April 2005

ICTD Project Newsletter

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'Imagineering' rural friendly solutions


 
Project ASHWINI of Byrraju Foundation
With regard to Governance, ICTs can facilitate improved communication between government, private sector and civil society. Byrraju Foundation's Project ASHWINI seeks to enable a platform for multi-dimensional interaction between experts and service providers in towns/cities and defined target segments in 32 villages in Andhra Pradesh in order to empower rural population through access to information and services.

The secret to Walt Disney's success is not just dreaming, it's IMAGINEERING. One can't find this word in a dictionary. The word combines the words 'imagination' and 'engineering'. Imagineering has been responsible for more than 100 Disney-owned patents in such areas as ride systems, special effects, interactive technology, live entertainment, fiber optics and advanced audio systems. In the book 'Imaginers', Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, claims that 'imaginers turn impossible dreams into real magic'. Walt Disney explained there is really no secret to their approach. They just keep moving forward-opening new doors and doing new things, because they are curious. And it is this curiosity that leads them down new paths. They always dream, explore and experiment. In short, Imagineering is the blending of creative imagination and technical know-how.
(Reference: http://disney.go.com/disneycareers/college/wdi/)

Introduction
It has been established that information and communication technology (ICT) based delivery of services in rural areas holds immense potential in terms of making large-scale delivery of quality services possible. But the issues of optimisation of resource usage and broadening the service delivery framework remain unresolved. Intellectual capital, more often than financial capital is the key to success in the knowledge economy. Ideas, information, innovation and technology are the new engines for rural transformation. A number of multilateral organisations have reflected on the elements of governance and their relation to development. For the World Bank, the essence of governance is sound development management, and the key dimensions of governance are public sector management, accountability, the legal framework for development, and information and transparency. Accordingly, and building upon the approach of the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank has identified four basic elements of good governance: accountability, participation, predictability, and transparency (ADB Policy Paper 1995).

With regard to Governance, ICT can facilitate improved communication between the government, private sector and civil society. The strategic choice is whether to accept the rapidly growing gap caused by a very asymmetric architecture of opportunities or whether to use ICTs in a creative manner to level the playing field in economic, social, cultural and political terms (Gerolf Weigel 2004).

Most of the rural areas suffer on account of lack of right information regarding the markets, products, agriculture, health, weather, education etc. and if all these can be addressed through connectivity, a sea change can be brought in the conditions of the rural communities. It can't be denied that the interface between the governments and the citizens that presents a relationship of a benefactor – beneficiary has to be transformed to a principal-client one. Technology can act as a strong catalyst in this regard (Sanjay Jaju, eSeva, 2003).


A new learning experience: Explaining the concept of Ashwini to the student

Byrraju Foundation
Byrraju Foundation (www.byrraju foundation.org) is a not-for-profit organisation, working for rural transformation with over a million people in 142 villages across 5 districts of Andhra Pradesh. The Foundation seeks to build progressive self-reliant rural communities, with a holistic approach, by providing services in the areas of healthcare, environment, sanitation, primary education, adult literacy and skills development. The primary objective of the Foundation is to create a world-class platform for sustainable rural transformation based on the guiding principles that consider people as the wealth, knowledge and technology as tools.

The Foundation's Project ASHWINI seeks to enable a platform for multi-dimensional interaction between experts and service providers in towns/cities and defined target segments in 32 villages in Andhra Pradesh in order to empower rural population through access to information and services.

Project ASHWINI caters to the village in its entirety. It takes technology from a level where it provides information, to a level where it can provide online interaction. It uses a combination of terrestrial and wireless technologies to provide a 2 Mbps bandwidth to each of the 32 villages covered through a cluster system impacting over 500,000 lives in the 32 villages where the project is grounded and the neighbouring villages which will have access to the facilities, being provided through this project.

The services to be delivered have been classified under the domain of health, education, literacy, livelihoods, banking, government services, 'Little MBA' etc. The key differentiator for the project is real-time interaction.

