Apply Now for 2015 eNGO Challenge

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The 2015 eNGO Challenge Award aspires to create an ecosystem by recognizing and honouring NGOs which are using Information Communication Technology (ICT) and digital media tools for good governance and practices that are benefiting societies and communities at large. It is a joint initiative of Public Interest Registry (PIR) and Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF).

The eNGO Challenge is open in six categories for best use of ICT, mobile, digital media & new or social media by an NGO for:

    • Best Use of Website & Internal Tools (Website):website
      This category focuses on NGOs that are using website to showcase their activities, projects and local content to get networking and support from funding agencies. This category also welcomes NGOs that create awareness on certain issues through campaigning.

 

  • Best Use of Mobile content & Apps (Mobile):mobile
    This category focuses on NGOs that have used mobile tools/Apps for their internal &external communication to drive social change. For example,an NGOis eligible to apply under this category that uses connectivity through mobile phones, sms, video calling or any other means to engage and empower communities at large.

 

 

  • Best Use of e-Commerce (e-Commerce):ecommerce
    This category focuses on NGOs who have used ICT and digital media tools such as e-Commerce, mobile phones, online shopping and social media networkssuch as Facebook & Twitter to promote their business meant for the benefit of a community. For example, an NGO is eligible to apply under this category that usesa website or social media networks for the promotion and trading of products for the benefit of a community.

 

 

  • Best Use of Software Automation & Networking (Tools):tools
    This category focuses on NGOs that use digital media tools for improving and enhancing their organizational efficiency by using networking and software tools such as Wi-Fi, Skype, Tally etc. For example,an NGO is eligible to apply under this category thatuses video-conferencing technology to connect with their regional partners or does staff capacity building program with various ICT tools.

 

 

  • Best Use of social Media (Social Media): Slocial Media
    The category focuses on NGOs that use social media as a tool to get solutions for and from the communities. For example, an NGOis eligible to apply under this category that uses Facebook and twitter to engage communities or inform them about issues.

 

 

  • Best use of e-Content (incl. Audio / Visual / Radio): econtent
    The category focuses on NGOs that empower people to use video or radio to help communities raise their voice for their problems. For example,an NGO is eligible to apply under this category that facilitates people to record video or participate through community radio to share messages or register complains or highlight social issues.

 

The eNGO Challenge Award is open to any registered NGO from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. There are no charges applicable for the eNGO Challenge Award Nomination process.

Your NGO should fulfill the conditions of being an active & ICT based organization. Interested entities can take part in eNGO Challenge by either applying online or contacting expert panel for the nomination process through [email protected]

Google for Nonprofits Expands to 10 Asia-Pacific Economies

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Congratulations to non-governmental organizations in the Asia-Pacific region. In partnership withTechSoup, Google is now expanding its Google for Nonprofits program to ten new economies: Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Nonprofits can now apply to join the program to access a suite of free Google products and tools, including:

  • Google Ad Grants: Free AdWords advertising to promote their website on Google through keyword targeting.
  • Google Apps for Nonprofit: A free version of the Google Apps business productivity suite, including Gmail, Docs, Calendar, and more.
  • YouTube Nonprofit Program: Build their online presence with YouTube and overlay cards on their videos that link directly to their website.

Personally, I’ve used the Google for Nonprofits platform at two different organizations and it was a game-changer at both, specifically Google Apps.

The service can power enterprise-grade email services with a few clicks, giving organizations a legitimate [email protected] email address (ie. not Gmail.com or Yahoo.com) and powerful email support systems that are actually easy to use. Google Apps also comes with their Drive, Sheets, Docs, and Forms tools, which can totally replace the Microsoft Office software suite and I find far superior to Microsoft’s online software products.

Nonprofits organizations can also leverage One Today, Google’s fundraising platform for Android devices. The app highlights cool projects from different organizations each day, and users can donate if they want to support the cause.

So if you have an NGO in the 10 new economies, get Google for Nonprofits today. You’ll be so glad you did!

Can MOOCs Improve India’s Higher Education?

