Mobile phone penetration has grown incredibly in India, adding at least 10 million subscribers every month. The latest figure is at least 400 million.
However, even if the masses have access to mobile connectivity, most of the handset potential is still untapped. Largely because most of the content delivered is often not directly related to their livelihood and environment. Rural communities need local information concerning health, education, government services and other information that can improve their livelihood and meet daily needs.
On the other hand, opportunities in rural areas for young people are weak and rural education does not cover rural necessities nor meet the requirements of local communities. Thus, young people, especially dropouts, are often unemployed or obliged to migrate to the cities looking for jobs. Providing occupation to these people in their own locality is essential to prevent massive migration.
Based in Pune, SMSOne tackles these two problems, and for this they got the Manthan Award in 2007.
First, it fills the information gap existing in at least 500 villages in Maharashtra, updating its members through a local SMS newsletter with local news and other community-related information.
This system is able to distribute messages to targeted communities, thus increasing its impact.
SMSOne is a useful tool to transmit urgent information at any time and can be used to alert on natural disasters, epidemics and other critical information.
Secondly, SMSOne gives young dropouts a self-employment opportunity, contributing to development of their community.
The concept is based on a strong human network and has simple but involving processes to set up.
SMSOne provides self-employment to at least 390 youth in 42 districts in Maharashtra, and now Tamil Nadu, bringing information and services to at least 375,000 people. According to Ravi Ghate, 38, founder of SMSOne, entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka, have also deployed SMSOne-like services.
Revenue comes only from advertising, as the young self-employed do not charge any fee from community members. Their earnings depend on their capacity to attract people and organizations willing to convey messages to the community.
The community mediator is free to negotiate the price for each message and is able to create her own business structure under the SMSOne umbrella. The firm only keeps a few paise per message sent.
If you want SMSOne to be deployed in your locality, please send me a mail or log on to www.smsone.in.
Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chairman of the Manthan Award. He is also a member of the task force formed by the communication and information technology ministry to give recommendations to boost IT and ICT manufacturing industry.
Mint is a partner of the Manthan Award 2009.
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