ASHWINI centres will be established in each village from where the village population will be connected to experts and service providers in variou fields of knowledge and practice. To bring focus into the endeavour, one subject (health, governance etc) is taken up each day. Each day is further divided into Knowledge Blocks (KB) of 2 hours each. Every KB covers one sub-topic in the broad area (e.g. Gynecology, Pediatrics etc under the broad area of health). Using this system, people with specific issues/queries would be able to connect to the corresponding expert virtually at their doorstep. The other enabling feature of the system is that it links up online connectivity with offline activity as well. During each KB, the relevant service providers (medical shops, diagnostic centres for health; fertiliser companies etc for agriculture) would also be able to communicate to the target customers.

Thus, a person from the audience who has interacted with experts as well as service providers, will be able to make the best decisions for his/her immediate concerns. These decisions can then be translated into action by further consultation/purchase of goods etc. The facility therefore provides a platform for the best in class experts to work with the rural population to evolve solutions to address their immediate needs, (a model propounded by World Development Report, 2004).

The local community in each village is an equal partner in the implementation of this project. It is represented by the Foundation's Grama Vikasa Samiti, a democratically constituted 9-member body of men, women and youth of the village. The community would be responsible for:
  • Ensuring social sustainability of the project,
  • Managing collection and usage of user charges and other revenues,
  • Financial investment in the project.
In economic terminology, Project ASHWINI would be providing virtual market services, giving beneficiaries access for buying or selling of goods and services that go beyond their immediate territory, thus widening business/growth opportunities. This will facilitate an increase in the Gross Domestic Product of each village and create business life cycles that will benefit the entire community translating into :
  • providing urban quality facilities to rural areas in a focused manner for targeted population segments;
  • linking up online activities with their off line counterparts to shift the emphasis purely from technology to the USE of technology;
  • providing rural friendly solutions which will enable each and every person in the village to take advantage of the facility;
  • ensuring community stake holding through financial as well as social investment.
Review of literature

High-quality access, attainable through broadband, has great potential to help improve delivery of essential services required to meet basic human needs through applications such as e-Education and e-Health, e-Business and other ICT applications (Tokyo Declaration, 2003). Low-cost access to information infrastructure is a necessary prerequisite for the successful use of ICT by the poor, but it is not sufficient. The implementation of ICT projects needs to be performed by organisations and individuals who have the appropriate incentives to work with marginalised groups. An interesting example is 'The Computer Assisted Learning (CAL)' programme in Vadodara implemented by Pratham, an NGO, established in Mumbai in 1994 with support from UNICEF and has since then expanded to several other cities in India. It takes advantage of both a policy put in place by the government of Gujarat in 2000 as well as the established infrastructure of the balsakhi program. The government delivered four computers to each of 100 municipal primary schools in the city (80% of the public schools). A survey conducted by Pratham in June 2002 suggested that very few of these computers were actually used by children in elementary grade levels. While some schools may have run programmes for older students or allowed teachers to use them for administrative tasks, most of the computers remained in their boxes, for want of anyone capable of operating them. Pratham had previous experience with computer assisted learning, having run a small computer assisted learning program in Mumbai for several years. In particular, they had developed instructional software in the local language, Gujarati. After consultation with the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, they introduced a computer assisted learning program in half of the VMC schools, using the computers already present when possible and replacing or adding computers where necessary. Pratham designed the program to allow the children to learn as independently as possible. The instructors encouraged each child to play games that challenged the student's level of comprehension, and when necessary, they helped individual children understand the tasks required of them to play the game. A motivated group can thus bring a positive change to complement government initiatives. Furthermore, grassroots intermediaries and the involvement of the community are identified as the key factors that foster local ownership and the availability of content and services that respond to the most pressing needs of the poor. (Simone Cecchhini and Christopher Scott, 2003).


Women exploring the probable income-generating opportunities through Ashwini

Prelude to Ashwini
A pilot implementation prior to Ashwini called I-SHRAVAN(Improving School Education & Health in Rural Areas using Virtual Access Network) was successfully implemented in two of the villages. By taking advantage of the availability of qualified and popular doctors and teachers virtually in the small and large towns in the vicinity of villages, it enables a virtual experience to the patients and students to obtain quality healthcare and education services at their own villages. This project has helped in clearing some of the apprehensions that a few grassroot level implementation agencies had on Project ASHIWNI. Some participants commented:

“A useful effort”
I-Shravan Program, and the teaching methods it involves currently, is benefiting our school. Usually, most of the schools have a tight fit timetable resulting in a situation where expertise on certain issues in subjects could have been unintentionally marginalised. Subjects like Mathematics, Physics, Biology and English need more attention. In this context, the efforts initiated by the Foundation in introducing teaching through Multi Locations Video Conference is exemplary, more so, as our school is one of those where this is being experimented. I say with conviction that this innovative method is gathering positive response from the students, especially to the Class X students who prepare for the Public Exam. Experts in the above mentioned subjects from Bhimavaram are advising students-through their teaching and answering questions posed by the students'. We, at our school, are practicing the lessons taught in the process by experts from Bhimavaram via this technology. We are confident to get better results in the forthcoming public exams and we are happy that the Foundation is involved in such a remarkable change in our school.