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Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) exploded in popularity in 2013. With the ease of enrollment (I myself have registered for one) and low costs, some MOOCs have drawn more than 160,000 participants from around the world. For countries with mushrooming populations like India, MOOCs offer much promise. India has a gross university enrollment rate (GER) of only 18% and a youth population of 234 million. Tasked with increasing enrollment rates to 30% by 2020, MOOCs can provide the seats that India needs. But as with any new technology, the government and universities are exploring how to best implement and blend MOOCs with existing models.

What are India’s main HigherEd challenges?

The Indian government is focusing on expansion, equity and excellence in higher education for the next few years. India will need 14 million seats in 5 years to meet its GER goals. Considering this, one can easily decide that brick and mortar schools will not be the primary solution. Quality of education has slipped severely over time due to lack of regulation and scarcity of instructors. Although private universities have helped increase seats, some institutions have only focused on graduating the most students possible.

So what’s the deal with MOOCs?

MOOCs typically have one instructor who teaches thousands of students across the world. While enrollment rates are high, the same can’t be said of completion rates, which are typically less than 10%. The main difficulty with MOOCs is providing certificates after completion. Completion rates lie at about 26% for classes that have some type of certification, showing that certificates do motivate student to pass and complete courses.

Research has shown that students who do complete the courses are generally not motivated by affordability. Also, most MOOC participants already have a bachelors or masters degree. This cannot be easily explained but it does show that those who cannot afford higher education do not have access to MOOCs or are uninterested.

How are MOOCs currently being used in India?

India has the second highest user population, at around 12%. A number of Indian universities have launched their own MOOCs, often in collaboration with American universities. The government announced its own platform called Swayam. Using the openEdx platform, students can take the courses for free and only pay for the certificate of completion. Another interesting initiative is Skill Up India. The platform features classes ranging from emergency first response to entrepreneurial skills. As the name denotes, the mission is to improve the employability and entrepreneurial abilities of Indian youth.

Can MOOCs Improve India’s Higher Education?

Universities have struggled to balance the relationship between quality and quantity. MOOCs can provide a transparent and measurable quality at large scale. A comparative study at MIT showed that MOOC students learned a tad bit more than traditional student. Blended instruction was the most beneficial to students. Certain science classes have incorporated labs and this can be utilized in all fields. MOOCs, similar to Skill Up India, might be promising to post graduates who would like to improve their employability or entrepreneurial toolkit.

Equity is an important piece with Indian higher education goals. MOOCs have the promise of providing education to those outside the brick and mortar; however, they currently aren’t reaching that demographic. With Internet access at around 20%, increasing Internet access will increase the availability of MOOCs to the wider population.

Angelina Nonye-John is a researcher and writer with Mansa Colabs

How NextDrop is Mixing Water, Data and ICT in India

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In many homes with piped in the developing world, piped water is only available a few hours at a time, and in some cases, they can go up to ten days without it. If they miss the water supply window, then the opportunity to collect and store the water has passed for the next 2-10 days. To ensure receiving water for their families, many low-income families must have someone waiting at home at all times. So a lack of water also becomes a lack of freedom for many women and children.

As a solution, social business NextDrop was founded , and it began by sending messages to about 15,000 households in the southern Indian twin cities of Hubli-Dharwad. The service informs subscribers via SMS about 60 minutes in advance of when the water service will be switched on, switched off, and whether it is contaminated or affected by low pressure. The information is gathered the same way: Through the use of mobile phones, the service workers who manually open and close valves provide them with real time information on the water delivery.

NextDrop’s young staff do not know whether to call themselves a social enterprise, or a tech start up, since they have received funding for both types of ventures. The startup built upon a novel team project that won University of California Berkeley’s Big Ideas competition. They work in conjunction with the local government, while at the same time gathering data that shows the structural problems with water delivery. It is an exercise in openness on behalf of a public delivery service. NextDrop has now expanded to Bangalore, where they have partnered with the Water Supply and Sewerage Board to supply city-wide services.

To sign up, customers have to give NextDrop a missed call on a dedicated phone number. The system allows them to track the customer’s location via GPS, narrowing it down to three valve areas. They will register the user to the first one, send them their first delivery message, and ask for feedback to whether they received the water or not. That way they have them correctly allocated within three text messages. A simpler solution may have seemed to ask new customers for their address, but in many suburbs and settlements in India post codes are rarely used, so, NextDrop says, GPS is the best option.

