Moving towards knowledge
The beneficial impact of ICT on the rural economy and quality of life is now widely recognised. Mission 2007 was born out of the dream of an independent rural India where Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) bring knowledge, livelihood and prosperity. The first step towards bringing a knowledge revolution in India's 600,000 villages was initiated by the launch of the National Virtual Academy for Food Security and Rural Prosperity (NVA) on 23 August 2003 to bring scientific knowledge to the villages through ICT tools. The idea was to make the stakeholders participate in the knowledge generation and preservation process. A policymakers' workshop at M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) on 8-9 October 2003 thought up the 'Every Village a Knowledge Centre' plan and recommended an alliance of the private sector, cooperatives, NGOs, R&D institutions, government agencies and the mass media. On 21 February 2004, the steering committee meeting of NVA recommended the set up in collaboration with the Indira Gandhi Open University, the 11 state open universities, National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), IITs and the private sector.
The Mission was set into motion at a consultation meeting of the MSSRF, Chennai, on 19-20 May 2004, where a National Alliance was formed for achieving the rural knowledge revolution. The National Alliance for Mission 2007 is a multi-stake holder partnership, consisting of over 157 members across the country. telecentre.org, of IDRC, has provided support for capacity building efforts of Mission 2007. It has generated public, political and professional commitment essential for success from various quarters. May 19, 2004 was chosen because it marks the death centenary of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, one of the pillars of India's industrial growth. The high level policy consultation, organised by MSSRF and One World South Asia with support from IDRC, CIDA, NASSCOM Foundation and SDC in July 2004 in Delhi was covered by i4d.
The National Alliance is led by an Executive Board and supported by a secretariat and state-level committees. The Executive Council, consisting of a Chairperson, Secretary-General and three Secretaries, will manage the day-to-day affairs of the Alliance. The General Body and the Steering Committee that will meet at regular intervals will guide it. The General Body consists of the member organisations and provides policy overview and also reviews the work of the Alliance. It also provides policy guidelines to the Governing Council. The Steering Committee consists of more than 20 members to implement the policy set up by the General Body of Mission 2007. The Governing Council consist of an Operations Manager and an Administrative Assistant to execute the work programme under Mission 2007. The National Alliance will work to achieve Mission 2007 through:
- Content generation, dissemination and application development,
- Spatial applications for rural prosperity,
- Policy issues on content, connectivity and costs,
- Resource mobilisation,
- Training and capacity building of village entrepreneurs,
- Organisation, evaluation and monitoring.
'United we stand'
Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, Chairperson of the National Alliance of Mission 2007 has described the power of partnership. According to him, individual strengths of the members may vary, but the collective strength is formidable, and this is the motivation for the National Alliance for Mission 2007. Geeta Sharma, the Operation Manager of Mission 2007 has stated in her article published in i4d, September 2004 issue that a knowledge centre can be put together on a sustainable platform through partnerships, bringing together the private sector and the government for infrastructure development, civil society organisations for community participation and capacity building, academia for innovation and research and the private sector for leading on the financing and scalability.
Seven Task Forces were set up to go in depth into the various components of rural knowledge centres. The term 'knowledge centre' was chosen because at the village level there is need for value addition to generic information by converting it into locale-specific knowledge. With training and technical help, local women and men are able to add value to information and mobilise both dynamic and generic information on a demand-driven principle.
The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology of the Government of India, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and several state governments have already developed strategies for accelerating the growth of the Internet and broadband connectivity in rural India. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has laid fibre cables capable of reaching nearly 70 per cent of our villages. The National Informatics Centre (NIC), the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and the State Open Universities have considerable reach in the country.
Making knowledge a common resource
The replicability and sustainability of the Village Knowledge Centre movement depend upon its success in achieving a sense of local ownership and management. This will ensure that the Centre provides information and services really needed by the community.
As part of NASSCOM Foundation (NF) coastal knowledge network, on May 6, 2005, NF and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have launched the Mission 2007 Knowledge Centre programme in Bhubaneshwar in Orissa. The Orissa initiative is one of the first public-private partnerships that are beginning to be formed across the country as part of the National Alliance mandate to achieve the Mission 2007 goal.
In the second convention of Mission 2007, The President of India has reaffirmed that Village Knowledge Centres (VKCs) will form an essential and integral part of the rural infrastructure to ensure a strong developed nation, by the year 2020. With the potential to be support centre for rural entrepreneurship, a trading outlet and social empowerment outfit, a support centre for providing health, education and livelihoods information services in near future, VKCs may show a new light to reach the target or beyond in near future.