NGOs, knocked on parliament’s door to deliver a petition addressed to the PM reminding him about the right to education for all.

Jagriti Yatra

The online registration for Jagriti Yatra, an annual train journey to awaken the entrpreneurial spirt of youth ages 18-25, is now available. The program takes about 400 selected Indian youth around the country on a sixteen day trip to introduce them to entrepreneurs and ideas. The program will take place from December 24, 2008 to January 8, 2009.

The aim is to awaken the spirit of entrepreneurship – both social and economic within India’s youth by exposing them to individuals and institutions that are developing unique solutions to India’s challenges. Through this national event we will inspire them to lead and develop institutions nationally and within their communities.

Youth are increasingly celebrity conscious, while those Indians who have made lasting social and economic impact are often not visible as role models. The Jagriti Yatra aims to showcase inspiring success stories by taking young Indians to meet these “real heroes”. These role models, located around the country particularly in rural and semi urban India will demonstrate how social and economic enterprise has succeeded. We propose to engage the national media to act as a multiplier of this message by projecting it to the millions of Indians who will watch this journey unfold across the country, and become an annual event. With this we seek to awaken the aspiration of ‘being the change’ in the youth of India.

Evening News Feed

  • Clearly Reservations in India is making big news after the landmark Supreme Court Judgement on reservations. Atanu Dey has a great (but long) analysis of reservations in the Indian Education System (Part 1 of a multi-part series). If you want to learn more, I also recommend this for a detailed history of affirmative-action in India
  • Doug from India Development Blog reports that IFMR Trust, BISWA, and Grameen Capital India Complete First of Its Kind Microfinance Loan Portfolio Restructuring. The complete post here
  • In what seems like a fairly progressive move, The TamilNadu Governments is establishing a special welfare board for transgender individuals [via Chennai Online]. Of course, a Tamil Language cable TV channel recently launched Ippadikku Rose (Yours, Rose) the first TV show in the country to be hosted by a transgender individual.