Is it a solution or just a plug in the leak?

There are two types of payments that the poor must make to obtain their water supply. First there is the actual cash payment in exchange for an ideally reliable water supply. The second ones are called “coping costs”, which are “payments that are outside the system and that ought not to be required,” but that the poor must pay in order to gain access to water.

The first coping costs is what are known as “informal payments,” which can vary from burdensome hospitality to outright bribes. The second coping cost is the time lost waiting for water since it has “the same impact of reducing poor peoples’ incomes, since time spent collecting water, or lying ill in bed cannot be spent earning money elsewhere” (UNDP, World Bank). NextDrop eliminates many of the coping costs that come with having to stay at home to wait for the water; the time and energy that could be spent in a wage-earning job.

Yet the third type of coping cost is the one created by coping mechanisms such as NextDrop itself. The service creates a newer, albeit much smaller, cost. As the UNDP study suggests, theses emerging new costs are “cash payments that are not contemplated in the original design of the water scheme, but which pay for real services that are made necessary by the scheme’s inadequacies” NextDrop would not be needed if there were a 100% reliability of water delivery to the different areas of the city.

Improving services through direct feedback

NextDrop allows citizens to report whether the information the government provided is correct. So, after the initial SMS saying that water will arrive in an hour, they send you a follow-up message to see if that was indeed the case. If a lot of people in the same area report not receiving water, then the government knows there is a problem.

Anu Sridharan, co-founder and CEO told Forbes that they are “seeing feedback work firsthand within the water utility company… People lower in the organization finally have the data to back up the fact that their job is hard, and that they are being put in an impossible situation. And now they are coming together at meetings, and they are able to tell their superiors, hey, there are all these issues, let’s work on fixing them… the utility companies themselves are asking us for citizen feedback, so they can keep track of their direct reports.”

When Hubli-Dharwad’s water utility used NextDrop’s monitoring tools across a three-month period, over 17,500 families got water when they otherwise would not. These families were at the end of their area’s supply cycle and wouldn’t receive sufficient water if the system lacked proper pressure. By engaging valvemen to report water pressure when they turned water on, and relaying this to utility engineers responsible for decision-making about those areas, NextDrop enables real-time adjustments to ensure equitable supply.

A water data bank

NextDrop wishes to collect as much data as possible in order to develop a predictive system, which could potentially have a big impact on quality of service. A lot of this data is gained from field visits by the team, who map new areas to inform these models. Much of the data is already within the knowledge of the utility companies, but is not yet aggregated. As this system is fed with more information by customer and engineer feedback, and by previous lessons and historical trends, it will become increasingly effective and will enable the network to surpass its current efficiency levels of 60-80 per cent.

Andrea Alarcón Sojet is a journalist and online media consultant in Bogota, Colombia.

3 Reasons IPaidABribe Is Only For India’s Middle Class Citizens

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With the rise in participatory development over the last few decades, there have been increasing discussions about power between NGO professionals and the stakeholders that they serve. Often these conversations can centre on international power imbalances (e.g., North v. South), yet with the rise of various middle classes and their civil society activism over the past few decades, questions have also been raised about class hierarchies domestically, especially in India.

Emblematic in these questions about class is the role of ICTs in NGO projects facilitating citizen participation in governance. In a country with over 900 million mobile subscriptions, with just over ten percent of them being smart phone plans, India has been called the next smartphone frontier. Moving away from discussions merely about citizens’ access to ICTs as a barrier to participation, other questions must also be asked by NGOs engaged in ICT4D that depend upon a large volume of users for programmatic “success”.

One of these tough questions centres on the class makeup of one’s organisation and its effects on the tools provided to empower citizens. The case I examine here is that of Ipaidabribe.com (IPAB), where I spent seven wonderful months as a volunteer researcher during my MA studies. Informed by discourses in the anthropology of development, as well as historical and contemporary research on India’s middle classes, I contend that a number of the NGO’s perceived barriers to citizens utilising IPAB were limited by the class-based experiences of the staff.

