Bridging the digital-divide in India has long been a cherished dream. While much is yet to happen, IT industry body Nasscom has taken initial steps to identify business models that can change the access of technology at the bottom of the pyramid.
This year too, Nasscom presented awards to six businesses that are trying to bring social innovation. The awards showcase the impact and learnings from the ideas of winners that have gained shape, acceptance and success.
Take for instance, Anudip Foundation for Social Welfare. Led by Radha Basu, Anudip Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation involved in the building the skills of rural youth and women in IT and language skills to improve employability. The foundation has created IT project centres across districts in east India on a build, operate and manage basis, which serve international clients on voice and data-based operations. "Unlike the last 20 years where IT development has remained concentrated in the metros, we wish to bring this development from within rural India now," says Basu.
Over the next seven years, the Foundation is aiming at training at least one million people from rural areas, generate employment and replicate the model in other states and countries.
On the other hand, E Healthpoint (EHP) is a for-profit organisation that provides families in villages with clean drinking water, medicines, comprehensive diagnostic tools, and advanced tele-medical services that bring a doctor and modern, evidence-based healthcare to their community. Amit Jain, director EHP said that just like education has moved from classrooms to computers over the last couple of years, in the next 5-8 years, all health facilities will move to tablet computing devices.
EHP is upbeat about scaling up its operations and has started pilots in countries like Philippines and Mexico, which according to Jain, are facing similar quality and quantum of health problems.
The government is not far behind. To tackle high infant mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio, Anju Sharma, mission director of State Rural Health Mission (SRHM) of government of Gujarat, began a project in January 2010, which in two years has been so successful, that the Indian government wants to replicate it on a pan-India basis. Sharma and her team have developed a mother and child health tracking model which serves to remind the unaware rural population of their medical needs using mobile-based technologies.
About 9.7 million families were covered in extensive district health surveys to bring together data and create a health card for every individual. Sharma said, "Any social initiative needs faith of the people working for it to have faith in it. The public it seeks to benefit must have faith that there are no vested interests in the project. It needs support and great political will to be sustainable.”
Tyagarajan said he believes that the biggest pool of innovative ideas come from students. Confirming his statement, Harpreet Singh & Amanjot Singh, students of University College of Engineering, Patiala, talked about their software Web Assist. The software seeks to make regular websites accessible to the differently-abled using cloud computing. The websites then appear modified as per every person's need, based on the options they selected and saved while accessing it the first time.
Web Assist's efforts are helpine more people access and use online information, and thereby it is becoming a helpful learning and development tool used by educational institutions and firms.
Similarly, started by a group of five youngsters from Roorkee, Bufferinfinite is a video subtitling service - an idea that germinated from students trying to understand accented English on educational videos on content-sharing platforms. Shivank Agarmal, Shankar Kotuni, Shubham Agarwal, Harish Kumar and Ankit Agarwal are now working towards making online content more useful and across devices and user platforms, scaling up their operations and making their application compatible with Google TV and Apple TV.
Innovation need not be new idea. It could be an old idea executed differently, or the combination of several ideas to address a new need. GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute (GVK EMRI) is a partnership programme between Mahindra Satyam, Stanford University, 911 Services of the US among others that handles medical, police and fire emergencies through the "108 emergency service".
The service is free and delivered through state-of-art emergency call response centres with over 2,860 ambulances across Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Assam, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
According to Subodh Satyavadi, COO GVK EMRI, they started in 2005 with 70 ambulances in Hyderabad, and by the end of 2011 it had an estimated 10,000-plus ambulances covering 400 million people. They have handled 17 million emergencies so far.
The winners were upbeat about their ventures, and spoke of future plans of scaling up and reaching out to a bigger set of clients. Jaithirth Rao, chairman of Value Budget Housing Development Corporate of India and a member of the NSIH jury, however, cautioned the winners that the beginning always looks rosy and their projects need to be sustainable over a long period. He also said that they must take into account the governance of their businesses, which may otherwise blow up as badly as the microfinance institutions model.
Past winners encouraged the winners of this year to continue with their efforts. They stressed that to be socially impactful, a social innovation business model need not follow the not-for-profit philosophy. It is as useful to build a profit-based model that contributes to social welfare, as then the business has some level of sustainability.