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Handy Origins of the winds of change

by Radha Rao last modified Apr 02, 2011 02:59 PM
A seminar in Bangalore revealed how mobile technology is being harnessed across India to bring about development and social change, reports Shrabonti Bagchi - DNA (6th Sept, 2009)

The Internet, for all the celebrated changes it has made in our lives, still had limited penetration in our country with about 80 million, largely urban and prosperous users. This severely limits its viability as a vehicle of development and social change. The mobile phone, on the other hand, has 400 million users in the country, and has undoubtedly become the first mode of communication in India to gain almost universal reach, cutting across barriers of location, region, community and social classes.
“The mobile phone has unprecedented penetration into classes of society that were largely unconnected with the outside world till now,” said Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Centre for Internet and Society, which along with Mobile Monday Bangalore, the Bangalore chapter of a global community of wireless industry professionals, organised a seminar, “Mobile Technology 4 Social Change”, in the city recently.
The idea for the event came from one of the co-organizers,, which is a network of NGOs interested in taking advantage of the mobile telephony revolution to bring about changes, informed Abraham.
Attended by NGOs, non-profit organisations, researchers, donors, and of course, mobile application developers, the seminar intended to throw open doors of communication between these varied groups of people.
Take the case of IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited (IKSL), for instance. This farmers’ co-operative formed under the aegis of fertiliser manufacturer IFFCO has tied up with cellular service provider Airtel to develop a special SIM card which enables users to receive voice and text messages everyday containing nuggets of information about various farming practices. It has around 2,75,000 subscribers in Karnataka alone, informs IKSL state manager G Raghunatha, and has made a huge difference to the lives of  farmers.
A similar case is related by Subbaih Arunachalam who is involved with the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, which has tied up with Tata Tele-services and Qualcomm and telecom developer Astute to create special GPS-enabled mobile phones (costing less than Rs.3, 000) that helps fishermen track weather reports, send out emergency messages in case they are lost at sea, etc., and also engage in price-point discussions with local wholesalers.
Several NGOs have also been quick to utilise the advantage of the versatility and ease-of-use of the mobile phone to disseminate vital information. Sreekanth Rameshaiah, director of Bangalore-based NGO Mahiti, spoke of an endeavour started by his group in Calcutta called My SME News which targets small and micro enterprises, sending out customised information for 11 micro-industries through text messages in the local language. They also plan to launch a voice platform soon.
Mobile payments brand mChek started an initiative on similar lines in Bangalore. The company uses its SMS-based mobile payment technology, which is embedded on all new Airtel and Docomo SIM cards, to enable slum dwellers to access banking and explore micro-finance options through micro-finance institution Grameen Koota.
Valerie Rozycki, head of strategic initiatives at mChek, said, “Access to low-cost banking over the mobile and being enabled with safe ways to save and convenient ways to make payments is life-changing for these customers. This is a sustainable business model to serve the un-banked and under-banked. So, these services will continue to thrive."

Let’s raise our mobile phones to that.


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