In particular, there seemed to be three limiting assumptions about users’ language skills, understandings of corruption and barriers to higher user rates:

  • Written English fluency was not seen as a hindrance to citizen participation, or at least deemed as important from a programming perspective
  • All corruption is morally wrong and should be fought against by all citizens
  • The only barrier to higher user rates was simply access to the Internet, not how various citizens already use their own mobile devices
English

It is estimated that 30% of the Indian population have “some semblance” of English fluency, or at least the ability to communicate orally in English, while roughly 10% have written and grammatical fluency as well. Given the historical marker of English being part of an elite or middle class identity, it is difficult to grasp how a country of over 30 languages and hundreds of dialects would benefit from an English-only platform. Furthermore, the dismal amount of reports on the Hindi portal can possibly be seen as a class-based distinction in IPAB’s reporting.

upper-class-bribeCorruption

Considering Anna Hazare and other high profile anti-corruption activists in the early 2010s, some argue that the middle classes were united under a specific definition of corruption, to be seen as morally reprehensible and to be resisted at all costs. Janaagraha’s iPledge campaign is emblematic of this concept of corruption, where users are asked to sign a pledge that they will never pay a bribe and that the power of making change rests in refusing to give a bribe to whatever party is demanding it.

This concept breaks down when anthropological discourses of corruption, such as de Sardan, bring forth the idea that various moral logics of kinship and community complicate defining corruption and its moral implications. One can use the example of the street vendor, who does not possess the money to pay for a license, who bribes the local police officer with a percentage of his or her earnings to not be removed from the sidewalk. While this fits the definition of petty corruption, it may not be seen as morally wrong because the vendor can continue providing a livelihood for his or her family. Considering Chatterjee, the urban poor can find inventive ways to circumvent established laws for the sake of their livelihoods, where ‘legal’ courses might be out of reach.

Reporting & Internet Access

In India, there are over 900 million people who subscribe to mobile telephone plans, many of which do possess basic mobile browsers. However, only 110-120 million of these subscriptions are for smart phones, an arguably much easier route for using Internet-based platforms such as IPAB. One of the issues encountered is seeing access to the Internet as the biggest or one of the only barriers to a citizen using an ICT4D tool to report corruption.

During my research, I performed interviews and ethnographic research on auto-rickshaw drivers in Bangalore. They were often the objects of corruption reporting because they tended to demand higher-than-metre-rates for taking their generally middle class customers for rides. Even though nearly all of them had access to the Internet on their basic mobile phones, only a handful used the Internet features or even knew what the Internet’s purpose was. Of those few who did use their mobile Internet, most used it for games or music.

Many auto-rickshaw drivers were also victims of police corruption, heavy licensing fees and predatory lending schemes, which gave rise to why they demanded higher-than-metre-rates. However, in many social media posts and articles from IPAB staff and interactive users online, auto-rickshaw drivers were seen as another ‘urban woe’ about how corrupt India had become and essentially a lower class ‘demon’ figure.

With much funding from Indian and international IT companies, as well as western philanthropists, Janaagraha is at the forefront of technocratic middle class activism and governance in urban India. While its causes are often just and necessary, some of its programmes seemingly cannot escape its middle class organizational makeup and users. Like much of the ‘new middle class’ activism across urban India, languages invoking human/consumer rights are often utilised to create their preferred city, sometimes at the expense of the urban poor.

One would not know this from the language of liberation in English media that has covered the IPAB platform, both domestically and internationally. However, certain questions must be asked by NGO professionals in these contexts, to try and live up to the organisational mission of improving the livelihoods and experiences of ALL urban citizens. Difficult, introspective questions must be asked about one’s own language choices, moral responses to perceived governance failures, potential users’ already-existing interactions with technology and potential ‘organisational blinders’ based upon the staff makeup to ensure that, directly or indirectly, the social ills an organisation is trying to alleviate are not replicated or reinforced through one’s own programmes.

Chris Speed is an ICT4D researcher and content developer based in Nashville, TN, USA.

Can a Mobile App Foster a New Green Revolution in India?

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For the past decades, the share of agriculture in the Indian economy has kept shrinking. Even though the sector now accounts for 17.4 percent of the country’s GDP, it still employs 263 million people. That is, 22 percent of the Indian workforce.

Low productivity

Since the Green Revolution in the 1960s, India’s production of food grain has increased fivefold. The country is now self-sufficient, but it is facing a major productivity issue. It is still far below that of China, Brazil, or the United States.

