For greater good: How digital technology is redefining social innovation in India
The world has changed in a multitude of ways in the past two decades owing to the rapid advancement of technology. Today big data, artificial intelligence, smartphone technology are all being used to deliver solutions for real-world problems in the furthermost corners of the globe. We are seeing societal transformation in a way that has never been seen before.
Digital technology is permeating every part of our lives, and aiding access to education, health, or availability of clean water, and driving inclusion. And at the centre of this transformation are companies and organisations leading social innovation.
“The world has flattened, and the fates of all its people, whether residing in a Western capital or a village in rural India, are more tightly knit than ever. That’s led to a growing sense that the old paradigms of government aid and private philanthropy are simply inadequate to meet the critical challenges of the 21st century,” writes Mckinsey.
Mission-driven businesses around the world are revolutionizing the use of technology to effect change. Entrepreneurs and corporations are working to offer new and sustainable solutions to social, economic and environmental issues. Social innovation today is not just about simply adding a layer of technology or adding digital to existing services, but reimagining how we understand and address social change and using digital technology to that effect.
The scope for mission-driven social change
As the World Bank’s World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends—states: ‘Technology can be transformational’. Technology is being used to address the unique challenges that the world faces today, and to help that change reach the last denominator.
“A digital identification system such as India’s Aadhaar, by overcoming complex information problems, helps willing governments to promote the inclusion of disadvantaged groups. Alibaba’s business-to-business e-commerce site, by significantly reducing coordination costs, boosts efficiency in China’s economy and arguably the world’s. The M-Pesa digital payment platform, by exploiting scale economies from automation, generates significant financial sector innovation, with great benefits to Kenyans and others,” says the World Bank report.
Arm-in-arm with Digital India
As far as social innovation goes, Japanese conglomerate Hitachi is a leading example of how companies are providing solutions to combat urgent issues and contributing to the development of societies across the world. In India, the company is playing a significant role in aiding the government in its Digital India drive, which aims to digitalise government services so they can reach everyone seamlessly. The drive comes with a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. It is an ambitious project centred around digital infrastructure as a core utility to every citizen, and governance and services on demand, and digital empowerment of citizens. More importantly, in a country like India which houses a large population across several administrative zones, e-governance solutions are a great approach to ensure quick and hassle-free services for essential requirements. Currently, for example, the state of Punjab is leveraging Hitachi’s IT solutions and technology for several of its e-governance functions. The company is also responsible for carrying out the analytics of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for the Aadhaar card system, on its platform. The UIDAI is a statutory authority established by the Indian government in January 2009, responsible for the collection of demographic and biometric data of all citizens under the AADHAAR initiative–a mammoth task indeed, given India’s high population density.
Simplifying a billion lives
Hitachi is working closely with the government’s vision in devising smart ways to meet needs of expanding urban landscapes, growing population, and increasing consumption fuelled by rising disposable incomes.
In Punjab, Hitachi was also involved with the execution of the E-Sewa Kendra project. The E-Sewa kiosks are fully digitised Kendras that provide citizen-centric services from various departments of the government over the counter under one roof. Hitachi worked on enabling and setting-up complete IT infrastructure at 2,147 E-Sewa Kendras across Punjab.
People now have access to over 249 public services at a location convenient to them. They can deposit utility bills, apply for arms license, birth and death certificates, and do a lot more at an E-Sewa Kendra in their village. “Earlier we had to go to far off cities and stand in long queues just to deposit our electricity bill. Now, everything related to certificates is getting done right in the village,” explains a satisfied user of the E-Sewa services in the state.
In addition, the E-Sewa Kendra project has also generated jobs for around 130 people in Punjab. It is among one of the largest executions in terms of scale in the state of Punjab by any IT company in India.
Furthermore, the brand’s new digital solutions venture Hitachi has collaborated with the Employee Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) to provide digital transformation by facilitating seamless information management in the backend where the EPFO can digitise most of its services.
Digital India is just one aspect; Hitachi’s contribution to social innovation extends beyond that.
Ease of making payments
Post demonetisation in November last year, Hitachi significantly fulfilled the sudden rise in demand for the Point of Sale (POS) terminals from all strata of society including Small and Medium Enterprises, retail stores and small shopkeepers. Hitachi is providing POS services on behalf of some of the leading banks in the country. It currently has over 7,00,000 POS devices (including Mobile POS) under management, enabling access to cashless payments to customers across the country.
Under the non-cash platform, Hitachi offerings are designed to take forward the government’s Digital India initiatives by providing solutions such as Merchant Payment Solutions, Digital Payment Platforms and Cards Issuance Solutions.
Its Digital Payment Platforms enables transaction processing such as Bharat QR, a unique card-less solution that lets customers make payments through their smart phones by scanning the QR code displayed at the merchant outlet, from the merchants mobile, or a POS device. It basically eliminates the need to swipe a card at the POS machine.
Managing livelihoods and futures
Hitachi’s engagement also extends to the agricultural sector in India. It is contributing to the development of agricultural sector by using sustainable technology that is economical and environment friendly. It is using its expertise in agricultural information management systems to help farmers.
While agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy, it is faced with numerous issues. As farming relies heavily on natural inputs, which cannot be controlled, GIS applications can be used to understand and manage crop yield estimates.
Hitachi is aiding in crop damage assessments by using advance remote sensing and geospatial technology, creating centralized crop related maps, data and reports, and in production of early season crop area estimations and agricultural statistics, monitoring changes in cropping pattern, services to farm management and planning, agricultural crop insurance, assessment of claims and management.
People-first solutions lie at the heart of Hitachi’s social innovation breakthroughs in India. Delivering new value to society through collaborative creation with customers and partners has always been the organization’s goal and continues to be its way forward.
In fact, India is one of the primary focus regions for Hitachi for social innovation business. It’s research and Development centre in Bengaluru is an integral part of its global R&D network which has labs in Japan, UK, France, Germany, U.S., China, Singapore and Brazil. The centre is focusing on pioneering work with special attention to the unique problems in India that can be addressed by solutions developed locally.