Mr. Peddi Raju, Head Master, ZP High School, Ardhavaram , Andhra Pradesh

“Listening to lessons through T.V”
Teachers from Bhimavaram are currently teaching us through T. V for nearly 45 minutes in each subject every day, and are focusing on Mathematics, English, Physics and Natural Sciences. Apart from clearing our doubts, the teachers from Bhimavaram advise us on crucial questions to focus upon. In each of the class through T.V., concerned subject teachers from our school participate and subsequently make us learn. We like this teaching program and we are able to learn more though the T.V.

ijaya Lakshmi, Gautami, Ratna Kumari, Naga Srinu
tudents, Class X, ZP High School, Ardhavaram, Andhra Pradesh

“Good program”
The method of teaching under Byrraju Foundation's Project I-Shravan is very creative. It uses appropriate audio-video techniques in making education accessible to students in schools located in rural settings. Generally, students show more interest when they are exposed to teaching through a T.V. Teaching through Multi Locations Video Conference is also new to us. This enables teachers like me to address and interact with students from many schools in villages at any given point of time.

M.K.V. Bose, Expert Teacher (English)

However, an analysis of over 30 projects in India show that only a handful of projects would satisfy both the criteria of high quality services and community participation. Government of India too has recently finalised a policy to accelerate the growth of Broadband services, recognising the potential of ubiquitous broadband service in growth of GDP and enhancement in quality of life through societal applications including tele-education, tele-medicine, e-Governance, entertainment as well as employment generation by way of high speed access to information and web-based communication (Preamble, Broadband policy, October 2004). The other critical issue is the design of services/products for the rural poor including good governance. Governance is the system of values, policies and institutions, by which a society manages its economic, political and social affairs through interactions within and among the state, civil society and private sector (UNDP Strategy Note on Governance for Human development, 2004). Serving the Bottom of Pyramid (BOP) consumers (poor) will demand innovations in technology, products and services, and business models. More importantly, it will require large firms to work collaboratively with civil society organisations and local governments. Market development at the BOP will also create millions of new entrepreneurs at the grass roots level – from women, working as distributors and entrepreneurs to village-level micro enterprises. These micro enterprises will be an integral part of the market-based ecosystem. It will require organisational as well as governance innovations (C. K. Prahalad, 2004). This implies applying Business Process Reengineering (BPR) principles in the design and delivery of several government related services.

Current progress
Ram Gopal from Byrraju Foundation says, “In order to assess the requirements of the stakeholders, we have conducted a detailed Needs Assessment Study among the selected villages where ASHWINI will be implemented. This is in addition to a detailed mapping of every family in these villages in terms of their socio-economic profiles. This has given the Foundation an insight into the expectations regarding the services as well as their preferences on timings, convenience etc.

The Foundation's project team has had detailed interaction with the communities in these 32 villages and the response has been overwhelming so far. The village communities not only acknowledge their responsibilities, but are also willing to contribute their might, both in financial and non-financial terms. Some of the villages have readily agreed to provide the civil structures for the ASHWINI centres and in some cases appropriate sites have been earmarked. Project ASHWINI's vision is to be bring information, interaction, and eventually, transaction capability to villages, which will enable the village population to make informed decisions, and to translate such decisions into immediate action, thereby paving the way towards the goal of rural transformation.Project partners:
  • National Institute for Smart Government (NISG)
  • Media Lab Asia
References
  1. ADB, (1995) ADB Policy Paper – Governance: Sound Development Management.
  2. Sachdeva, S. (2002) E-Governance Strategy in India.
  3. UNDP (2003) ICT for Pro Poor Governance (2003-07), UNDP India
  4. Weigel, G. & Waldburger, D. ICT4d

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