This situation is the result of several factors:

  • India’s agricultural sector is fragmented. 78 percent of Indian farmers own less than 2 hectares of farmland. These small farms are often over-manned and quite unproductive.
  • Irrigation facilities are inadequate. Only half of the land is irrigated, and many farmers are dependent on rainfall to grow their crops. This makes them vulnerable to climate-related risks.
  • Modern agricultural practices have not yet been adopted by a majority of farmers. This is due to a low level of awareness, high implementation costs, and impracticality in small farms. The government’s large agricultural subsidies also tend to hamper productivity-enhancing investments.
  • Finally, many small farmers are uneducated and therefore risk-adverse. Even when they are exposed to the latest agricultural approaches and techniques, the majority won’t adopt them. Too often, they find them too risky and they would rather rely on traditions than try new farming practices. That way, they won’t maximize gains, but they believe they will minimize loss.

Mobile revolution in India

Anand Babu C. and Shita Lotivakari are well-aware of the situation: their own parents were farmers. But after working for ten years for international companies, they also understand the potential of ICTs to improve the life of small farmers in the long run.

In India mobile phone penetration is up to 90 percent. More than 900 million people have a mobile phone, and an increasing number is switching to smartphones. In the countryside in particular, the mobile revolution has already had a great impact. Rural Indians can more easily communicate with their relatives living in the cities, and they have an increased access to the outer world.

For Anand and Shita, they can also play a major role in boosting agricultural productivity. In fact their dream is to leverage mobile technology to fill the information gap, which they think prevents farmers from improving their practices. That’s why the two entrepreneurs started Jayalaxmi Agro Tech in September 2014.

Breaking the farmers’ illiteracy barrier

Anand and Shita’s idea was to build on existing services. In India, several companies already provide weather forecasts and market prices to farmers. The problem is that they do it using text messages in English. Since most small farmers are illiterate, these services are not so much of a help.

The two entrepreneurs thought through this illiteracy issue over and over, and they reached two conclusions. They agreed that using mobile phones to provide appropriate and timely crop-specific information is a great idea. But it is critical to develop easy-to-understand content; otherwise farmers will not use it.

Anand and Shita boldly decided to go for a mobile application. This is, indeed, the most appropriate solution for farmers. With an app, they can offer them both audio and visual content in English and several regional languages. And everything is available offline.

30 crop-specific apps

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So far, Anand and Shita have developed 30 applications for agriculture, horticulture, and animal husbandry. Today Jayalaxmi Agro Tech’s applications provide information about specific crops (e.g., banana, pomegranate, potato, onion, etc.) as well as dairy farming and sheep rearing. Each of these apps aims at helping farmers to better manage their farm and boost their productivity.

So what does happen when a farmer downloads the banana app on his smartphone? First, he gets information about the existing varieties. He learns where bananas should grow and how he should irrigate them. He also receives reminders on when to apply fertilizers. He is even taught how to control the diseases through a decision support system. The whole content is illustrated with pictures and descriptions in his mother tongue. So it is easy for him to understand and apply even complex notions.

In only eight months, more than 50,000 farmers have uploaded Jayalaxmi Agro Tech’s apps onto their smartphones. And since all these applications promote sustainable practices, they may pave the way for a new agricultural revolution in India!

Fighting Maternal and Infant Mortality in India Through Community SMS Text Reporting

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The state of Assam leads the country with the highest maternal mortality ratio (MMR), and one of the highest infant mortality ratios (IMR) in India. These health indicators persist despite the right to safe motherhood protected by the Indian Constitution and guaranteed under national laws and policies. The lack of data on the Adivasi community makes it particularly difficult to address some of the gaps in the implementation of maternal and infant health policies.

For this reason, Nazdeek, PAJHRA and ICAAD have developed the Project “End Maternal Mortality Now” (End MM Now). Launched in April 2014, the Project trained a group of 40 women volunteers living in Balipara and Dhekiajuli Blocks in the Sonitpur District of Assam to identify and report cases of health violations in their communities through SMS. The project has been implemented with the generous support of ISIF Asia.

