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.