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Villages to PMO: e-inclusion for all

Villages to PMO: e-inclusion for all

Three things happened in the world of the Manthan Award last week that I think have important implications for the world of digital empowerment and governance.

After being nominated for a Manthan Award this year, and a mention in this column, Kumar received calls from a few states to see if the Sabarmati experience could be replicated. We have now decided, in the light of this interest and its potential impact, to showcase this project live during the 2009 Manthan Award celebrations.

The second event was the receipt of a communication from the prime minister’s office (PMO) in Bangladesh. The message said that a high-level delegation from the country would attend the Manthan Awards Conclave. One reason for this being that the Bangladesh National Portal is a nominee for an award this year. The other reason, the message said, was a new interest in using digital inclusion for national development. Bangladesh wants to use the conclave as an opportunity to look at Manthan nominees and case studies.

Finally, every two years, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), along with the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), awards a prize for rural communication, which carries a $20,000 (Rs9.3 lakh) award. Unesco is now considering picking relevant nominations for the award from the Manthan Award nominees list from south Asia.

The message is very clear. Nothing motivates the unknown role models working for digital inclusion at the grass roots levels like appreciation.

I feel truly emotional when I see that the Manthan Award has not only been able to create a huge repository of 1,500 digital best practices, but has also provided recognition to innovators and inventors in far-flung villages. The Manthan Award 2009 continues this vision with representation from tribal communities, weavers, sarpanches (village council chiefs), grass roots innovators, ministers, bureaucrats, experts, academicians, technocrats, policymakers and social workers. And that too from across at least 25 states, and also from countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Taking the Manthan platform ahead, the 2009 event is officially announcing the “Digital Panchayat" project, which basically helps sarpanches build websites for the panchayats, or rural councils. We started with 100 panchayats as a pilot in Maharashtra and they are ready to be seen at www.localareaportal.org/maharashtra, where all content—both in English and Marathi—is produced by the member of the panchayats. We will have at least 30 sarpanches coming to the award ceremonies this year to show their enthusiasm and comfort with digital inclusion.

While the adventurous journey of “digital inclusion for development" will continue for me, my journey with you through this column is ending today. But the connecting link is a dedicated blog (http://blog.livemint.com/the-development-dossier) profiling selected nominees of the Manthan Award. Visit the blog to listen to the digital inclusion stories recorded live.

Finally, I invite one and all to the Manthan Award Conclave, to meet and know our many hitherto unknown digital heroes, on 18-19 December at the NCUI Complex, August Kranti Marg, New Delhi.

For more details on awards and case studies, go to www.manthanaward.org

Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chairman of Manthan Award. Mint is a partner of the Manthan Award 2009.

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