A major outcome is the report, No Time to Lose: Fighting Maternal and Infant Mortality through Community Reporting. The report brings to light the obstacles that Adivasi women face in obtaining maternal health care in Assam – a state with the highest maternal mortality rate in India.

No Time to Lose is the first attempt in India to collect and map cases of maternal and infant health violations reported by women living in tea gardens through SMS technology. Based on nearly 70 cases reported by community members who participated in the Project, the report offers tangible recommendations for Block and District level health authorities and tea garden management to improve service delivery and save mothers’ and infants’ lives.

“For the first time, civil society in Assam can rely on solid data on the lack of access to maternal health services. Thanks to this data, we have formulated key recommendations to curb the appalling number of maternal deaths among Adivasi women.” – says Barnabas Kindo, from Pajhra.

No Time to Lose identified a significant gap between patients and healthcare providers. Key recommendations include the immediate appointment of a hematologist for the Dhekiajuli Community Health Centre, and the establishment of a more efficient referral system.

“End MM Now has proven to be an invaluable platform for women to monitor and claim access to basic rights and entitlements. Community members have already noted initial positive changes in the delivery of health services”, says Francesca Feruglio, from Nazdeek.

“Shaped by the idea of crowdsourcing, End MM Now maps and visualizes ground-level data, which is verified and made available to the public and the government. This way, the platform bridges an existing information gap and increases transparency in the delivery of health services,” says Jaspreet K. Singh, from ICAAD.

The New Cop in Town: Citizen COP Promoting Public Safety in India via ICT

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In recent years India has been marred by multiple high profile rape cases that have generated international backlash. The brutal 2012 rape and murder of a 23 year old medical student on a bus in Delhi sparked protests across India, and became a rallying cry for reform. The five men and one juvenile (17 ½ at the time) who perpetrated the attack had their arrests and convictions fast tracked. Additionally, India passed legislation which broadened the definition of rape and implemented harsher punishments. Unfortunately, little changed. Government figures from 2013 indicate that the reported incidences of sexual assault in Delhi more than doubled from the year before. This figure is not unique to Delhi. Nationwide, one Indian woman is raped every 20 minutes.

In the state of Madhya Pradesh, Home Minister Babul Gaur recently said of rape “Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong.” Yet in this environment a tech company called Infocrats Web Solutions is working to directly improve the safety of citizens of Madhya Pradesh via their Citizen COP smart phone app. The basic premise of Citizen COP is that it facilitates communication between citizens and police, allowing for quicker and more accurate reporting of crime, as well as eliminating barriers when requesting emergency assistance. The local government and police forces of Madhya Pradesh need all the help they can get in promoting public safety, as Madhya Pradesh has the second worst crime rate in India.

Citizen COP boasts a variety of features, all of which promote public safety in a unique way.

Incident ReportingCitizen COP’s incident reporting functionality allows users to anonymously report illegal activity directly to the police. The reporting feature allows the user to supply the police pictures, videos, location data, and a description of the scene with the press of a few buttons. Talking to the police or reporting a crime can still be taboo in India. The apps’ anonymity allows the user to report an incident without facing the same backlash that could occur from reporting a crime in a traditional manner, thereby removing a major barrier.

Help Me (SOS)

The SOS feature empowers a Citizen COP user to call for help almost instantly. The user can open this feature simply by shaking their phone, shaving valuable seconds off the time it takes to call for help. It sends an SMS to a series of contacts, as well as to the local police. The message is preprogrammed with geolocation data, as well as a call for help.

e-LaxmanRekha

This feature is named after Lakshmana rekha, which refers to a strict line or principal. If that line is crossed, or principal broken, severe consequences can be expected. e-LaxmanRekha allows the user to map a boundary around themselves utilizing their smartphones’ mapping capabilities. To do so, the user selects several points on a map (like dropping a pin on Google Maps), which are connected with a line. This sets a geographical limit for the mobile device. If the device crosses this boundary, an SMS message will be auto-sent to contacts preloaded into the “Help Me” feature.

Additional features of Citizen COP include an in-depth directory of police contact information which is automatically sorted based on proximity to the police station, a live tracking GPS system which can enable family members to view the users’ location in real-time, and a notification system which provides news updates.

