Last year the Government unveiled the National IT policy, with the goal that one person in every Indian household will be digitally literate by 2020. This means that every household will have at least one person capable of using connected technology to access relevant information and be able use it to do more whether in education, work or entertainment. In other words, if done right, it will mean that every household will be empowered to use technology to access relevant information and use it to become more productive.
This is a highly ambitious goal given that we have over 330 million households and a woefully low number of people today who really know how to use technology beyond just the basics. But it is, without doubt, the right vision for the country. Technology, if used right, will be one of the most effective drivers for the much needed ‘inclusive growth’ in India. We have to figure out how to make it happen.
The challenges are many. Apart from lack of infrastructure and connectivity, most of the next wave of users will be largely local language users based in smaller cities or rural India. Currently, none of the Indian languages feature in the top ten languages on the internet. For them to find relevant information and services and make use of them, a lot has to be done to drive content and application in local languages to cater to this audience. More importantly, technology will have to adapt to fit their lifestyles and habits with focus on areas that are relevant to them like financial services, agriculture services, health care, vocational education and government services.
Yes, the challenges are many and daunting, but it is not an impossible mission. To accomplish the vision, the Indian IT industry will need to innovate, like never before. We have to think very differently about who uses technology, how it is used and for what. And we have to drive innovation for the bottom of the pyramid.
With this in mind, Intel decided to take some steps to really understand what it takes to make technology relevant for the next wave of users in India and what can be the impact of doing it right.
We decided to work with the Government to run a program in three villages which were receiving broadband connection under the National Optic Fibre Network pilot. The initiative is called “Follow The Fibre” and was a key pillar of the Intel led National Digital Literacy Mission. Our plan was to train one person per household in all three villages on how to use technology for their advantage and study the impact of this on the community.
To do this, we first had to ensure that the training and content was relevant to the users and their lifestyles and aspirations. Hence, rather than using traditional practice of training on common software we focused on creating training content which was based on activities which were a part of the user’s lifestyle or something they aspired to do and showed how technology could enable them be more efficient and productive.
The activities were customized by key segments – farmers, housewives, young adults, school kids, government officials/administrators etc. Additionally we partnered with Digital Empowerment Foundation, a NGO that works extensively in rural India and completely understands the user demographics, lifestyles and challenges.
As we opened the doors for the training centres in all three villages, it was amazing to see the enthusiasm and interest amongst old and young alike… and amongst men and women. One of the things I am most proud of is that when we had asked families to nominate one person for the training, based on who they felt would be able to use it the best for the family, more than half nominated a woman or a girl from their family!
In faraway Tripura, Leisungak Halam, a 33-year old pickle maker from Naogang village of Tripura, was one such housewife who came for the training. She was also secretary of a women’s self- help group, and encouraged women in the village to sell home-made pickles, sweets, jam, and turmeric powder to increase their income. Using her recently created Facebook account on her notebook, Leisungak realised that she had found a way to reach many more potential customers for their products. She not only took to it like a fish takes to water, but encouraged other women to do the same. The new found avenue has increased her group’s income to INR 2000 per month per member from INR 500 about two months ago.
Down South in Muthyalammapalem village, Koveri Rajeshwari, a 24 year old mother of two children and a tailor by occupation, successfully completed the training at the National Digital Literacy Mission centre. She discovered the ability to use internet to look for new designs and stitching techniques available in the market. Koveri now offers a range of new designs to her customers and encourages young girls to get digitally literate.
And, life has taken a new turn for the better for Manraj Gurjar over the last two months. Manraj, a 30-year old housewife from Arain village of Rajasthan, was another woman who was trained as part of the Intel program. Earlier a manual laborer, she now works as a data entry operator and exudes immense pride in her work. No one can take away the sense of empowerment she feels today being employed!
As part of the Follow the Fiber initiative we trained one person from 1700 households to ensure every household in the three selected villages — Arain in Rajasthan, Pravada in Andhra Pradesh and Naogang in Tripura — was digitally literate. The impact generated so far is highly encouraging — rise of entrepreneurship, employability, education leading to overall empowerment in these villages.
Leisungak, Manraj and Koveri were among the thousands of people who received the digital literacy training under Intel-led National Digital Literacy Mission and then went on to use that training to make a noticeable change to their daily lives. Not only were they able to use technology to be more productive and increase their earning and contribution to their families, but they became the catalysts that got more families to embrace technology.
I call them the change agents. As the National Optical Fiber Network rolls out to 2,50,000 Gram Panchayats in the country, imagine the possibilities if we can do this in every village and empower a Leisungak, Manraj or Koveri in every household. Yes, it’s a bold audacious dream…but not an impossible one. It can be done if the industry and Government decides to work together with a real plan in place.
To enable the vision, all the partners of National Digital Literacy Mission initiative are closely working with the government to scale their effort in a structured way to achieve the goal. We were very encouraged with the decision by Department of Electronics and Information Technology to accept the recommendations of National Digital Literacy Mission and launch a mass scale IT literacy program together with the industry to achieve the vision of one digitally literate person in every household by 2020.
If done right, this can drive real inclusive growth in the country and should be a key national agenda for both the Government and Industry. Given the magnitude of the challenge, the task ahead will need more effective public–private partnership than ever before. But as they say, if the goal is worthwhile, the effort is worth the hard work. And in this case, the goal if achieved can change India for real. It’s a win –win for all involved.
The detailed study on the impact of the National Digital Literacy Mission pilot (Follow the Fiber) is available here.
Debjani Ghosh is the Managing Director - Sales and Marketing Group, Intel South Asia. Debjani currently chairs the IT Committee at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). She tweets at @debjani_ghosh_