Empowering Citizens

While Citizen COP doesn’t work to address the underlying causes of violence against women in India, it can be a valuable tool in promoting public safety. Upendra Jain, of the Bhopal Police Department, published an official letter thanking Citizen COP. It read: “…Citizen COP has immensely empowered our citizens with enhanced awareness of security and safety measures. It has already started giving favorable results. I, on behalf of Bhopal Police, sincerely appreciate your concept, innovation, and successful implementation of ‘Citizen COP’ in our jurisdiction for the welfare of society as a whole.”

The app is currently available in the cities of Indore, Bhopal, and Jabalpur. Infocrats Web Solutions is planning to expand their Citizen COP service offering to the other major cities in Madhya Pradesh, and then regionally to other states. The app can be downloaded via the Apple App Store or via Google Play, where it has a 4.3/5 rating with over 1,000 reviews.

Can eVidyaloka Fix the Learning Crisis in Rural India?

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In 1954, the United Nations designated November 20 as the Universal Children’s Day. Seventy years have passed, but promoting the welfare of the youth has never been more necessary. Too many youngsters worldwide continue to suffer from poverty, abuse, and premature mortality.

When it comes to education, the situation has improved, but there is still a long way to go. 121 million children remain unschooled; and 69 million adolescents have to drop out. Even for those who can enroll, the perspectives are bleak, as they often do not receive the quality education they deserve.

India’s learning crisis

With a 96 percent enrollment rate, India has almost achieved universal primary education. But the country is now dealing with an acute learning crisis that may threaten its development in the long run. A majority of students comes out of school without basic literacy and numeracy skills. Today, 60 percent of 10-year old pupils cannot read a text, and 74 percent are unable to solve a division problem.

The reasons for this crisis are many, but they start with the lack of trained teachers. India faces a shortage of 1.2 million schoolmasters and a high absenteeism rate. Combining this with the curriculum’s low standards, it is easy to understand why the learning outcome is so poor.

Many urban families respond to the situation by sending their children to private schools. But in the countryside where people earn less, most youngsters have no choice but go to public institutions. With their teachers being absent one day in five, the pupils often lose the motivation to study, and a majority drops out by the age of 14.

Connecting rural students with urban teachers

In 2010, in Bangalore, two friends were troubled by their country’s educational crisis, but they had a dream. They were dreaming of solving it using ICTs. Some would have said such dream was unreasonable. But Satish and Venkat had what it takes to make a difference. They were passionate; they were skillful; they were pragmatic.

Looking at the larger picture, they had realized that the level of education has increased in India over the past twenty years. There are now 40 million university graduates, and some are willing to share their knowledge with the less fortunate. As long as they do not have to leave their day job.

While thinking about this issue, it became obvious for Satish and Venkat that the solution would come from the Internet. At the time, they found some inspiration in the Khan Academy, whose tutorial videos were more and more popular. But since they were focusing on under-educated children, they had to find a way to make the courses live.

Back in 2010, the Internet was expanding in India, and Satish and Venkat took a bold decision. They started a nonprofit called eVidyaloka, traveled to isolated villages, and equipped some classrooms with video-conference materials. This way, the students would just have to go next door to take the class; and their teacher could be anywhere around the world.

Transforming the learning experience

School failure should have been the fate of Rajesh. This 10 year old boy lives in a small village, in the state of Tamil Nadu, Southern India. Like most children there, he goes to a public school.

Rajesh enrolled in the eVidyaloka after-school program before it was too late. And participating in this program has transformed the student he was. Before, he was not so passionate about school; now, he reviews his lessons. Before, he was struggling with math; now, he can solve the divisions by himself. Before, his English was terrible; now, he can speak in an articulated manner.

The reasons for such progress? eVidyaloka teachers lecture in Tamil, Rajesh’s mother tongue. They also use videos and practical examples to explain the concepts. For the young boy, this has been enlightening, and he understands what he is being taught. And since the eVidyaloka program complements his school’s curriculum, it only took a few months for Rajesh to improve his grades!

Opening the door to higher education

Implementing an ICT-driven project in rural India has not been easy for Satish and Venkat. They had to deal with power cuts, slow Internet speed, and even monkeys dislodging the cables. But they received a strong support both from the local communities and the Indian volunteers. This has enabled them to open 13 eVidyaloka classrooms in some of the country’s most underdeveloped regions. And their 179 teachers have changed the lives of more than 1,200 children.

Just like young Rajesh, who can now consider going to high school!

Using ICT to Track Government Services in India

ICTIndiaNew

Basic public services and programs often function inefficiently in India, especially in the poorer states and regions. One problem is the delivery of services to the people who are entitled to them, and the lack of accountability in making sure they are actually receiving the services. Traditionally, one of the main methods of tracking needs and problems is Jan Sunwai, a public hearing process that surveys citizens and gives them the opportunity to ask questions or register objections to a panel of elected representatives, NGO experts, government officials, etc… Panel topics are prepared based on issues gathered from door-to-door surveys, and citizens are invited to voice their grievances at the panel. In the best cases, these grievances are resolved.

This form of reporting can be intimidating for women and marginalized groups, which is where technology can provide a faceless-interface technology. “Samadhan – Citizen Action for governance” is one such initiative that is using ICT for more effective governance. In 2010, the joint initiative of UN Millenium Campaign, Collector Sehore and Samarthan, was launched in Sehore, in the Madhya Pradesh district of India.

Samarthan is a non-governmental organization that believes strongly in public participatory governance. They “promote and encourage involvement of local population in planning, execution and monitoring of development projects thereby challenging the mainstream “top-down” development model.” Through the Samadhan platform, citizens can register their complaints and get them resolved by holding the concerned officials accountable.

Samadhan is a web-based Open Source Software, with complaints tracked through online input, SMS, telephone and the more traditional Jan Sunwai. It’s primarily for citizens to directly demand and track their service entitlements provided by national and state government programs. The focus was to strengthen the government initiatives by getting feedback from the citizens on the delivery and quality of services from various departments.

Complaints can be made around a wide variety of issues, including education, food and civil supplies, rural employment, sanitation, public health, agriculture and family welfare. Registrants have the ability to track their complaints through the system and get feedback at closure of their grievances through SMS.

The initiative was developed with the collaboration of local civil society organizations (CSOs), which contributed greatly to its success by bridging the gaps between the government and the citizens. Youth volunteers in 200 Panchayats (local self-government institutions at the village or small town level) and the municipality of Sehore promoted the concept of the platform to provide formal feedback to the district administration. The feedback was then analyzed from the perspectives of the most poor and vulnerable sections of the society.

“The main challenge was to build technology for the poorest communities so that they can use it with ease to get access to their rights and entitlements,” notes Mr. Manohar Dubey, Additional Secretary, Public Service Management, GoMP. “The front end interacting with the citizens should use the simplest of all the technologies. The technology should be citizen-centric and not developer-centric.”

Over 5500 complaints were filed in Samadhan in the last one and a half years, and over 56 percent have been resolved. As more people bring voice to issues and problems, it ultimately puts pressure on the system to change and improve. Programs can be targeted more effectively and reach more areas of the country.

“Unlike other e-governance driven initiatives, this project was initiated and developed independently of any government interference and hence we [were] able to develop the system from both a citizen’s and activist’s point of view, rather than just an administrator’s point of view,” explains Mr. Pankaj Lal, Founder and CEO, Tangere Infotech.

There have been some challenges to the system. Some of the more rural districts cannot access the platform, so administrators have allowed the residents to register their complaints at the local level.   But these complaints are registered manually, so are not monitored as closely, leading to delays in resolution. The shift of registering complaints from SMS to the Jan Sunwai system resulted in some sectors feeling shut out of the participatory process. (SMS provides a faceless interface, which was more encouraging for women and marginalized groups to access.)

As this was a pilot initiative, withdrawal of the UNMC and Samarthan was agreed upon and the platform was turned over to the Sehore administration to manage. Before the handover, they organized a Experience Sharing Workshop on ICT for Effective Governance.   During the workshop, the organizers shared major learning from the pilot initiative with peer groups and concerned higher officials of Madhya Pradesh; discussed the up-scale of the initiative in all the districts in the state; and allowed for the sharing experiences of other CSOs in their ICT initiatives for social change in India.

ICT does not solely improve governance. True improvements need to happen within the system itself, but ICT can certainly influence accountability, transparency and better deliverance of good governance.